A pretty pink piece of mail

Because it’s October and we’re awash in all things pink, I got this cute little notice in the mail from my health insurance company. 

Of course it got my attention, amidst the heaps of junk mail, because it’s pink and because when I see a pink ribbon, my brain immediately goes into fight or flight mode as visions of Komen’s money-grubbing dance in my head.

Ok, that’s a bit harsh; Komen isn’t just about money-grubbing. But Pinktober does that to me. I jump to conclusions and get all snarky.

I sat down to read this pink piece of mail, expecting to roll my eyes at yet another meaningless and offensive bit of  “awareness” propaganda. Plus, the headline imploring me to put myself first made me think I had free reign to be totally selfish and say, go get a mani-pedi instead of cooking dinner for my people. I had to read more!

Sucked in by the pink haze and the make-me-be-naughty headline, I read on. Page 2 asked a pressing question:

Why, yes, as a matter of fact, I did know that. I also know that mammograms aren’t all that effective at detecting a lump in one’s breast, as I’d been having a mammo every year and at various levels for 5 years before my lump was detected, and even then, it wasn’t detected by a mammo at all but rather by my uber-vigilant OB-GYN, who I credit with saving my life, or at least saving me from a much more protracted and undoubtedly less pleasant cancer “journey.”

Oh, boy, there goes the snark again.

I love the images used in this: the radiantly healthy, young, smiling patient with her gown perfectly draped around her non-cancer-infested body. The state-of-the art screening equipment. The competent and in-control technician. And last but not least, the perfectly round, plump, healthy breast on the screen.


Now I’ve moved straight from snarky to sad, and I’m only on page 2.

Page 3 gets a little more serious, but I’m still sad. That image of the round, healthy breast stays with me. I like that page 3 imparts a serious note, taking care to provide a few snippets of facts & figures to prod one but not scare the bejeezus out of one. The sympathetic tone of, “We know you haven’t scheduled your mammo and we understand, you’re busy taking care of everyone under the sun” is really effective. It’s also very reassuring the way the text suggests “Hey, if the worst does happen and the mammo we suggested you schedule shows that you do in fact have breast cancer, it’s ok; you’re good. We caught it early so you’ll survive.” (You’ll survive, but  your life, your wallet, your mind, and most of all, your body will never be the same.)

It goes on to list the signs & symptoms of breast cancer, just in case you aren’t sure. And another suggestion to schedule that mammo today. I love the line about how it won’t cost anything but time. I guess they decided against full disclosure, and nixed mentioning that the smooshing of those nice round breasts is  uncomfortable, and that the hospital smell and presence of nightmare-inducing germs everywhere may make you want to run screaming from the building, it might freak out the intended audience and one might decide to chuck the pretty pink pamphlet onto the recycle pile without a backward glance.

I did a double-take at the statistic at the bottom of the page: Did I know that BC claims last year totaled $4.3 million? No, I didn’t know that. That’s a lot of cake.

At first blush, I thought: what kind of nutter is running the accounting office, if they don’t know that I’m one of those claimants? How can they overlook the fact that I’m likely responsible for a quarter of their 2011 claims costs? I’d think that my name is at the top of the list, perhaps with a yellow highlight or maybe an alarm bell that rings, or who knows, a nuclear-reactor type meltdown when my name and ID number are associated with yet another costly claim for United Health Care and Baker Hughes. It’s been a while since I’ve kept an eye on the amount of my claims, but it’s safe to say that it’s up there. Not crazy expensive, like the dresses Ann Romney continues to wear for public appearances, seemingly clueless to the fact that this thing called the Internet exists and it’s easy to check on which designer created her frock and how much it cost, all while she and Mitten claim to be regular folks who don’t consider themselves filthy rich.

Oh good grief, the snark is back. Let me go back and look at that sweet image of the round, healthy, never-to-be-seen-again-on-my-body breast.

Ok, all better.

Thankfully, before I could call the health care PR folks and cuss them out for sending me–me, of all people–a mailing asking if I knew how much my claims had cost them, the Hubs saved me from embarrassing myself and owing a hard-working corporate soul an apology. Just as I was getting really worked up about how in blue blazes could they NOT KNOW that I’ve made hundreds of thousands of dollars in claims because of breast cancer, the Hubs reminded me that we didn’t have United Health Care during the shitstorm of mastectomy, infection, hospitalization, endless labwork, multiple stabs at diagnosing that damned infection, surgery, surgery, surgery, hospitalization, not one but two infectious-disease teams, at-home IV antibiotics, debridement, debridement, home health care, more debridement, more at-home antibiotics, wound vac, the Big Dig aka DIEP reconstruction, ICU hospitalization, more antibiotics, 2 revisions to said reconstruction, and at least 100 visits to the plastic surgeon, yadda yadda yadda.

