Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Is It Time For A Self-Exam For The Breast Cancer Industry?

In honour of October aka breast cancer awareness month, a question for my survivor friends, if you don't mind my asking - and before you read on, please don't if reading about cancer will upset you or cause you stress. That is not my intention.

What do you all think about these kinds of videos, like the one below? I haven't personally experienced having cancer, thank God; I'm just a survivor of a non-survivor, so my perspective is probably different.

Personally, I hate them. I don't see the point. How is dancing around and wearing pink supposed to bring awareness? Or in this particular video, make the patient feel better? These videos seem to me to be self-serving, with the dual purpose of the participants having a great time, and feeling great because they believe they're contributing. Don't get me wrong - there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Just don't pass it off as an awareness campaign (is there ANYONE who doesn't know about breast cancer at this point?). I resent the implication that if we would all just wear something pink and dance a flashmob, everything will be all better.

You want to do an awareness campaign? How about a campaign that lets people know that people STILL DIE from this disease?! The number of women who die every year from breast cancer, ovarian cancer and other cancers is unacceptable. The number of young women who leave behind children who have no understanding of what has happened to their mothers or fathers is deplorable. The number of families grieving their loss and struggling to carry on is offensive.

How about a campaign that forces companies like Susan G Komen to be completely transparent so we see how little of our donations is actually going to research for a cure*. How about a campaign to demand that our governments make finding affordable (dare I say free?) treatment a priority. How much money would the health care system save if we could just get a shot when that mammogram comes back showing a terrifying lump? How about we force those big-name pharmaceuticals to dedicate a set portion of their research towards certain diseases, in order to receive those government grants?

Do we need a month dedicated to breast cancer awareness? Really? Let's make October Breast Cancer PREVENTION Month. Or Breast Cancer Research Month. Or How To Do A Self-Exam Month. Or Stop Breast Cancer Month. I think we have enough awareness that there's something out there called breast cancer.**

The fact that so many people are shocked to hear of anyone dying from breast cancer ("You can still die from that?" and "I didn't know women still died from breast cancer" - actual quotes from someone upon hearing about my sister, z"l) means breast cancer research is not the priority it should be. No video with a bunch of people wearing pink gloves dancing to a catchy tune is going to change that.

*By Komen's own figures, about 21% of their total budget goes to research

** Edited to add: Male breast cancer could use an awareness campaign - Morey's family history includes his grandmother, two aunts and a great-uncle who died from breast cancer. A few years back, when Morey found a lump, he went to see his doctor, despite feeling embarrassed. He shared his feeling with the doctor, who reassured him saying Morey absolutely did the right thing, especially given his history. It turned out to be nothing, thank God, but in his case, it might not have been. (I have Morey's permission to share this story.) Men can, and do, also die from this disease. Thank you, Leah, and your cousin for reminding me that I needed to make that clearer.

In loving memory of Pamela;
the heartbreak will always be too great.

If you know of someone who is dealing with cancer, who has young children, this book, The Cancer That Wouldn't Go Away: A story for kids about metastatic cancer is a tremendous resource. Written and edited by two dear friends of mine who, with another sister, also lost a sister to cancer, it contains a guide by a child psychologist to help families talk to their children. May the day come that a book like this will no longer be needed.