Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.


The Nay-Sayers

I didn't intend to write a strong statement about National Breast Cancer Awareness month and then say nothing else. I've actually had all kinds of ideas kicking around my mind to write about this past month, but I've been sick and have had some job interviews. Then there are the home improvement plans that are underway (new furnace, advanced weatherization). These plans require that we pack up and store most of the furniture and stuff on the first floor. I also got my new food blog as well as the total revamp of this blog up with CK's considerable help.

So it has been busy since I posted about breast cancer. I realize that I rather glad it worked out this way. My statement against the national pinkwashing that breast cancer awareness has become stood there for the whole of the month of October. It has been an interesting experience putting myself out there with that post.

I've been absolutely stunned at the overwhelmingly positive response my post has received. In addition to comments on the blog itself, I have received compliments on Facebook, Twitter and during a phone call with a technology recruiting agency. I have received a lot of appreciation for making so firm and courageous statement. I've been thanked for saying something many people have felt, but have been afraid to express for fear of negative push back.

That brings me right to "The Nay-Sayers", those people who did not agree with my viewpoint. There have been a handful of these people and I want to acknowledge that a small minority disagreed with me. You can see the comments attached to my post, some were made on Facebook.

Some merely commented that they thought the bit of fun from a Facebook meme used to remind people that breast cancer is still out there, still scary was totally wanted. Humor helps us to find strength in the face of fear. Humor helps many patients, my Mom included, get through the ugliness of breast cancer. Fair enough.

Another person said that so long as pink ribbons on ridiculous products saved one woman's breast than it is worth it. Honestly, I don't have a lot to say about that other than to point at the message some of those pink products are sending and more importantly, look at where the money goes.

Then there's the more strident detractors. To date there's been three people who've posted rather seriously negative stuff to the blog. I moderate and approve all comments and when the first of these came in, I'd hoped to respond directly to the sender but found that her comment resolved to a blocked Blogger account. Each of the more seriously negative comments have had this kind of anonymous post; a first name but no real way to connect to the person (essentially anonymous).

I have devoted a fair amount of time considering how to respond to them (if at all) and wondering if I should even post these comments at all. One of the negative comments came complete with what I feel is a rather mean-spirited comment about the person who had posted a link to my blog on her Facebook page (I've removed this bit from her comment). All of these comments have lead me to consider how I want to handle them going forth. In fact, you'll notice on the new blog an email address is required to post comments. I've also published a disclaimer and my policy regarding comments.

Ultimately I decided to post these three comments I've been holding. You can go wade through all the comments to find them if you want. I've also decided that although I did publish them, I'm not responding directly to these comments.

What I will say is that I'm all for reminding people to take care of themselves. I'm all for supporting our loved ones who survived, like my Mother (emphasis as a reminder to those people who somehow missed that I'm the daughter of a two-time breast cancer survivor). I'm equally for remembering all of those people who have not survived (including several of my friends' mothers). I'm emphatically for publicizing this disease and taking away any stigma associated with anyone who is struggling with cancer of any kind. Or frankly any kind of stigma associated with fighting any grave illness.

I'm really not that bothered by anyone being "proudly pink", as one person said. Whatever. Just don't expect me to go out and buy myself a case of bottled water (or anything else for that matter) with pink ribbons on it to support "awareness".

I think we have spent a hell of a lot of money on "awareness" while the efforts to understand WHY have been underfunded, at worst, and uncoordinated, at best. Yes, there is a whole lot of funding that goes to treatment, curing breast cancer, and that's great. I'm all for finding better treatments that don't disfigure and poison patients.

That said, funding more "awareness" avoids my question: Why is breast cancer still so common after all this awareness has been raised?

Buying "awareness" does not bring us any closer to understanding why. I'd like to see the same level of energy dedicated to "awareness" directed toward understanding and eradicating the causes.

I'd like answers, not more "awareness".


Why I’m Not "Going Pink"

Ahhh, October... there's a crisp bite to the air, the leaves have begun to fall, there's 50 pounds of apples in my refrigerator, and I'm once again bombarded by the nauseating pinkness of "National Breast Cancer Awareness Month."

