A Tale of Two Gatherings

Last week, some dear friends from my former career life got together for a reunion in New York City.  It’s probably ten years or more since I’ve seen some of them.  We keep in touch sporadically.  Mostly through facebook, but some news can’t be announced with a status update or brief tweet.

Sharing a breast cancer diagnosis is one of those things.  So, that bit of information never made its way to those old friends of mine.  What would be the point?  I never see them.  We no longer share the stuff of everyday.  They’re not involved in the minutiae of my life.  Is there an etiquette rule requiring all old friends must be notified upon receipt of life-altering crappy news?

Turns out the timing wasn’t right and I couldn’t attend anyway, but if I had gone, I knew I wouldn’t tell them.  I would have pretended to be the young woman they think they know.

Breast cancer doesn’t belong there.  It doesn’t belong anywhere, but especially there.  In a dingy bar filled with past memories.  Surrounded, not by people currently in their forties, but by the idea of who we used to be in our twenties and thirties.

I’d leave that reunion soon enough to re-enter my current world, but at that gathering, cancer would wait outside the door.  Lingering in the shadows for a few hours.  Non-existent for the moment.  While I would be whom I once was. Back in the days when I was more carefree…before it found me.

In a city farther south, another group of friends gathered for the National Breast Cancer Coalition Advocacy Training Conference and this group couldn’t have been more different from the first.

Here were women I’ve never met, but spend time with everyday.  Whose words and work I admire.  Whose thoughts I connect with.  They gathered in Washington to fight for something I also believe is worth fighting for.

At this event cancer walked right in.  Discussions of breast cancer were not only welcome, but encouraged.  It took center stage and was the sole reason these women came together.  They were not only happy to talk about it, but giddy, enthusiastic, and inspired by it.

It is NBCC’s goal to end breast cancer by 2020 and all conversation centered on making that a reality.

At last, an exciting mission, empowering when embraced.  For too long it seems we were stuck in a sea of pink, hearing of changes, wanting to believe advancements were being made.  Needing to believe optimistic statistics when in actuality, approximately 40,000 people still die from this disease every year.

About as many as two decades ago.

That’s not advancement.  That’s not change.  That’s a number hidden so far down in a sea of pink we barely see it, but deep within ourselves, where the scary thoughts thrive, we know it’s the truth.  Pink awareness is not enough.

The people attending this event heard the conversation shift.  They refocused on facts, and with a concrete goal in sight discussed how research, combined with action and dedication could have the 2020 eradication deadline within our grasps.

Social media was at its finest as bloggers tweeted from their workshops.  I couldn’t absorb the information fast enough and want to thank Uneasy Pink, The Cancer Culture Chronicles, The Accidental Amazon, Pink Ribbon Blues and Women with Cancer bloggers, just to name a few, for taking time to spread the inspiration around.

If I had to choose a place to be that weekend, it would have been there in Washington, beside this group of incredibly motivated women.  Dragging cancer to the center of the room for all to see.  Believing, it was now possible to kick the unwanted guest back out…never to be seen again.

A Little Rant

When the New York Rangers won the Stanley Cup for the first time in over 50 years in 1994, some friends and I thought it would be fun to attend the celebration parade in lower Manhattan.

Turns out, I never saw the parade, just the sea of people surrounding me and as we started the slow trek back uptown the crowd separated me from my friends.  I stopped in the midst of hundreds of moving people to look around. You can say I stopped going with the flow.

Big mistake.

The rushing crowd pushed me against a brick building where I couldn’t move in any direction.  The tight pack of excited Ranger fans seem unbreakable.  I was pressed harder and harder into the wall and images of people trampled at rock concerts flashed before me.

There’s great strength in many moving as one.

With all I had, I managed to inch my way into the crowd and once we hit the corner, people splintered off and I was free of the masses.  Finally, in an open space I took a second and looked around wondering what that was all about. It felt like I’d been in a fight I didn’t see coming.

That’s a wordy way of describing how I felt after reading comments left for Peggy Orenstein on her LA Times op-ed piece regarding high school students wearing boobie bracelets.  It was also how I felt when blogger, Uneasy Pink was crucified sharing her opinions about this issue both on Huffington Post and the Facebook page of the organization I’d rather not name.

I’m left with a sense of disbelief.  It’s not that people can’t have differing opinions.  I don’t care about that.  It’s fine, all points of view are welcome, but what I don’t get and what ties my stomach in knots are the personal insults people are making in lieu of anything worthwhile.

It starts with the typical “lighten up,” and “you’re taking it too seriously.”  My irritation increases as I read accusations of “angry” and “bitter.”  And worsens when I see breast cancer survivors called a “prude” or even better, this clever one, “a boob.”  I can only imagine how proud the guy who thought that up must be.

Well, perhaps we are those things and yes, we may be taking it too seriously. You know why?  Breast cancer kills.  It’s incurable and it’s not pretty, or sexy or fun or littered with laughs as it destroys our bodies and steals our lives.

Why is taking a stance against dumbing down breast cancer such a negative and why does it generate such cruelty by people opposing that view?  It’s surprising to find us in the minority here.  Speaking out has us going against the flow, only to get trampled.

Are we easy targets?  We, cancer girls?

No one is saying our opinion is the only one, the right one or everyone must agree with us because we have cancer.  The goal should be a meaningful dialogue, but I can’t stop thinking the mean girls (and boys) are waiting for us in the school yard when the bell rings and no matter how we try to spin it, explain it, discuss and defend our perspective to this crowd, the hits just keep coming.

Hit us with informed criticism.  Something, anything based in reality or recognized by research, but please, please stop bullying us for our convictions.  Yes, cancer is personal and emotional, which is why we feel the way we do, but we’re not blasting anyone in a derogatory manner, calling out stinging, hurtful names.

We’re trying to explain our position.  For us it’s serious business.  The business of eradicating breast cancer, with a little respect for those that deal with it everyday and in memory of those we lost to it.  When that’s accomplished, I’m pretty sure we’ll all be able to lighten up.

In the meantime, it’s hard enough living with it.  We shouldn’t have to be insulted for it, too.