Before discovering the lump and being diagnosed, I always considered ‘Breast Cancer Awareness Month’ as a no-brainer. I mean, aren’t we all aware that cancer exists? There isn’t a single person I know that hasn’t had some sort of direct relationship to cancer, whether it be your parent, grandparent, sibling, friend, loved one or even yourself. (See the blog post ‘Everyone Knows Cancer.’) But when you feel the lump, and then later hear that it’s positive, your ‘awareness’ definitely changes. It was only because I was aware of my body at all, that I ended up finding my lump. My ever so random, probably too habitual, self-massaging of my larger than DD breasts. So the answer is ‘yes.’ Being aware of your body makes you more aware when something is awry. But it’s more than that. It’s more than feeling something that doesn’t belong. And it’s definitely more than the color pink, some pretty ribbons and running for anything but the subway or to the bathroom.
What happens once you know something just isn’t right? Who do you call? And when you figure out who to call, how do you hold it together each step of the way? I’ve said it before, I’m not sure I would have called to have my mammogram had it not been for my twins. So I owe it them for getting me to the first screening. After that, well, to be honest, it would have been extremely negligent of me to do nothing after a doctor tells you that there’s something ‘suspicious.’ Be aware – that’s the answer. And again, what the hell is the pink ribbon for?
I appreciate the fact that the ‘awareness’ educates people, I do. Educating people about the diagnosis, surgery, reconstruction, treatment and aftermath of my cancer is why I continue to blog. But there are stories that don’t end like mine has. There are people, some that I’ve grown up with, family members, classmates, friends that I’ve met along the way, colleagues, whose stories don’t have happy endings. While I love the support and the encouragement, the pink ribbon brings forth a pluthera of mixed feelings. My sister tattooed it on her chest in my name for pete’s sake. People have run races just for me, have sent in dedications in my honor. People want to do something, anything, and in anyway they can to participate, to help. But when we say things like it’s a battle, a fight – when you survive you’re called a winner. I’m guilty of it too. But what happens when you don’t survive. Did you not fight hard enough? Did you not want to live bad enough? Were your friends and family not worth it? Of course not. But those are the implications that arise.
And while donating to causes, any cause, is a personal choice with the best of intentions, I do wonder if the pink ribbon campaign has done more for the world of marketing than it has for the world of medicine. Did you know that the pink ribbon concept was actually a salmon ribbon? But the woman who started the campaign didn’t want a corporate organization using her brainchild to further a marketing a publicity campaign that lost sight of her truest intent. Didn’t Yoplait, the yogurt company whose campaign had you send in the cup lids, contain an ingredient which included a bovine growth hormone, which was banned in most other countries? And how many of the make-up ingredients from those major cosmetic companies include cancer causing agents? And did you know that out of the total amount of money donated only a small percentage actually goes to research? The rest, by law, can go to ‘sponsorship’ campaigns or ‘promotional’ supports.
The purpose of ‘awareness’ is what do you need to do and when? Where do you go? Which questions do you ask? What are the resources available? So when you make your decision on what to do this month, or any other day of the year, may simple request is this. It starts with you. Only you know your own body. So before you donate or run, or for god’s sake wear the color pink – check yourself. Make your appointment. Trust your instinct. It could save your life, like it did mine.