Five years ago this week, I started chemotherapy for my Stage 3b Breast Cancer (diagnosed less than three months prior). For those of you that don’t know, here’s a quick summary…
I felt a lump, got a mammogram & ultrasound, 2 out of 4 biopsies positive for cancer (including one in the lymph node); scans proved cancer no where else and I tested negative for cancer gene, however I opted for double mastectomy. Pathology reports confirmed 15 tumors in the right breast, none in the left, and 8 out of 24 lymph nodes removed were cancerous. Within four weeks, I’d started the harshest of chemos (including the Red Devil), and continued for a total of six sessions over four and a half months. Then I would have six tattoos mark the areas in which I’d receive radiation five days a week, for six weeks straight. Ten months after it all started, I was cancer free.
Sounds pretty easy when I put it into as few words possible, but of course, as you can imagine, it was anything but. I didn’t mind losing ALL of my hair (and yes, the carpet does indeed match the drapes). I didn’t mind the stares when I looked like cancer, but didn’t feel sick at all. I didn’t mind the ‘down’ days after chemo, in which my friends made sure my family had meals provided for them. I didn’t even mind getting new boobs, in fact, it’s one of the perks – pun intended.
I know the feeling when someone you know gets cancer, and you want to do anything you can to help. Believe me when I tell you, that if you let me know you’re getting a mammogram or biopsy, I will be that pushy person that will ask and make sure you’ve covered all of your tracks. But this is only because I’ve been there. And I’m one of the fortunate ones that came out unscathed. (Well, except for the Estrogen blocker I’ve got to take for another six years, which throws me into pre-menopause, but whenever I feel a mood swing come on, I just remind myself of my perky boobs. Did I tell you I don’t need to wear a bra? See, now you wish you had cancer too.)
But when folks who haven’t been through it, learn that a friend or loved one has cancer, it’s different. You want to help anyway that you can or know how. And no circumstance is the same. I mean, what are you supposed to do, right? It’s at this moment where I must confess that I hate the color pink and everything it stands for – awareness, i.e. marketing and sponsorship dollars for corporations. Now, don’t get me wrong. When my own mother, sister, and multiple friends ran/walked in my name, it meant the world to me. But with the millions raised each year, less than half of that actually goes to research or helping those with breast cancer directly. Read for yourself at a couple of articles below (there are MANY more out there, for sure):
- Washington Post – May 4, 2016: “Breast Cancer Walks Are a Terrible Way to Fight Breast Cancer”
- Huffington Post – October 9, 2012: “Ten Things Wrong With the Pink Ribbon”
My favorite two organizations that I’ve supported, and have received tremendous support from are Breast Cancer Action (which also has a project called Think Before You Pink, which answers a lot of your ‘pink’ questions) and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (who does indeed have a ‘pink’ store, but their money is guaranteed to research and grants).
(By the way, if you truly want to know the history of the pink ribbon, research Charlotte Haley, who passed away in 2014, and watch the documentary Pink Ribbons, Inc. to get the closest insider’s look on the pink industry.)
But to show you the positive side…when I wrote about my mental side effects from Tamoxifen, the estrogen blocker, a college friend messaged me that her father was the creator of this drug in which I cursed. It took all the courage within me to email him, and after several exchanges (in which he shared how the drug got passed through the senate and to the public, their research, and homeopathic remedies to the various side effects), he shared his newest creation – curing cancer without any surgery, pain, stitches or recovery. Check the story on his local news channel a year ago HERE and his Ted Talk HERE.
I’m saying this last one, because there is research, new procedures, techniques. Not all treatments fit each person, just like every ribbon isn’t the color pink. The only way this disease can be fought is if we stop treating every patient the same, and instead treat the individual person. We are each unique creatures, whose bodies react differently to every circumstance. I go in tomorrow morning for yet another check-up. Vitals will be checked, blood will be drawn, and questions about my body will be asked. I’ll wait to receive a call only ‘if’ there’s bad news. I’ll see new and familiar folks. I’ll walk past the infusion suite where I received my chemo. I’ll see faces that look and don’t look like cancer. It always brings back the biggest concoction of emotions.
And 8 hours later, I’ll be celebrating Halloween with my girls, friends and Graham. Life goes on…for me and I’m grateful. But I wish all of that money that went to corporate pockets instead could have saved the 40,000 lives from this past year, who don’t have moments like these anymore. And I bet you, somewhere in their closet or on their dresser is the color pink. And what good has it done?