My bad.

United Health Care got me once the bulk of my spending frenzy was done. No wonder they send me such nice, pretty mail. Whew, I am SO glad I didn’t get on the horn and issue a blistering diatribe to the first person to answer the 800 number. That would have been soooo embarrassing.

The pinky mail wraps up with one final statistic:


I guess I should be moved by the fact that United Health Care is looking out for the many women who are eligible for a smash-&-snap but who didn’t schedule one last year. And I am. Yes, I know that it’s in UHC’s best interest to have their insured women get their mammos, because screening is cheaper than mastectomies and chemo and radiation. I do like the gentle statistics employed in this publication–nothing too in-my-face, not all gloom & doom, no hint of “do this now or burn in BC hell.” I appreciate the assumption that I’m a grown woman who can decide for myself; personally I’m not one who needs to be told twice when it comes to doing something necessary but unpleasant, but I can forgive the repeated pleas to schedule that mamno now, because not everyone shares my “get ‘er done” mentality, and most women have less flexibility in their schedules than I.

This piece of mail struck the right balance of “you need to do this even thought it might uncover your biggest fear and thrust you headlong into a medical nightmare” and “that said, we’re here and are gonna take care of you.” I give high marks to the copywriters who straddled the idea of scaring us enough to schedule that mammo but not keeping us awake at night wondering what it will be like.

Before I was diagnosed, I didn’t give much thought to breast cancer. Sure, I saw the pink ribbons everywhere and thought the women whose bald heads were under cover of a pink bandana are mighty brave (I still do think that, BTW). Even when I got picked for the melanoma lottery, and even when my sweet mama died a not-so-pleasant death from a reproductive cancer at the still-too-young age of 67, I didn’t think much about breast cancer. I still didn’t think much about it when my awesome OB-GYN learned of my sweet mama’s death and said let’s go ahead and get you started with a baseline mammogram, even though you’re nearly 5 years away from the recommended screening age. Every year my mammo came back funny (not funny ha-ha but funny peculiar, because there’s not a damn thing funny about a funny mammo). I still didn’t think about breast cancer. The radiologists chalked it up to dense breast tissue and said, let’s see what’s going on next year. Then the next year, the images still looked funny, and maybe even a bit more unusual, so I saw a breast specialist and endured a series of biopsies. And still, I didn’t think about breast cancer. That breast specialist said the biopsies didn’t show anything overtly cancerous, and I was young for the cancer beast to come calling, so let’s just keep an eye on it and continue the annual screenings. Even then, I didn’t think much about breast cancer.

Fast forward to the present day, as I sit with a well-done mailing imploring me to schedule a mammogram.

Now I feel the need to call United Health Care, not to cuss anyone out, but to tell them thanks for the pretty pink mailing, but to kindly remove me from the distribution list for future mailings. See, I won’t be scheduling a mammogram this year, or any year in the future. Instead, I go see the unflappably darling Dr Dempsey twice a year for a chest and lymph node ultrasound. It’s not a breast ultrasound, because my breasts contain no breast tissue. Nope, they are made of 100 percent belly tissue, and breast tissue and belly tissue look totally different in a mammo. As far as I know, there’s not a smash-and-snap procedure for the belly. In addition to my twice-yearly screening by my favorite breast surgeon, I get to see my cutie-pie oncologist three times a year. Blood work checks my tumor markers and hormone levels, and I submit to a thorough exam and lecture about my champagne habit.

Maybe I will call United Health Care, to tell them that I appreciate them putting out such a fine piece of mail. The best part about the mail? Not once is there an image like this

ort this

or this 

or this

or this

or this

or this

or good-golly-miss-Molly this

And for that, I’m grateful.


14 Comments on “A pretty pink piece of mail”

  1. Well said, Nancy. I’m glad the piece of mail you received wasn’t so offensive as some. I’m sure there are many horror stories of insensitive mailings, but I like to think that not every company does mindless advertising when it comes to cancer. My lymphedema therapist asked me at the Dallas conference what term her hospital should use instead of cancer “survivors.” At least the hospital was aware of the controversy and willing to come up with a less offensive word to describe us millions of people out there struggling to get by each day. The end of Pink-tober will not come soon enough for me. xox

    • mmr says:

      Jan, did you have a suggestion for a word other than survivors? I don’t really like that word either…. I don’t know if I’ve survived yet…. I certainly haven’t survived intact, and I haven’t found it to be a pleasant “journey”….

