Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Pink Tsunami of October

In a week, we will have the annual breast cancer walk in Binghamton, New York.

I can imagine what it will be like, based on past events.

It will have a large turnout.  Crowds of women and men dressed in pink, or in white shirts with the breast cancer symbol, or sporting pink boas, will start out from Rec Park, and march through the streets of the West Side of Binghamton.  Perhaps it will be a beautiful fall day like yesterday was (crisp and clear, beautiful blue skies).  But I won't be part of the crowd.  I will be on the sideline, fighting the conflicting emotions that always rise in my - excuse me, chest-  when I think of breast cancer.


Don't get me wrong.  I was quite alive and well in the "bad days" of breast cancer. I know some of what my mother in law went through battling her two distinct breast cancers during the 1970's (more on that a little later).  So many people alive today do not know the horrors of breast cancer back then - how women were given no support, how women would be put under while a "frozen section" was run on their tumor.. Women would not know, when they woke up, if they would awaken with their entire body intact or not. If they woke up minus a breast (no chance to think about it) well - cancer in those days was something you fought privately, with little or no support.

My mother in law, to be blunt about it, was butchered by a well meaning surgeon and has the scar to prove how men treated the removal of a breast in the bad old days.

So what is my issue?

Several issues.

1.  I think the "pink" campaign trivializes breast cancer.  How many of you are aware, for example, that there is no such monolith as "breast cancer" but instead a whole spectrum of cancers affecting the breast?  My mother in law had two different types.  One was a tumor.  The other manifested itself as a discharge.  Her doctor "poo pooed" it but finally an instinct told my mother in law that she had a problem and had to seek help elsewhere.  Well, even after the cancer diagnosis, it was diagnosed incorrectly and fortunately Memorial Sloane Kettering made the correct diagnosis (so correct treatment could be given).  There is nothing cute or pink about this killer.

2.  Not everyone survives.  And I truly think there is a tendency today to "blame the victim":  those with Stage IV, well, they didn't eat the right foods, or they didn't exercise enough, or they didn't do their self exam well enough, or they didn't get enough mammograms or...they didn't fight hard enough.  ???????  Some of this comes down to the old American attitude: we don't want to face death.  That isolates the woman fighting cancer even more.  I saw this happen to an aunt I loved very much and I was a little too inexperienced (in my 20s) back then to understand.  Know what?   I know I still don't understand as I've never faced cancer and a part of me hopes I never have to understand.

There is no cure for breast cancer.  You are in remission, or you are not.

3.  Men can get breast cancer too!  I worry about my dear husband - with his family history-mother had it twice, and four of her sisters had breast cancer also-is he at risk? .  So, women...did you know that men have breast tissue?  I read a statistic online saying that one out of every 100 breast cancers is diagnosed in a man.  And every one of those men is drowning in the pink tsumani of misunderstanding.

Don't believe me?  There is a high risk breast cancer clinic in Binghamton, and I've talked to my husband about calling them just to talk.  So far, he won't, despite his family history.  He is scared off (or so he says) by the sea of pink.
I recommend you read the story of a local man, Bob Riter.

4.  I truly feel the pink tsunami of breast cancer funnels money from other cancers.  Maybe breast cancer gets the publicity because there is a test for it or because of the past history I touched on above.  Let's face it, there are no reliable tests for many cancers.  Let's see, how about another dread women's cancer (and this is one only women get):  ovarian cancer?  Women die every day from ovarian cancer.  My former neighbor did.    My late neighbor, who was a middle school music teacher beloved in the community, left a 12 year daughter and a 6 year old son.  Where are all the ovarian cancer soups and cosmetics? 

Or let's think about pancreatic cancer.  This is the cancer "sword" dangling over my head:  I've lost an aunt, an uncle and a great uncle to this killer that rarely gives a sign until it is too late. Or stomach cancer?  I lost an aunt to that. 

A co worker's brother died of colon cancer.  He was in his 20's. He isn't alone.  Rates of colon cancer are increasing among young people, according to the New York Times.

My childhood best friend survived ovarian cancer, only to die, almost 35 years later, from non-small cell lung cancer.  Exposure to 9/11 smoke may have contributed to her cancer.

I've rambled on enough, but I want to make one more plea. 

Stop the pink.  We need to fight cancer.
Cancer.  Not one type of cancer.  All cancer.


Day 7 of the Ultimate Blog Challenge #blogboost


  1. I understand your feelings well, Alana. Yes, I know there is no monolith called "cancer", but ...

    Breast cancer is one of the most diagnosed, if not the most diagnosed, cancers, and it appears to have captured the attention of the public. So using it as a theme for fundraising efforts is natural.

    I'll be at Jones Beach next week for the American Cancer Society's breast cancer walk. It will be a sea of pink. And while the focus will be on breast cancer awareness -- including the fact that men can get it, too -- the funds will be used to support all of the American Cancer Society's programs, not just those involving so-so-called "women's cancers".

    I'm a 12-year survivor. I didn't have breast cancer, but I gladly wear my pink "survivor" shirt. I give back to an organization that was so supportive of me when I was ill.

    One of my happiest days was the day my oncologist told me "no evidence of disease". But the fear of recurrence is always there.

    The fact that your husband's mother and four of her sisters all developed some form of breast cancer scares me. I'm thinking BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 mutations, or Lynch Syndrome. Genetic testing is simple -- all you have to do is spit some saliva into a tube. I think it's better to know if you're at an increased risk.

    1. Thanks, Songbird. This is somewhat my thinking too. I actually have very similar misgivings; I'm putting them aside and walking this year, well, partly because it's at Coney Island and one of my swimmer friends has a team, so it's just going to be a lot of fun, but the fact that the American Cancer Society is the sponsor helped me decide to go too. I've lost a dear aunt and a couple of good friends to cancer in the last few years (none breast cancer, although my aunt had survived breast cancer years before the liver cancer that finally took her) and I'm hoping that the funds raised by these wildly popular breast cancer events will benefit all research efforts done by the ACS.

      Fun fact: Pink is actually my personal least favorite color for clothing. I would be quite happy if the march didn't have to be color-coded.

  2. I agree, Alana. I've lost family members to brain and liver cancer. And good friends to ovarian and a different brain cancer. They are all bad. And they are all woefully under-funded!

  3. Just a few days ago, my community lost a person who was very active in Relay for Life and the fight against cancer. Even at her weakest, Mary was smiling and sharing what little energy she had for the fight. She spoke at Relay for Life in June, even though she needed help walking and climbing the stairs to the podium. I interviewed her several times for the newspaper and she was always generous with her time and with her story. She had a type of cancer that never went into remission. Until the end, when she lost a massive amount of weight, you would never guess that she wasn't well. She is well-loved and will never be forgotten.

  4. Thank you for saying this, Alana. Mom died of metastatic breast cancer, and I've always felt a little guilty that I haven't jumped on the breast cancer band wagon. Reading this post, I realized that I share many of your misgivings about "the pink tsunami." You're right--it's about cancer, not about what TYPE of cancer. We should celebrate every time there's a breakthrough in conquering ANY cancer. Again, thank you.

  5. With so many types of cancer, I've thought the same thing Alana. While we celebrate those who beat cancer, whatever type, we also mourn for those who fought a hard battle but lost to cancer. My 42 year old son-in-law fought so hard for 3 1/2 years with colon, liver and then into the lungs cancer. It was a pretty picture watching him in pain but he was a fighter to the end.

  6. Interesting points. Sad how mysogyny colors how disease gets treated by the establishment. Sad that there isn't enough awareness out there. I think that the pink is a good first step. But I see your point.


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