Cancer is such a bitch

Yesterday I was picking up a prescription at Walgreens — finally one that has nothing to do with breast cancer or the post-mastectomy infection that plagued me for more than a year — and I smiled to myself as I waited in line behind the senior citizens getting their Lipitor and the mom with 3 small kids getting her flu shot (good idea, with those little snot machines attached to her every appendage, said the germophobe in me). I smiled to myself despite the fact that as soon as I walked in the door I was confronted by the display of “pink ribbon products” designed to “raise breast cancer awareness” and “help save a life.” Quotation marks very definitely mine, and intended to convey the maximum amount of snark possible.

I smiled in spite of having passed the pinked-up display of nail polish, glittery lip gloss, pink-ribbon bedecked emery boards, and “hope, faith, and a cure” shower caps (how in the world have I managed without one of those?). I smiled to myself because I was upright, in line at Walgreens under my own steam, having driven myself on a brilliantly sunny day without help from anyone. While my knee is still in recovery mode from the most recent repair, I’m for the most part healthy and able-bodied.

I’m healthy and able-bodied and going about my routine on a very ordinary day with no surprises like finding infection-riddled, 3-inch blisters that were hanging from my mastectomy scars like stalactites hanging from a cave wall. Like the sharp pain that literally felt like a knife blade stabbing through my chest wall as the nerves tried to regenerate after being sliced & diced, post-mastectomy. Like the shock of having caught a glimpse of my new profile in the glass of a store window. Like the pulse-pounding, breath-stealing fear of recurrence that plagues me and other cancer warriors on a regular basis.

No, no surprises yesterday as I waited in line at Walgreens. Instead of surprises, I felt a sense of happiness. A sense of calm. A sense of — dare I say — normalcy. Just an ordinary woman on a routine errand to pick up an RX for low thyroid. I’m far removed from the multiple trips a week to Walgreens that were necessary during the infection phase, and now that I get my cancer-related maintenance meds through the mail, Walgreens is not a place I make an appearance on a thrice-weekly basis.

I was a happy girl as the pharmacist handed me my new prescription, which will hopefully kick-start my lazy thyroid into gear so I can manage to not collapse at 8 pm every night like a cranky toddler. I was happy and calm and normal, until I swiped my credit card and the little machine asked me if I wanted to donate to the Susan G Komen for the Cure. There was the infamous pink ribbon logo atop neat little boxes offering a $1, a $5, a $10 or a $50 option to add to my pharmacy tab.

And just like that, my ordinary day turned on me.

This, my friends, is why I hate October. This is why pinkwashing makes me see red. This is why I rant and rail in this blogspace about the messed-up system that has deemed an entire month for “awareness.”


Whew, I feel a little better. I wanted to do that in Walgreens yesterday, but I did not. I did not curse, stomp my feet, smash a single thing, or whack a single person. And for that I would like a medal. Or a trophy. Or a cold beer.

I’m glad that the grand poohbahs who run the Walgreens corporation place an emphasis on charity. I like charity. I think charity is a good thing. But come on, does it have to be Komen, and does it have to be so in my face all month long?? In all fairness, it’s possible that Walgreens does shove other charities down customers’ throats in other months of the year and this particular customer hasn’t noticed. But I’ve swiped my card at the pharmacy window many, many, many times at Walgreens and never been accosted by a “donate now” screen on the little machine. I’m quite certain I was swiping my card through that same machine many times the last 2 Octobers and did not see Komen with its hand out and its “Remember you had cancer, lady” banner flying.

Trevor and I had a lively discussion last night, and again this morning, about the whole pinkwashing/Pinktober/Komen/awareness issue. The course of the conversation ran from why all the pink makes me crazy, how unfair it seems that other cancers don’t get so much attention and hype, how the awareness idea has gone wrong, and which causes are worthy of pink dollars. The consensus was this: the time for awareness has long come and gone. We are all well aware of breast cancer. Komen did great things for breast cancer, and the awareness, in the early days. Members of the pink ribbon club owe Komen a debt of gratitude, IMHO, for de-stigmatizing the disease and for making it culturally acceptable to talk about breasts in a medical context. But there are many, many other deserving and hard-working charities that do more actual good for the women and men who suffer from breast cancer. I’m happy to see that some of those causes are gaining attention and getting a piece, or a few crumbs, of the Komen pie. However, we have a long way to go, which is why I’m compelled to yell my head off in this little blog about things like how precious little of Komen’s huge budget actually goes toward research. How infuriating the pinkwashing pandemic is to those of us who’ve walked miles and miles in pink shoes. How the blatant sexualizing of breast cancer makes me want to throw up and punch someone at the same time. How seeing a grown woman in a “Save the Tatas” shirt causes me to go all Serena Williams on her in the grocery store.

This is the reality of October for breast cancer survivors/warriors/victims/patients. And it stinks. I find myself counting the days until this month ends. That it’s also the month in which my sweet mama died from the insidious ovarian cancer that stalked her for years just adds to the misery. What I wouldn’t give for one day, just one day, in which cancer didn’t smack me — and millions others like me — in the face. Even on an ordinary day, cancer has the ability to knock me senseless and dare me to right myself and keep on keepin’ on, yet again. Cancer is such a bitch.


22 Comments on “Cancer is such a bitch”

  1. David Benbow says:

    Hang in, sister. I’ll buy you a beer if we’re ever in the same city and I’ll listen patiently to your rants and raves. Unfortunately, I can’t take away what life has dealt you. I’m just glad you’re a tough cookie who can muscle her way through it. And if you leave a few bank tellers and grocery shoppers trembling in your wake, so what?