      • Actually, one of my blogging friends suggested the word “veteran” and I suggested that to my therapist. It’s not a military term anymore, but rather conjures up wisdom and experience. I agree that “journey” is not the right word either, so I try to use “road mines” or something to conjure up the bumps. x

      • mmr says:

        I like “veterans”!

    • Tamara Kay says:

      I am so far not a cancer patient, yet I, too, have never liked the term “cancer survivor”. I only mention that I am not a cancer patient to say that term has ALWAYS bothered me, regardless, and I have always felt so sensitive to those going through treatment with “those terms” out there. I hope something better catches on soon.

  2. Renn says:

    Nancy, this was a most fabulous post. I know how much time goes into creating posts like these. And I just want to say I appreciate YOU, as well as the time you put into blogging, and the eyes that you have opened today. Thank you.

  3. mmr says:

    I got something from my insurance too– it seems to be indicating that part of one of my reconstruction procedures was “cosmetic”. I was also told that having nipples tattooed might be “cosmetic” too. Really? I had the real, sensate thing before, and I consider trying to make myself at least look as close to normal as possible as simply a way to save me from anti-depressant meds.

  4. Wonderful post. The mailings I receive from the Insurance company make me almost go postal. I got a “friendly” call from a nurse who worked for the insurance co. nagging me about not taking my meds enough. I felt like asking “are you effin kidding me?” I’m paying how much a month for someone to call and nag me. I told them to put me on their no call list. They haven’t called. 😀

    • mmr says:

      I’ve noted that the females in the insurance company are somewhat more polite and cooperative after I say “well, when YOU have your boobs cut off someday…[insert problem here, such as: “then you will not nag someone as they try to recover their health and sanity”]. Hey, maybe October should be “Go Postal” month for breast cancer survivors! Now THAT I might get on board with– we could organize call in campaigns and sit-ins at insurance companies, in front of Congress, etc., and there would be nothing pink and pretty about it. In fact, I would wear black for all the mourning not just for what I and many of my contemporaries have lost physically and emotionally, but also for my friend whose whole life was lost mid stride, and her teenage daughters who feel that loss even more acutely.

      • I think I like that idea. The pink thing just irks me. To me is says lets all sit around all pinky and helpless while some insurance adjuster tell tells us how or even if live is worth living…their way.

  5. chellebelle says:

    I was looking for a breast cancer awareness image to use on my FB cover. I stumbled across this blog and well … learned a few things. I shed tears for a woman in Texas who I have never met but moved me and showed me the ugly truth about BC. I want to thank you, for being so honest and blunt and telling it how it is for you. I have a couple of acquaintances who are survivors but it has not touched me directly. I am going to spread the word about HOW. I read something about SGK a while back, saying that the money didn’t necessarily go for the cure. I had always felt leery of buying anything pink anyway … without proof of where my hard earned money goes. Anyway … sorry to ramble but I’m so glad I bumped into your blog.

  6. bekikat says:

    I love this post ( and the last one too)! It amazes me how much I feel so connected to all women affected with this disease whatever stage, whatever place in treatment, how many years past or just diagnosed today. I don’t literally know any of you but I am all of you! I think that it is those people who don’t have or have had this disease that feel comfort or good about PINK. Yet it is us, those of us whom should be or are supposedly being benefited by this pinkwashing who, well, know the truth behind the PINK, who must be constantly reminded in October, in sometimes the most bizarrly pinkified ways, that breast cancer is forever a part of us…as if our scars are not reminder enough. That many companies make profit off our lives. All of us are more than just a pink ribbon, more than a pair of tatas that “need to be saved” more than a statistic. We are Mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, lovers and sometimes loners. And as the TV right now broadcasts football players wearing pink socks and shoes…how about donating some of your big football bucks directly to cancer research, because your pink shoes don’t really do anything for us.

    • mmr says:

      Yes, those of us who’ve been through the fire are truly sisters, aren’t we? I love all of my friends, but the ones who have experienced BC understand me like none of the others can. Your post reminded me of a call I got just a couple of weeks after I got home from the hospital; it was a breast cancer charity asking for donations. I politely explained I had just had a double mastectomy and had quite a few medical bills. She again stubbornly asked for money, to which I replied “Do you realize that I’m one of the people you are supposed to be helping?!” There really seems to be a disconnect between this awful disease and all the pinkwashing and money raising. I’m so glad that Nancy here, and other bloggers, are trying to spread true awareness about our experiences. I’d like to send some of those truths they write about to people like my idiot neighbor who said “Oh, BC is no big deal, it’s treatable” when I told him about my diagnosis. HE had been pinkwashed. Now that he has heard about the ordeal I’ve been through, and he sees my new and different body, he is shamefaced. Apparently he has become more “aware” now too.

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