Today was the annual breast cancer walk in Binghamton. It had what I would consider a very good turnout. Crowds of women and men dressed in pink, or in white shirts with the breast cancer symbol, or sporting pink boas, bubbled over from Rec Park through the streets of the West Side of Binghamton. As I saw the flood of humanity this beautiful fall day (crisp and clear, beautiful blue skies) pour into the streets of Binghamton, conflicting emotions rose in me-like they always do when I think of breast cancer.
There are several reasons, and I think of them whenever I see that flood of pink, be it on the streets or in supermarkets, where sponsors use this powerful pink to sell soup, pretzels and many other items. To be honest, I wince when I see the pink tsunami, and the pink merchandising.
Don't get me wrong. I was quite alive and well in the "bad days" of breast cancer, being a witness to 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...and women would not know, when they woke up, if they would have their entire body or not. If they didn't, 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.
And, in the course of full disclosure: I have participated the last four years in Relay for Life (the "overall" cancer fundraiser of the Ameican Cancer Society) and I have never been diagnosed with cancer. I'm just someone who has witnessed the cancer struggles of many people I know and-know what? Some lived and some died. So I am not an expert. Just a lucky bystander who has seen some things second hand through the sufferings of those I like and love.
So what is my issue?
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). Know what, women? This stuff still happens today! 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. And that isolates the woman fighting cancer even more. I saw this happen to a relative I loved very much and I was a little too inexperienced back then to understand. Know what? I know I still don't understand...and a part of me hopes I never have to understand.
Some say there are no cancer survivors....only cancer fighters.
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? Well, go to the Web MD site and search up this "Man's Guide to Breast Cancer". The same site that gave me some of my statistics considers a man's guide to breast cancer as being a guide to supporting his diagnosed wife. So the man with breast cancer: Is he a joke? An asterisk?
No, he's real, and you may know him.
4. I truly feel the pink tsunami 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. Still....there are no reliable tests for a lot of other cancers. Let's see, how about another dread women's cancer (and this is one only women get): ovarian cancer? Well women die every day from ovarian cancer - my next door neighbor did-and nothing cute about ovarian cancer either. My neighbor 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 my "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-way too late. Or stomach cancer? I lost an aunt to that and a co-worker just lost someone he knew to that. The list can go on and on for a long time.
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. Now.