There is a certain coziness to autumn. After the chaos of summer, it’s the time when we settle back into routine; we find a rhythm. It is the time of comfort food, of warm colors, and crisp breezes. It is the season of pumpkin pie.
Once upon a time, autumn was my favorite season, but all that changed a few years ago.
October – Breast Cancer Awareness month
In September of 2010, I looked forward to October with some enthusiasm. It was my first Breast Cancer Awareness month since my diagnosis 7 months earlier, and I didn’t know what to expect. I thought a month dedicated to people like me might be fun, and there were some amazing fundraising parties, but I was not prepared for the Pepto Bismol-colored tidal wave that engulfed me.
Now, when I think of fall, it’s with white knuckles. I’m either bracing for, enduring, or recovering from Breast Cancer Awareness month. In October, those of us with breast cancer don our pink boas, and work frantically to earn money for the legitimate organizations that are truly working for a cure, or helping people to live with cancer. Meanwhile, hucksters get rich off my misfortune by slapping a pink ribbon on a product, then bumping up the price by $5 to donate $1 to breast cancer charities. Everything is painted pink, even carcinogenic items. Well meaning friends pass around internet memes where they pretend to be pregnant, and this is supposed to somehow give hope, or something, to those women who lost their fertility to breast cancer. Everything is all about breast cancer awareness, as if breast cancer was some newly discovered affliction, and awareness could actually help you avoid it.
Yes, it’s true that there are things you can do to reduce your odds. But as of today, there is no guaranteed prevention, and there is no cure.
This morning, my YSC family lost another angel. This was the third loss for us in as many weeks. Rachel was interviewed for the same CNN Heroes story as me last year – the one where we honored Debbie Cantwell, and the Pink Daisy Project. In this clip, you can hear her voice, you can see the sparkle of her big smile, as eye catching as her orange bandanna.
We are warm blooded women, with hopes and dreams and responsibilities and heartaches. We are mothers, daughters, sisters, friends, lovers. We are individuals.
We are not mascots.
We are more than statistics.
Over the coming month we will be lumped together and presented to you as a barrage of numbers. 1 in 3 get cancer in their lifetime. 1 in 8 will get breast cancer. But I want you to see the faces behind the numbers. And I want you to pay attention to what these campaigns are really fighting for. Be wary of campaigns that are just for breast cancer awareness.
My friends are dying, and it’s not for lack of awareness.
I am aware of breast cancer, and I was for decades before I was diagnosed with locally advanced breast cancer.
You, no doubt, are very much aware of breast cancer as well.
Awareness will not prevent breast cancer, and while it can sometimes improve projected outcomes, early detection and treatment does not guarantee that the cancer will not return.
We don’t need more awareness. What we need is a cure.
How you can help
For all the frustration that surrounds Breast Cancer Awareness Month, there are some wonderful organizations who are doing laudable work in the breast cancer field, and these organizations depend on the funds raised in October for the following year’s budget.
Pay attention to what a breast cancer charity is fighting for. Are they raising money for awareness, or a cure? If they’re working towards a cure, how much of their research money are they putting towards the stage of breast cancer that is actually deadly, metastatic breast cancer? There are also a number of much needed breast cancer charities that do not focus on research at all, but their services are critical to the lives and well-being of women living with breast cancer.
Just to cut through the crap a bit, I’m going to list a few organizations below that do an excellent job of serving the needs of women with breast cancer. This is by no means an exhaustive list.
The Young Survival Coalition: YSC helps young women live with cancer, to connect with others with similar experiences, and to not feel so alone. I credit YSC with helping me keep my sanity while going through treatment.
The Pink Daisy Project helps young women with breast cancer to deal with the practical aspects of life while they are going through treatment. This is the organization highlighted in the CNN clip above, and they help young women who can’t wait for a cure. PDP hired someone to come clean my home while I was going through chemo and to sick to clean it myself. They sent me gift cards to buy the necessities of life when I was counting change from the couch to buy diapers.
The National Breast Cancer Coalition is so serious about curing breast cancer, they set a deadline, 2020. Their approach is science oriented rather than political, and they are committed to this goal.
The Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation – this science oriented research organization is also working on some groundbreaking research towards the goal of ending breast cancer in our lifetime.
Living Beyond Breast Cancer – the goal of LBBC is to empower all women affected by breast cancer to live as long as possible with the best quality of life.
If you find yourself tempted to buy something you don’t really need – just because it’s pink and it’s October – why not send your $5 (or whatever amount) directly to the organization of your choice instead? That way it’s tax deductible, and you know for sure that all the money is going to the charity.
Help us find a cure for cancer. Help us make pink just another color. Help us take back October.
The weather turned since the last time I wrote one of these letters to you. In just a couple months we went from temperatures in the 80s to frosty mornings and piles of multicolored leaves on the ground. You’ve changed so much, grown up so much, in that little bit of time.
You notice the change in the trees. You notice the weather. You notice so many things that just a couple months ago would have slipped right past you. I have to be a little more careful now. And watch my tongue. Not that I am the kind of person who would thoughtlessly say things in your presence that I wouldn’t want you to repeat. ahem.
The past few months have been pretty busy. Especially October. I’ve taken to calling it Pinktober, because breast cancer awareness month takes over everything, no matter what else we’ve got going on.
As if I wasn’t already all too aware of breast cancer.
I have a feeling that this is going to be a part of a new pattern in our lives, that we will need to learn to just brace ourselves for Pinktober every year. We’ll learn to let the wave of pink wash over us without dredging up too much trauma, while embracing the opportunities that come in at the same time. We need to remember that Pinktober is a time of reunion with those who have become close friends in this breast cancer battle, it’s also a time to celebrate life, and raise some money to help all those who will be diagnosed in the year ahead.
