The reality of BC

No, I’m not talking about BC the comic strip; I wouldn’t waste my blogspace on that. I’m talking about the reality of breast cancer. The everyday effects of living with — and past — this damned disease. Case in point: I was dashing through the grocery store yesterday to grab a carton of milk (organic of course, because of all the hormones they inject into the poor cows to increase their production, and hormones scare me; and in a paper carton instead of a plastic jug because plastics now scare me, too. Thanks a lot, cancer, for turning me into a paranoid freak who can barely get through the grocery store. Oh, and the receipt now scares me, too, because the chemicals on that innocent-looking slip of paper can act like estrogen, which fueled my cancer. Then there’s the money to pay for the groceries: how dirty and/or chemical-laced is it???). It’s a wonder I can get out of the house.

Anyhoo, before the paranoia set in, I was assaulted by the plethora of pink products. They’re everywhere. Yes, I know it’s October, which means Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I should expect this, right? As I cut through the canned-goods to get to the milk, I see this:

Ah, yes. Pink-label soup. Fantastic. All that sodium doesn’t contribute to lymphedema, does it??

Right next to my organic, paper-enshrouded milk is of course the pink-a-palooza yogurt display.

Take a half step to the right and there’s the pink-ribbon-edition Milano cookies, to go with the milk.

In case you spill your milk, never fear: Brawny is in on the pinkwashing, too. 

So is Viva. You’ve got a choice. There’s pink-bedecked TP, too, in case the dairy upsets your tummy. Or in case you’re in the midst of long-term antibiotic therapy for a post-mastectomy infection and feel like your gut has been attacked by a roto-tiller. Nausea and diarrhea from chemo? No problem. Quilted Northern has got your back (side).

If the paper towels can’t contain your spill, never fear: pink Swiffer is here. I know I feel better with a pink Swiffer in my house. If only I could have Swiffered the cancer right out of my chest. Or spiff up the scars left from the multiple surgeries required by said cancer.

And in case you didn’t get enough calories from the milk & cookies, there’s always chocolate:

Pick your poison. Literally.

I guess the candy makers don’t know (or don’t care) that the majority of women fighting breast cancer gain weight — I know, how whacked is that??

Need some pampering? How about some pretty pink nail polish? No harmful chemicals in that. OPI’s “Pink of Hearts” is pretty as a picture, and goes right along with the soft, feminine image we breast cancer girls want to project. 

Or, if you’re feeling feisty, try the OPI “Pink Shatter” limited-edition polish.

We’re gonna shatter cancer, one toenail at a time. But wait — don’t put that polish on your fingernails if you’re going in for yet another surgery from breast cancer. The anesthesiologist needs to monitor your nailbeds, and the pulse oximeter may go wonky.

Being surrounded by pink products everywhere is making me claustrophobic. While I’m glad that corporations donate money to “the cause,” I would like to get through the grocery store without being bombarded with reminders of  this dreaded disease. Just in case I wasn’t thinking of cancer at that very moment, BAM! there’s the shelf full of pink-ribbon dog food to remind me. On the off-chance that I was freed from the worry and strife of my cancer “journey” for two seconds, WHACK! there’s the special-edition Morton’s iodized salt to reignite my struggle. Maybe I was consumed with thoughts of the grocery list instead of wondering if the asymmetry of my newly constructed breasts was obvious to a random passerby. Too bad, because KABOOM! there’s the pink-ribbon Downy fabric softener to bring me back to the reality that is living with the messy aftereffects of breast cancer.

All this pinkwashing has jangled my nerves. Maybe I can relax with a glass of cheap wine or a malt beverage. 

They’re for the cure, right?

Forget the yogurt and the cleaning products. Where’s the pink-ribbon-wrapped bottle of xanax, to quell the anxieties associated with fighting a deadly disease? Where’s the pink iTunes gift card to buy some relaxing music when the fear of recurrence grips us?

What we really need to see for “breast cancer awareness” is this: My flat chest after a bilateral mastectomy at the ripe old age of 41.

What we really need to see for “breast cancer awareness” is the array of home-health-care products required by a post-mastectomy infection and the confusion and fear their presences brings into an otherwise peaceful household.

What we really need to see for “breast cancer awareness” is a post-mastectomy infection site, finally finally finally healing after 3 surgeries to excise dead tissue. 

What we really need to see for “breast cancer awareness” is a young woman strapped to a wound vac, to suck out all the toxins and poisons created by a cluster of bad luck in the OR.

What we really need to see for “breast cancer awareness” are photos of brave women who’ve undergone mastectomies yet still pose for portraits, like in the SCAR project.

photo by David Jay

What we really need to see for “breast cancer awareness” are blogs from women like Deborah Lattimore who write honestly and openly about breast cancer, and are brave enough to post pictures like this:

photo by deborah lattimore

What we really need to see for “breast cancer awareness” are women like my blogfriend at The Pink Birdie, who has no use for a prosthesis but bravely faces the world in her post-surgery state. Her post “Awareness on the Move” says it all. Read it, then you’ll know why we rant about pinkwashing, why the bevy of pink-ribbon-bedazzled consumer products upsets us.

What we really need to see for “breast cancer awareness” are instances of women living their lives post-surgery, post-cancer.

googleimages

What we really need to see for “breast cancer awareness” are images of women taking cancer by the balls and saying “Not me, not now.”

