Let There Be Cheerleaders

For the past few days, I’ve been trying to write a post about Sunday, but it’s October and I’m distracted.  Everywhere I turn I’m overwhelmed with pinkertising while not even looking for it.  But, there it is.  In my mailbox, in my supermarket (chicken sausage, anyone?), at my gym and even in the dentist’s chair adorning the paper bib used to soak up spit.  I was informed by the hygienist, these bibs were specially purchased to help raise awareness.

Oh, it’s working.  I’m totally aware.

My brother asked if I’m anti-pink.  Not exactly.  Like so many these days, I’m against what “pink” has come to represent. The happy-go-lucky, early stage, still having fun, never sick, all is right in the world, let’s get coffee with perfect hair and makeup, cancer survivor.  My skin prickles at this unrealistic vision created by major marketing machines.

All is not well in the land of breast cancer.  For if it were, there would be no need for last Sunday.

It’s been nearly thirty years since Nancy Brinker founded the Susan G. Komen organization and began work to end breast cancer.  In those years, Komen and other cancer organizations succeeded in shining a light on what was once a shameful, embarrassing, deadly disease.  A disease, no one dared speak of louder than a whisper.

How far they’ve come.  I can’t step outside my door, or power up my computer without being assaulted by a litany of companies all promising to aid in the fight.  All promising their donated dollars will put a stop to it.

The thing is, it hasn’t worked.  Thirty years, no cure and more questions than answers.  The promise most of us grew up with, has yet to come true.  We’re still being told we have breast cancer.  It’s that failure in finding a cure which inspired thousands of people on Sunday to turn out for a small organization, named Support Connection.

The crowd didn’t show to raise money for research.

They weren’t walking for education and awareness.

It wasn’t about the cure.

Their purpose was to acknowledge the remnants of unfulfilled promises — The people left in cancer’s wake. Those of us actually living with breast or ovarian cancer.  The day was simply a way of ensuring this organization would continue to provide its free support, information, counseling and hope through stories and experiences of women who had lived it.

That kind of help is sadly, still desperately in need.

All these years without answers created the urgency for such a place.  As the reign of breast cancer lingers, Support Connection exists for the approximate 200,000 women who annually find themselves newly diagnosed.  It exists for those with advanced stages of breast cancer, which continues to occur since no one has discovered how to stop Stage I from becoming Stage IV.

Without a cure, we are left to fend for ourselves, but if we’re lucky, we’ll find the support needed to heal…needed to just face our day.

It was a beautiful Sunday.  Many participants walked together as teams.  Many brought dogs. Cheerleading squads and local high school bands performed along the path and at first, I couldn’t understand why they were cheering.

This wasn’t a race.  No one was awarded a prize for finishing first.  We were here for each other.  That’s why they were cheering.  For the thousands of us, everywhere, directly affected by society’s failure to eradicate this disease.  We’re still dealing with cancer, everyday.  We live with it, die with it and carry each other along the way.

Many walkers wore signs claiming “In honor of” or “In memory of” some loved one.  Many were walking to commemorate their own triumphs.  I didn’t pin on any signs in the name of those I’ve lost.  I also didn’t walk for myself.  I walked for all the ladies and men I’ve never met who will one day hear the words, “You have cancer” and need a  place to turn. Support Connection provides that and with the generosity of donors, will continue to freely give services until they are no longer needed.  When the promises of all the pink finally, hopefully, one day come to fruition and breast cancer becomes a thing of the past.

Sorry, Support Connection, your doors will have to close.  Fundraising walks will go by the wayside and your toll-free hotline will quietly shut down, but those cheerleaders… They’ll really have something to yell about.  What a welcome sight that will be.

Why It Matters

I didn’t see this post coming.  My blog is usually about little moments in the everyday life of a mom juggling a family and breast cancer.  I sometimes veer off course and urge people to check out the Love/Avon Army of Women and their efforts to find the causes of breast cancer in order to learn how to truly prevent it…someday.  It’s a small thing we can all do to help with a greater good.  The end of breast cancer, coming about through research.  Imagine that.

I sometimes spout my respect and gratitude for a small organization, Support Connection, whose only mission is to support women with breast or ovarian cancer and their families and caregivers.  That’s it.  That’s all they care about. Helping those that need it in the most efficient, caring, direct ways possible.  I personally found their services invaluable and keep in contact with them to this day.  It is my wish all cancer patients find that kind of support.  I’m not sure healing can take place without it.

Those are the things that normally make up my blog, but recently exchanges taking place on facebook along with some thought-provoking blog posts have raised questions about some breast cancer fundraisers, their tactics and goals.  Are these companies being responsible with the money being raised? Where are the dollars going exactly?  Which methods are utilized to raise these funds?  And does it matter?

All good questions and ones I didn’t give a lot of thought to…before.  It was too easy to see the pink ribbon everywhere, hear of all the money being raised and assume it was going toward a cure for breast cancer.  After all, that’s the line we’re being fed over and over again, working toward a cure.  It never occurred to me to question whether the products being sold can actually contribute to the causes of breast cancer.  Why would I think that when the package looks so pretty in pink?  As long as money was being raised “for the cure,” all was good, right?

Turns out, as most things, it’s not that simple.  Some organizations use their donations to only raise awareness of breast cancer, to educate about early detection.  While worthy, those things won’t find a cure. Only research can do that and it must be highly funded in order to advance.

