Saturday, October 06, 2007

Are you aware?

Yes--we think about Black people in February, and women in March. Now it's October, and if you're not seeing black and orange, you must be seeing pink. It's Breast Cancer Awareness Month. All together now...


I've started to become one of those girls who aren't playing nice. The pink, the fluff, the incessant marketing machine... It feels a lot like the post-9/11, "Be patriotic! Go shopping!!"

There are some good reasons for a cancer to have a month--better than for large racial categories. Women over 40 should get an annual mammogram, and maybe seeing ads for pink toasters and pink toolbelts at this time of year can help them remember.

I also think there is some legitimate merit to giving people a way to do something about this disease. Getting breast cancer makes you feel helpless. I am certain that watching someone get breast cancer also makes you feel helpless. When I inventory my own personal relationships, I think of my husband, who had to go through 8 months of treatment and all the fear and anxiety, with nothing that he could really do to change my outcome. My parents, my friends... I am also a spooky exemplar of how many women are getting breast cancer, and how little we can do to predict or stop it. I'm a magnet for everyone else's breast cancer experiences, especially guys whose moms get it--I have heard from more than I can count on a hand, in the last year.

I know that people close to me want to change my outcomes, and I know they want me to understand how urgently they care. So what can they do? They can shop, and they can participate in big group activities like runs--the latter are even better, because they require personal pain and sacrifice. (By the way, one of posts referenced above links to a great Onion article, 6000 Runners Fail to Discover Cure for Breast Cancer.) After 9/11, I wanted to give blood, because--literally, and don't laugh too hard at my hokiness--I felt a desire to bleed for the sake of all the other people who had shed blood. A common fate kind of thing.

Yes, there are better things to do. Giving money directly to research and advocacy groups, volunteering at a cancer treatment center or a wellness community, regularly contacting members of Congress to lobby for better cancer funding (and healthcare, maybe?!)...all of these may be more powerful. They're also harder to do, and now that I'm back to my busy life, I know that it's a lot easier to do a few website clicks between meetings than to keep track of bills in the Senate.

[Along these lines, I got the following email a few days ago--it seems to offer the way to do something real, very quickly, and very easily. So of course I was suspicious!

> Please tell ten friends to tell ten today! The Breast Cancer site is
> having trouble getting enough people to click on their site daily to
> meet their quota of donating at least one free mammogram a day to an
> underprivileged woman. It takes less than a minute to go to their site
> and click on 'donating a mammogram' for free (pink window in the
> middle).
> This doesn't cost you a thing. Their corporate sponsors /advertisers
> use the number of daily visits to donate mammogram in exchange for
> advertising.
> Here's the web site! Pass it along to people you know.
So I searched for this pitch on urban legends sites, and had the following:
Except for the part where it says "The Breast Cancer Site is having trouble getting enough people to click on it daily," this dated email flier (circulating since 2001) remains basically true. In 2002 alone, the highly successful site and its advertisers funded a total of 1,624 free mammograms for underprivileged women, thanks to the daily clicks of visitors. The Breast Cancer Site has been reviewed by health advocacy groups and various media outlets and recommended by sources like Ms. Magazine. It is well worth a daily visit.

That is good news, and not even hard to do.]

Anyway, I started by objecting to the month, and here I've really defended it. It's harder to express my objections, but I'll try. A Month is reductive. The pink onslaught is infantilizing and trivializing. There is a tyranny to breast cancer culture that allows only a narrow range of expressions, emotional responses, and actions. (I'll never forget my first--non-Wellness Community--support group experience, in which new women like me were told not to think things we said, not to feel what we expressed, and more than anything, that praying was the only thing to do. I never went back.) I don't want to be either a pink-wearing blubberer, or a pink-wearing "survivor" in the mold of The Movement. Basically, I guess it's that breast cancer, though widespread, is still a really personal and individual experience--no two women I know have had exactly the same treatment--and I don't like feeling my personal experience forced into the dehumanizing context of the mob.

And finally--an annual reminder to get a mammogram didn't do a damn thing for me. I was too young to be getting mammograms. This week, I was on a conference call with three other fantastic bloggers (their blogs are now linked, at right) who were also all too young for mammograms when they were diagnosed. And I guess that's another reason I dislike The Movement--it's focused so much on women who are older, with different concerns and different worldviews. Perhaps Breast Cancer Awareness Month should be urging younger women to get their breasts groped--by themselves, by others (hello, Noah!), whatever it takes--get some hands on those boobies and check for things that shouldn't be there!

One last note for today. Today is the one-year anniversary of my completion of cancer treatment. I had my last radiation treatment last year, I got my survival certificate from Noah, and I walked out of the center and into my "new reality" as someone cured, post-cancer, and on the way to being healthier than ever.

My oncologist told me it can take a year for some side effects to ease. My hair is still only a few inches long; my feet have only recently stopped having pain and burning from the Taxol; my right armpit and lat are still a little numb from surgery. But overall, I am healthier and in better shape than I've been in years. My life, knock wood, is back "on track"--as a relatively young woman (and junior professor), there is a climb and a progression that characterizes the life path, and I'm no longer sitting on the bench watching other people hike by.

A year past cancer treatment. I gotta say, it still seems like yesterday.


Anonymous said...

Dang, you're on a roll lately. I'd like to see a blog entry on what's prompting you to blog so much these days. Seriously, if there's an interesting story behind this most welcome onslaught, please share it.

And while we're at it, do you need me to check them right now?

Kim said...

This is a great post and you've really expressed so much of my love/hate relationship with Pink October. On the one hand, I wouldn't want it to stop because it is a scary disease that touches so many and with awareness comes action. But all the pink everywhere feels exploitive. I never thought it much before my own diagnosis last May.

Elizabeth Stock said...

Happy (belated) Anniversary! Thank you for posting how long the taxol effects take to wear off. I finished my last taxol treatment on July 25th, and all I have been doing lately is bitching about my neuropathy and arm swelling - when is it gonna end!!! Now that I see it can take a year, it makes me feel better (sort of). Also, I love the certificate - I didn't receive that one from my onc, but maybe it's somewhere in the multitudes of envelopes that look suspiciously like bills??? Anyway, again, congrats on your one year anniversary, and many more to come - Elizabeth

Jenny said...

Hi Elizabeth--
Congrats on being done with Taxol, at least! It is frustrating how slowly things bounce back (I'll be doing a new post on that). But it is kind of comforting to know that we can get back to "normal" eventually...

Love your blog. Everyone here, go check it out. She has the sense of humor gene.


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