 

There. Now don’t you feel  more aware?


National Cancer Survivors Day

Well, we have Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, Grandparents’ Day, and even Bosses’ Day for pete’s sake, so why not Cancer Survivors Day? Makes perfect sense, as there are millions of us around the world. I do wonder, though, why there’s no apostrophe in the title. I double-checked it on the NCSD website and sure enough, no apostrophe.

It’s today, by the way — I feel like I should wear a shirt that says “Kiss Me, I Survived Cancer” but I’m not really the kissy type. I guess I could wear my “cupcakes” t-shirt, which I love, but then it seems like my “cupcakes” get the credit for kicking cancer to the curb when really, they were the culprit in the first place. Without them, I never would have had breast cancer, so I’m not giving them the credit for having survived it. I will wear it to the gym, though, because I love the look on people’s faces as they read it, then do a not-so-subtle double-take at my chest.

So what is National Cancer Survivors Day all about, anyway? Probably something a little more meaningful than wearing a snarky t-shirt and giggling to myself as the shockwaves from said shirt ripple through the gym. According to the NCSD website,

“National Cancer Survivors Day® is an annual, treasured worldwide Celebration of Life that is held in hundreds of communities throughout the United States, Canada, and other participating countries. Participants unite in a symbolic event to show the world that life after a cancer diagnosis can be meaningful and productive.”

Well, I’m certainly proud to be part of an annual, treasured worldwide celebration of life. Although I think I missed the parade. Considering how many people are affected by cancer, you’d think this day would get a bit more press. There’s probably a Lifetime for Women movie about it and I missed that too.

As usual, I have lots of questions about this annual, treasured worldwide celebration of life. Who qualifies as a survivor? And when does survivorship begin? What time was the parade? The National Cancer Survivors Day Foundation defines a “survivor” as anyone living with a history of cancer – from the moment of diagnosis through the remainder of life. I think it’s perhaps a bit more personal than that. I also think it’s more than just surviving cancer. I also survived a nasty infection and a nearly  year-long regime of some pretty bad-ass antibiotics. I survived a complicated and intense reconstruction process, and I survived yet another long, hard recovery.

I considered myself a survivor as soon as my mastectomy was over. Surgically removing the tumors, and thereby the cancer, from my body was when my status changed from “regular person” to “survivor.” So for me, I became a survivor in the late afternoon of May 13, 2010. Although I certainly didn’t feel like much of a survivor at the time, bandaged and battered, stitched up and sore. Moving my body at all was a seemingly unattainable feat, and raising my arms high enough to put chap stick on my lips was definitely unattainable. I wasn’t able to slick my own lips for a day or so.

At the time, I had no concept of what a double mastectomy truly meant or looked like. So focused was I on ridding the cancer that I gave zero thought to the aftereffects of the surgery. Even now, in the hazy afterglow of just one year’s time, I struggle to remember exactly what I looked like after that first surgery. In fact, when Trevor gave me The SCAR Project book for my birthday a few days ago, I looked at the portraits of mastectomied women and asked, were my scars vertical or horizontal? For a brief moment, I couldn’t remember. (They were vertical, BTW.)

Deborah Lattimore

That’s why I’m so grateful for things like The SCAR Project and for women like Deborah Lattimore. Like the women who were photographed for The SCAR Project, Deborah Lattimore didn’t want to forget what she looked like after being mastectomied. This defines a survivor, IMHO: facing a shitty situation with not just courage but with moxie. Reading Deborah’s blog, I’m so impressed and moved and in awe of her take-no-prisoners attitude. I immediately felt a kinship with her as I read what she wrote about her post-cancer silhouette soon after her bilateral mastectomy: “my body is still ‘re-architecturalizing’ and will for the coming year. eventually my chest will be completely flat and the scars will be an even line. i really love my skinny small body!” Cheers to Deborah on this annual, treasured worldwide celebration of life. Wish I could tell her happy National Cancer Survivors Day to her face, and to bask in the supreme power of a strong, confident, self-assured woman who tells cancer to bugger off then shows the world the true face of a survivor. No padded bras, no prostheses here. Not that there’s anything wrong with padded bras or cutlets. How we face the world post-mastectomy is an immensely personal decision, and I in no way want to imply judgement on how any woman makes that decision. For me personally, I applaud women like Deborah who celebrate their mastectomied bodies and view them as a badge of honor. In our breast-obsessed culture, this is no easy thing.

So happy National Cancer Survivors to everyone. I’m thinking we should all have cake. What kind of cake is appropriate for NCSD? Something festive, for sure (you know how I love celebrations). This one is nice:

Love the colors, but the pink butterfly kinda creeps me out.

Maybe this one, then:

Nah, I’m not much of a cat person, and it’s not a birthday cake I’m after, although I do love the idea of the cat eating a fish-shaped cake. Maybe we survivors should eat a tumor-shaped cake. Ewww, gross. Never mind.

Ok, so something breast-cancer related:

Or not. Definitely not.

This one is pretty, and the lemon filling looks yummy:

This one is hilarious, although not appropriate for the annual, treasured worldwide celebration of life:

Maybe something from this bakery:

Surely they’d have just the right kind of cake for the annual, treasured worldwide celebration of life. Something like this, perhaps?