As the beneficiary of early detection, I agree the word about breast cancer should be out there.  Women do need to be aware of the symptoms.  They do need to get mammograms and ultrasounds.  But don’t, for a single second believe early detection means cured.

It does not.

It is exactly what it claims to be…breast cancer discovered at an early stage. Does that mean women are spared the chance of recurrence?  No.  Or their cancer will never advance to Stages 3 or 4?  Nope.  So, it’s clear to me that donation dollars would be better spent elsewhere, knocking on the research door.

That’s one thing, another is the method invoked by some organizations in the good name of breast cancer or in this case, “boobie” cancer.

I wasn’t going to write about this.  I was going to live and let live.  There are better bloggers than I that write about this eloquently, responsibly and in depth, but then I thought of my mother, my aunt and my sister-in-law’s mom and how they would view this emerging “lighter side of breast cancer.”

Would they think it’s funny to see organizations dumb down the gravity of their disease in the name of awareness?  Would they think it was fun to have young men and women giggle while tossing the word “boobies” around for the cause?  Would they approve of an organization turning a blind eye to the ugly realities of breast cancer because it’s not “cool” enough?

Probably not.  If they were alive I’d ask them.  There wasn’t anything funny about what they endured.  There is nothing fun about watching the disintegration of someone you love.

Cancer is personal and sometimes that fact gets overlooked by the fundraising machine.  Focus is lost.  Cancer is seen as a giant entity, a force to be reckoned with.  Which it is, but only because of the people it touches, the lives it destroys.  We can’t ever lose sight of that.

Cancer can only be taken down with further research and it needs to be treated with respect. As do the people living with it everyday and those that died because of it.  We all deserve better than giggles and rubber bracelets with sophmoric, sexualized, catch phrases and I can’t support any breast cancer fundraiser that forgets that.

To read the facts and opinions of the bloggers I refer to, visit Uneasy PinkThe Cancer Culture Chronicles and Nancy’s Point.

Get It Where You Can

About a year ago I was in my breast surgeon’s waiting room… waiting, for a follow up appointment a few months after the mastectomy and noticed a woman holding tight to her mammogram films and a thick folder, as I had once done.  Everything about her screamed first timer.

It was scary how desperately I wanted to talk to her, to ask what was happening, where she was on this path or how much she knew.  I wanted to tell her I had been exactly where she was and that she’d get through it.  I was practically bursting to say those things, but I didn’t say anything.  I just let her sit there quietly, holding tightly to the proof cancer exists within her.

Would it have helped her if I, some stranger, invaded her privacy at that very private moment?  Interrupting whatever scenario was playing in her head?  I didn’t really think so.  She wasn’t asking for an ear to listen and I doubt I would have made her feel better, but I sensed it would have made me feel better.

Suddenly this was about me…again. That’s when I realized I needed more than I was getting.  I had to find others I could talk to.

This is a recurrent theme in my blog simply because it’s so true.  I needed to share breast cancer with someone that would understand it.  Which is the whole point of this very blog, but at the time, I didn’t have it.  I just made my way through each day the best I could and since I was on the verge of harassing an unsuspecting stranger, it occurred to me, that maybe my best wasn’t so good.

I was coming from a bad place.  The several people I knew with breast cancer had died.  My own prognosis was good, but as the blogger, ChemoBabe (www.chemobabe.com), so eloquently wrote, the sword was hanging over my head.  I had a fatalistic attitude about the whole thing.  Yeah, maybe things were fine today, but there’s always tomorrow.  My history had taught me that and it was a hard lesson to shake.


I called an organization founded by and comprised of breast cancer survivors, several times and they never failed to get me through my lowest moments. These women always made me laugh, an unexpected bonus, and they always made me feel less alone.  They suggested I try their monthly young women’s group.  Maybe hearing other women describe their cancer intrusions would be beneficial somehow.

I went soon after, unsure of what I was looking for.  Afraid I hadn’t the right to attend a support group without having endured the rigors of chemo.  Who was I to complain when others had it so much worse?

If I could have tiptoed in on little cat’s feet, I would have.  Honestly, I don’t know why I even went through with it.  Some force propelled me into that room where I sat and listened to  women sharing stories, talking openly about their problems, no matter how personal. The concern and support given each other was palpable, whether they knew the woman speaking or not.  We all had something in common.  I felt  welcomed by each and every one.  I belonged simply because I had been diagnosed as they had been.

The fact is, our diagnoses varied greatly.  The names, the stages, the tumor sizes, the treatments, how we found it… all different.  No two women there even came close to being similar.  As physically diverse a group of women might be, is how different breast cancer was in that room that night.

What made us the same and unlike other people on the planet was hearing those words.  Being told we have cancer.  The words that change everything.

I know group support is not for everyone, but I liked having a place to go where I could just be one of the girls in the room.  I didn’t have to say much.  It was understood, but after going a few times, I wanted to explain my situation, my history and why I still live each day glancing up to the sword.

It’s a year later and I still go whenever I can, but not so much for myself.  I have this blog now and my awesome blogging Twitter friends for support and sharing everyday stuff, but going to group lets me check in with the women I’ve come to know, and more importantly, be there when a first timer shows up.  I might be able to help.

Support, get it where you can.

Below is a link to the wonderful non-profit group I just wrote about. They did not ask me to write about their organization.  I did it because every woman should have a warm, supportive place to turn to when overwhelmed by her disease.  All services are free of charge and open to all breast and ovarian cancer patients across the country, no matter where they are on their journey.