So... it is that time of year again. The day I pull out my soapbox, dust it off and step on up to the mic. I do this because every year over 2 million women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. In the US alone, it is just under 300k for women and just under 3k for men. Breast Cancer has now surpassed lung cancer as the number one cancer in women. (For more info on these statistics, you can click here.)
Here's the thing: Breast Cancer is on the rise. It rises .5% every year. That is scary. The good news is, women are surviving longer and getting diagnosed earlier. The 5 year survival rate average is 89% The bad news? The 5 year survival rate in Metastatic Breast Cancer is 29%.
For anyone who has been diagnosed with Stage 1-3, we are given the "all clear" after treatment; however, if at any time down the road our cancer pops up in another part of our body, we are immediately deemed Metastatic and put into a whole new category. There is no "in between." There is no cure and your life will be about surviving as long as you can, with the best quality of life you can have. That, however, is a life with treatment, never ending.
I may sound maudlin and please forgive me if I do (it's the one day a year I allow myself), but I think Olivia Newton John's passing rocked a lot of us in the "early stage" Breast Cancer world. When you hear of a woman's cancer metastasizing after 20 years, you think to yourself, Well crap! If it can happen to HER it can happen to any of us. This is the tricky thing. Although we get on with our lives and rarely think about Breast Cancer...it comes out for a visit once in a while and scares the living daylights out of you. I am good about putting it back in its box, but it is there, heavily placed on a shelf, with a highlighted tag on it.
Why am I telling you all of this? Because this is the start of National Breast Cancer Awareness month, a month many of us dread. Dread because it reminds us of our cancer, because it reminds us of what we went through, because it reminds us of those we lost, those we became so close to and could do nothing for. It is also extremely difficult because we sit back and watch multi-million and billion dollar companies play on our compassion and trick us into thinking we are doing something good by buying that pink razor, or garbage can, or bottle of toxic laundry detergent.
Here's the thing: They don't donate any of those proceeds. Women with Stage 4, who desperately need new treatment options, treatments that can help them thrive are not helped by that pink razor. That laundry detergent isn't helping pay the bills of the single mother who can't work because she is too sick and treatment is making her even sicker. That garbage can won't support the many women who are buried under medical bills because they either couldn't afford health insurance to begin with or lost their jobs and then their insurance, or their insurance wouldn't cover important testing they needed to figure out best treatment.
You are buying that pink product for awareness purposes only. They are putting the pink ribbon on that product to make you aware that Breast Cancer exists in the world and that is it! Nothing else is required from them. Nada, Zip, Zero!
I realize this post is coming off more angry this year and it is. I am angry. I am angry that I have been in this world for 11 years and more women each year are being diagnosed. And what makes me the angriest is, it is younger women. Women who haven't had the chance to have families yet, who now may not have that right. Women who should be planning their careers, having fun in the world figuring out who they are, or enjoying their children's childhood, not writing them letters for when they are no longer here to guide them through life.
I am mad that I had the ability to have yearly screenings, good insurance (even so I had to pay 5 figures out of pocket, and that was with great insurance, that I was already paying an arm and a leg for) and access to top doctors and resources. Many women don't have any of this. Many women, who don't have access to these are the women diagnosed late stage, easily preventable if they had access to early screenings.
I am mad that I will never fully be free from fear of this disease, that I know what women go through at the end, and that every time we lose someone, there isn't a single one of us who doesn't think, why them? Why not me? The women we lose are magnificent, hilarious, one of a kind warriors who never give up, who leave behind devastated families and who should have had more time on this Earth.
What we need is not awareness, what we need is a cure. What we need are resources for underserved communities, what we need are new treatment options, longer lasting treatment options, new technologies, new ideas. Our doctors are doing the best they can with what they have. Finding new treatments takes time and money.
So all of this is to say, if you want to truly make a difference this month, know where your money is going when you make your purchases. Donate directly to a cancer center, donate to a research facility, donate to a friend or colleague's Go Fund Me page. Here are a few other simple things you can do to help make a difference:
- Donate to your local cancer hospital
- Donate to a Go Fund Me page for someone you know who is fighting BC
- Drive a friend to their treatment appointment (you'd be surprised how helpful this is and needed)
- Bring frozen meals to your friend or colleague's house (again, much needed)
- Send your friend a care package of things that aren't related to cancer (if I had received one more pink ribbon mug when I was diagnosed I was going to throw them all out the window!)
- Check in on your friends going through this. I know sometimes you feel you're "intruding" or being bothersome, but even a text saying "thinking of you" goes a long way
- Get a mammogram, even if you are scared. Go with a friend, then go for a margarita!
And for those of you wanting to make a donation, here is a site to help you find a worthy and vetted charity. I know that those people who are buying the pinkness in October, only have the best intentions and truly feel they are doing something good. That is amazing and I am so grateful. It is the companies who are taking advantage that I have issue with.
Thank you for listening, and letting me get on my soapbox. I will now step off it, and put it back on its shelf, next to the "fear of recurrence" box.
With much love and gratitude,