Was it ironic? Annoying? Funny in a morbid way? Embarrassing? Humiliating? Degrading? My first time through Breast Cancer Awareness Month (October, in case you’ve been living in another universe since it was founded in 1985) as someone with breast cancer was all of these.
Last week I picked up my monthly resupply of several of the medications I’m on solely because of breast cancer or the treatment I’ve received for breast cancer.
Those medications included an antidepressant, an anti-anxiety tablet, a sleeping pill and, newest to my regime, vaginal estrogen therapy. From the website of the latter — yes, it has a website — it “treats menopausal changes in and around the vagina.” The website also warns that this therapy can increase the risk of uterine cancer. Fun times.
It seems chemotherapy put me in early menopause, and treating the symptoms of that increases the risk I will develop another type of cancer.
I can’t say I ever thought I’d be talking about “vaginal atrophy” or experiencing it at the ripe old age of 40.
Amazingly, it wasn’t vaginal atrophy that brought up myriad emotions.
It was the pink lids on the four plastic vials of pills that annoyed, embarrassed, humiliated and angered me. I spend energy every minute of every day trying to forget about breast cancer. Without fail, pink interrupted the rare seconds this month that I’ve been able to do that.
Then there were the pink martinis on Delta Air Lines flights.
I’m not against making people aware of breast cancer. I’m against how it’s done and why breast cancer is so singled out from other cancers.
Two dollars from the sale of each pink martini on Delta go to a nebulous cause: “breast cancer research.” Can you be a little more specific?
If you’re going to badger and guilt passengers into buying pink martinis — on a flight from San Diego to Salt Lake the flight attendants made no fewer than five pushes for the special martinis, at one point even announcing that we should be proud of the $52 we had raised, and then telling us that most other flights were more generous — at least tell us how and where the money is going to breast cancer research.
Better yet? Screw the donations to breast cancer research and instead direct employees to be nicer to passengers, because chances are good that several of them might be breast cancer survivors or even currently dealing with breast cancer.
Best of all? Don’t use alcohol, which is known to increase the risk of breast cancer, to promote breast cancer awareness. The National Cancer Institute warns, “even moderate drinking has been shown to increase the risk of breast cancer.” From the American Cancer Society: “The use of alcohol is clearly linked to an increased risk of developing breast cancer.”
Then there’s the NFL. Pink shoes, socks, gloves, penalty flags, cheerleader pom-poms. Why doesn’t that organization focus on a cause closer to home? It has several to choose from.
What the heck does breast cancer have to do with the NFL other than the fact it gives the league a crap-ton of pink merchandise to sell? At NFL.com you can buy breast cancer awareness gear from $6.95 pins and shoelaces to a $24.99 (on sale from $36.95) NFL Pink Breast Cancer Awareness 50-by-70-inch Silk Touch Plush Blanket, $84.95 sweatshirts and a $130 Wilson NFL Shield Official Breast Cancer Awareness Game Football.
Each of these items is necessary because, “Show them you are the No. 1 fan of the NFL with this ________! Your NFL pride is on display and this bold pink _______ also lets people know you support the campaign to make people aware how important annual screenings are to prevent breast cancer. 100 percent of the NFL’s proceeds from pink product sales go to the American Cancer Society.”
One hundred percent of proceeds — that sounds impressive. But a 2013 Business Insider article breaks that down:
For every $100 in pink merchandise sold, $12.50 goes to the NFL. Of that, $11.25 goes to the American Cancer Society and the NFL keeps the rest. The remaining money is then divided up by the company that makes the merchandise (37.5 percent) and the company that sells the merchandise (50 percent), which is often the NFL and the individual teams.
It’s not just that the blatant co-opting of breast cancer for corporate marketing/feel-good purposes angers me.
I’m embarrassed by all the attention my cancer gets when it’s one of the more treatable cancers around. Of course I’m not going to write that any kind of cancer is good, but nearly twice as many women die from lung cancer each year compared with breast cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that 71,660 women will die from lung cancer this year.
Where’s Lung Cancer Awareness Month? Or what about Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month? The American Cancer Society reports that the overall lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is 1 in 20. And it estimates that nearly 50,000 people will die from colon or rectal cancer this year.
What are the chances one of the antler arches will be wrapped in gray or brown lights any time soon? My guess is slim to none because neither lungs nor rectums can be sexualized like female breasts.
You’ll notice I wrote “female breasts.”
Breast Cancer Awareness Month also embarrasses me because of the way it neglects men. True, breast cancer is much less common in men, but they still get it. Yet many don’t know they can get it. Wouldn’t it make sense that during a month that professes to promote awareness of a disease an effort would be made to reach populations that don’t know they could get it?
Have you seen a single Breast Cancer Awareness Month anything that included a man with the disease? I haven’t.
“Tips for Tits” is the actual name of a happy hour at a bar in Pennsylvania.
There’s a company (which doesn’t limit itself to advertising merely during Breast Cancer Awareness Month) called “Save the Ta Tas.” It sells T-shirts with slogans like “Caught you lookin’ at my Ta Tas” and “I love my big Ta Tas.” Evidently a small portion of sales is donated to breast cancer research.
Somewhere in this country there is a “Boobyball Party” and a hotel chain that tries to lure guests to “Get into Bed for a Cure.” There’s a Breast Cancer Awareness Month festival called “Beat the Hell Out of Breast Cancer.” Its promotional bracelets read “I Love Boobies.”
I certainly have poked fun at aspects of breast cancer and also at some of the things it has brought into my life — my hemorrhoids are gone, but the memories of them will not soon die. Still, I’d like all of the people behind these events, T-shirts and slogans to look long and hard at the surgery and radiation scars on my breast and give me a concrete example of how their pink martini or Wilson game football with a pink ribbon on it has helped a breast cancer patient. And also tell me why an entire month is devoted to awareness of female breast cancer and not lung cancer or anal cancer or sarcoma.
And you know what? Despite pink being everywhere each October the number of people dying annually of breast cancer has remained stagnant.