When I see myself in your mannerisms, the things you say, the way you turn a phrase, it reminds me that one of my most important tasks as your mother is to be a role model. And that responsibility has become a critical part of my decision making process.
Some people pay lipservice to the old WWJD: What Would Jesus Do? I take a different approach. When faced with a difficult decision, I ask WWIWGTD: What Would I Want Gem To Do? But I’m asking that question for real. I consider this question in all different aspects of my life from brushing my teeth even if I’m staying in bed all day, to how I interact with friends and strangers, to how I research and take a position on an issue, to how I react when people are cruel to me.
I don’t want to give the impression that I’m letting you make my decisions. I need to make choices that are healthy for me, and I want you to learn to make decisions that are healthy for you.
The net result of all this is that I am living my life more mindfully because of you. I’m making more thoughtful decisions. I’m taking better care of my body. I now respond differently when people try to walk all over me, and while some may not like that change, I know it’s a change that needed to be made.
Well, for starters, you end up with some fun pictures…
But more importantly, this event raised money for some pretty awesome organizations.
Get Hitched Give Hope brings together wedding related vendors from around the region, allowing the wedding party to meet the vendors, bid on wedding products and services, and plan their weddings while raising money for a great cause.
Food, wine, flowers, rhinestones, and feathers…
Vendors were there to show off the best of what they have to offer
And the Young Survival Coalition (an organization which has been of immense help to me in my cancer battle) was one of the beneficiaries, along with The Dream Foundation, which grants wishes to adults in the last year of their battle with life threatening diseases.
Such an amazing event. And thanks to all these events in October, we’ve got a good jump on hitting our budget for next year. But I’ve got to admit, I’m thankful that October is over; I’m exhausted, and ready for a two week nap.
Also, I think I’m going to try to get one of those photo booths for all my events in the future. That was fun!
It sounds cliche to say that women who have faced down a life-threatening diagnosis really know how to embrace life. It is cliche. It’s not even always true. But my girls? My friends? They know how to party.
Friday night we celebrated and raised money for the Young Survival Coalition with our annual silent auction and dance party, In Living Pink.
The silent auction was wildly successful, and boasted donated items such as massage certificates, white water rafting, sight seeing cruises and flights, art, event tickets, A NYC package including Letterman tickets, Seahawks gear – autographed by players, jewelry, restaurants, vacation packages, and too much more to list.
So what does all this money we’re raising go to? Here’s a few examples:
$25 pays for a resource kit for young women newly diagnosed with breast cancer. This resource kit includes an organizer for tracking the onslaught of information that must be managed through treatment, an encouraging and helpful DVD “you are not alone,” a guide to services available to young women with cancer, and a chemo-hat – hand-knit by the mother of one of our members.
$50 pays for flowers for one of our girls in the hospital, or going through a rough patch
$125 pays for facility rental so we can bring in educational guest speakers on a wide variety of issues such as nutrition, dealing with the effects of treatment on sexuality, and post-treatment breast reconstruction.
$200 pays for the facility rental and therapist facilitator for twice monthly group therapy sessions.
$300 will send one of our members to our annual retreat at Harmony Hill
This is more than just a dance party, this event raises money that makes a difference.
But we do know how to have fun…
The guys, too…
Hey, look, it’s me. (One of the best parts of having a 2 year old little girl: Gem declared me to be a “mermaid princess” before I left the house #mamaswoon)
Thank you to everyone who contributed so much to this event, from the planning committee to the volunteers who put in so many hours the night of the party.
The decorations looked amazing, Brooke from Movin’ 92.5 kept the party hoppin’, and Miss Shelrawka rocked the house.
It’s that time of year when the world is washed in pink, and people prance around in their favorite tongue-in-cheek, boob-aware apparel. But how much awareness does all this bring to the realities of breast cancer, and how much does this just turn our attention to boobs?
Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against boobs. I am pro-boob. I was quite attached to mine, till one tried to kill me. Boobs are awesome, an entertaining conversation topic, they bounce, they feed babies, they’re happy, fun playthings. Breast cancer is the Debbie Downer in the room.
But I can’t wish the pink away, not until we find a better way to fund finding a cure. Unfortunately, not only do we have to endure pink every year, but every year breast cancer survivors go out and parade ourselves around to raise money for breast cancer organizations we believe in. Like it or not, the reality is that many good organizations funding research and programs that help women with breast cancer survive depend on October, on the Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the make the majority of their budget for the upcoming year. And yes, the results of that funding has lead to research that led to treatments that beat back my cancer. And those fundraisers brought in money for breast cancer support organizations that helped me survive my treatments. These fundraisers do make a difference when the money goes to the right place.
So as much as we hate it, we put on the pink and we paste on the smile, because these programs helped get us through it, and now we’re paying it forward so those programs can help someone else. BUT, we’re very careful who we support.
Not everything pink forwards money on to organizations that are seeking the cure, or supporting women with breast cancer. There are so many devious programs out there making money hand over fist selling pink items. Some paint an item pink even though it’s a known carcinogen. Some send no money at all. some just bilk the well-meaning of extra cash. They send $1 to a breast cancer org? Sure, but they bumped the price from $5 to $10 before they painted it pink. That little bit of pink is making them an extra $4 a pop, and you’re buying, not because you need it, but because it’s pink. Sometimes it’s more effective to make a direct donation (also tax-deductable) rather than purchasing something just because it’s pink in October.
Yes, awareness is important. Yes, its the once annual reminder to do the self-exam that we should be doing every month. But we also need to spread awareness that young women, even young girls, can get breast cancer. And men, too. And we can’t stop at awareness.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of amazing women who are dying – and they’ve got all kinds of awareness. Awareness is not enough. We need a cure.