For years it has just been the ever increasing tide of pink consumer crap in the stores, and that has been bad enough. However, for the past two Octobers I've watched cutesy memes take over Facebook. Last year it was women coyly posting the color of their bras in their status updates. When it finally started to come out that bras, therefore, breasts, were the topic at hand I'm sure everyone rushed to donate to the Komen Foundation (more on them later). This year it is the suggestion that we post where we like to put our purses when we get home, e.g., "I like it on the table".

Now, leaving aside my irritation at the assumptions that only women get breast cancer (they don't) or that all women carry purses (they don't), I'm just left with the annoyance that not only does this juvenile status update meme have absolutely nothing to due with breast cancer, but that it uses breast cancer as the reason to make some kind of sexualized joke. How does this puerile humor have anything at all to do with breast cancer? Once again, do you see this kind of nonsense and rush right out to buy something pink or donate money to Komen?

Yes, you might think that I'm being a stick in the mud about this. I mean shouldn't I just lighten up and enjoy the whimsy? Isn't this just a harmless joke used to raise awareness?

To those who might say I'm being shrill and a kill-joy, I say:

Really, is anyone in the western world not aware of breast cancer at this point? Seriously?

If there are people unaware, perhaps it because they are buried under the load of pink consumer crap and juvenile Internet memes that we're bombarded with every October. So much money is spent on enticing us to buy pink M&Ms (yes, really) and BMWs (yes, really) that we're hopefully distracted from the lack of funding that goes to understanding the causes of breast cancer and the utter disorganization of those efforts.

We're so pinkwashed that we hopefully won't notice that many of the companies with products directly related to causing breast cancer are funding our "awareness". Those companies hope that we'll be so charmed by all the pink and whimsy that we won't ask them why the hell they're still producing the crap that is killing us.

Keep in mind that the "National Breast Cancer Awareness Month" was created by a drug company that is now called AstraZeneca. Yes, that's the same company that in addition to producing & hugely profiting off of breast cancer treatment drugs, also profited substantially off the sale of an herbicide known to cause cancer. That alone makes me question all of the happy, cheerful messages designed to raise my "awareness".

I am bashing the Komen Foundation, that sacred pink cow of breast cancer activism, a little bit too. After all, Komen manages to blithely take in thousands in contributions from the very chemical companies who market products that cause breast cancer! They put on these hugely expensive races and events that push mammograms and say nothing about the causes or prevention. This is the very same organization that helps market pink cars while ignoring the powerful link between a chemical produced in the exhaust of cars, benzo(a)-pyrene, that is one of the most powerful carcinogens known and was connected directly to breast cancer by the Peralta Cancer Research Institute in the 1980s. Yeah, go Komen...

What can you do? Well, know your risk and make efforts to reduce it.

  • There is a lot of evidence that shows that maintaining a healthy weight, getting regular exercise, having moderate or no alcohol consumption, and following a diet of fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains is beneficial.
  • Buy organic if possible as many herbicides and pesticides have also been linked to breast and other types of cancer. I totally sympathize to the economic barriers to this suggestion and know this is not an option for a lot of people, but if you can, buy organic.
  • There are known links between r-GBH (recombinant bovine growth hormone - used on dairy cows) and breast cancer.
  • A healthy vegan diet has many benefits; reducing the risk of cancer is only one of them. Yes, this is one of the many reasons I am vegan.
  • Get your vitamin D level checked, particularly if you live in the Pacific Northwest like I do. There have been several studies linking low levels of vitamin D to cancer, particularly breast cancer. People in the Pacific Northwest are known for being chronically low in vitamin D.

Check out Breast Cancer Action, an organization I think is doing things right. They aren't busy "going pink", they are demanding action to reduce causes, educate people (not sell them pink crap), and find more effective, less toxic treatments.

BCA also created the fantastic "Think Before You Pink" campaign to educate people as to where the money goes when those pink Tic-Tacs are purchased.

All of this is said from my perspective as the daughter of a two-time breast cancer survivor. Yes, that puts me in a higher risk category and I take it very seriously.