  2. mmr says:

    I got that screen at Walgreens when I was picking up my son’s bronchitis medicine– I laughed and said “NO THANKS- I already gave my breasts for the cure!” There was a look of shock on everyone around me (including the mom with sick kids that we in the post cancer/infection world can only see now as a source of infection). So I think I made my contribution to “awareness”. Too bad they didn’t see me in a wheelchair with six drain tubes coming out of me and leaking, and a doppler stuck in my chest (all to no avail), having to give myself injections in my legs and breathe into a stupid tube thing, rather than almost two years later when I look fairly normal on the surface. Then the women would have been scared– and THAT would be real awareness. They would be giving money like crazy –to find a cure, not buy pink stuff that benefits a for-profit organization–so that it wouldn’t happen to them, or their daughter. Maybe I should carry around the pictures I took of myself back then, and show them around. More awareness.

    • C.D. says:

      “NO THANKS- I already gave my breasts for the cure!”
      You are my new favorite person in the world. I bow to your superior snark.

      • I know, right? I want a bumper sticker and a tshirt and a koozie and a keychain and a bottle opener and a spatula and a shower cap and a rubber bracelet and a measuring-spoons set and a refrigerator magnet and a coffee mug and a doormat with this line imprinted.

    • Marcie, your comment at Walgreens is now my all-time favorite BC-related comment, ever. I am seriously considering making it into a bumper sticker. And why didn’t we go out in public in wheelchairs with 6 drippy JP drains and a doppler attached to our newly-created-but-never-satisfactory cleavage? Oh yeah, because we were half dead, that’s why. Too bad we can’t recreate that look for Pinktober. You’re so right, if people saw the real thing, they’d fork over every last dime for a cure.

  3. Lauren says:

    Okay, I am tired and cranky about other things by F*** walgreens. Whew. I feel better having gotten it out. And while I am at it, of course F*** komen. I am soooo tired of it, so done. We are all aware. I have developed a special hate for the ones that nebulously say “For breast cancer or to help breast cancer” Arent they helping the wrong team?

    • I don’t get it, Lauren. I hate to be cynical but can’t help but notice that if BC were eradicated by “the cure,” Komen would be out of business. And Walgreens wouldn’t have customers like us on Tamoxifen for 5 years minimum. Just sayin.

  4. Yes, cancer is a bitch. I’m not surprised Walgreens stooped so low to do that, only because I’m not surprised by anything that happens during pink-tober. Still, why Komen of all charities? Many with lymphedema wonder why all the attention and money for lymphedema comes from breast-cancer-related lymphedema and not any other kind. It’s just where all the money and awareness and politics lie. I almost feel guilty and apologetic in that crowd for having breast cancer, because those with leg lymphedema seem to have it so much worse. Like you, I can’t wait for pink-tober to end. It won’t end soon enough for me. Preach on. xox

    • Isn’t it sad, Jan, that nothing about pinktober surprises us anymore? If I’m this fed up after just my 3rd pinktober, I won’t be able to leave the house all month in Octobers to come for fear of being provoked for real and ending up in jail. Preferably with a pink cell.

  5. Drink2that says:

    I am one of the lucky few who hasn’t been touched by cancer. Yes, my grandparents eventually died from it, but I have been very fortunate to avoid seeing it for real…I mean seeing the sickness. I am asking this question because I truly don’t know the answer…who should my money go to? I don’t want it to go to pink socks for football players, or stupid tshirts or pink nail polish – I want it to make a difference. Oh and thank you for enlightening me on how it feels to have Pinktober in your face…I never considered how that must feel.

  6. […] I am not the only survivor seeing red over pink.  Check out The Pink Underbelly. […]

    • I read your post about the SCAR Project photo circulating on FB and am trying to process my feelings about it. On one hand, I love the SCAR Project and was so very grateful to finally see other women who looked like me post-mastectomy, but I totally understand your feelings toward the images, too. I’d never noticed the bars behind the woman in the photo and am still taking in your interpretation of prison, which btw is very apt. It’s great to get your perspective, and I appreciate you sharing. Thanks for the shout-out in your blog, too!

      • Thanks and I got an interesting FB message from a woman who knows a couple of women I know who are survivors:

        “Just wanted to let you know that the woman in that photo did not give permission or even know that site used her SCAR photo until i just saw it floating around and sent it to her. I’d love to share her story with you if you’d like to know. We are actually working on getting it ready for the SCAR blog. But i’m sorry if this post you saw gives you the wrong idea about her. because she is everything the opposite of what the post says of her.”

        I am waiting to hear this woman’s story and I am HAPPY to post it if someone used her photo in this manner without her permission

      • Keep us posted on the story. I’m curious to know how this started and who the lame-brain is that thinks it’s ok to use a cancer patient’s photo without her permission.

  7. pinkheart says:

    Did you happen to get a bonus surprise when you got home and opened up the Walgreen’s bag with your bottle of meds?

    I have a bottle of meds from Walgreen’s with a pink top instead of white . . .

    • I didn’t get a pink lid this year but I did last year. Maybe bc my med wasn’t for BC? The pink lid I got last year was on Tamoxifen. So glad Walgreens is there to remind us, every day as we open our RX bottles, that we have the amazing power of pink on our side. NOT!

  8. Paul says:

    Fortunately your prescription will outlast the month of October. On a much darker note – October in this house was normally referred to as SOXTOBER and sadly this is not the case either. The great thing I take away from your posts Nancy is your fight which cancer, the treatment, the infection, et al, has not removed.

  9. […] not a fan of all the breast cancer “awareness” out there (click here or here or here or here for the latest rants), and the month of October wears me out. Big time. However, awareness […]

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