My Little Bs Have the Big C

A Breast Cancer Blog For Young Women


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Almost Escaped Pinkotober…Almost

This year I decided that I would not even think about Pinktober.  I have written about it for the three past years and I don’t feel like I have any new thoughts on the subject.  Of course, I saw Pinktober stuff; lotions, bagels, moving trucks, t-shirts at breast cancer awareness days at schools…but mostly I escaped without having to deal with it at all…until last weekend.

Ken, Oliver and I went apple picking in New Jersey as we do each year (usually we go with friends but Oliver got strep throat on the planned date, so we went on our own).  It was a hot October day but we had a great time and got lots and lots of apples.  Then we went to a restaurant that we often go to in the area because they have a good kids menu, lot of adult selection and the quality is good (we’re food snobs).

I ordered something unusually fatty, a fried chicken sandwich with prosciutto and mozzarella and fries (I never order like this) and Ken got a burger.  When it arrived at the table, I didn’t notice anything alarming.  I was so hungry that I just pulled the pick out of one half of my sandwich.  But then Ken said to me, “Carrie, do you see what’s in the sandwich.”  I was like, “huh?”  And then I saw it.  My jaw dropped.

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Two picks on each half that said, “Save the ta-tas.”  One for each boob!  I couldn’t believe it.  Why would they put this in my sandwich?  Why?  If you really want to do breast cancer awareness at your restaurant, fine.  I really don’t have a major problem with it.  If you want to raise money along with that awareness, I’ll cheer you on.  But that’s not what this was.  This was two sticks that made a joke of my disease.  I was livid.

I decided not to say anything while I was there, mostly because I didn’t want to make a scene or make the server uncomfortable, which he didn’t deserve.  So, I ate half my sandwich and we left.

The more I thought about it, the more upset I got.  The more I felt like these picks were inappropriate, especially coming stuck into my meal.  So I wrote a letter on their Facebook page.

These little sticks came with my meal today. I am a young adult breast cancer survivor. I want to say that I think that when you bought these, you were thinking that they equated to support. Support is wonderful. But this is not what support for breast cancer looks like. This is sexualizing our disease and it’s offensive, inappropriate and ill informed. And to stick this message in my sandwich is just in bad, bad taste.

If you really want to support women with breast cancer, I can point you toward organizations that work exclusively on research for stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. Stage 4 is the only kind of breast cancer that is terminal. It can be managed but a man or woman with stage 4 breast cancer will be in treatment until treatment no longer works. I can also point you toward wonderful organizations that work to help men and women undergoing treatment to make life a little less sucky. You could donate a portion of your sales to these organizations. You can ask for donations on top of tips. But, no matter what you do, these sticks will not save any breasts. That’s not how breast cancer works.

Also, why “save the ta tas?” Why not save lives?

Breast cancer is not cute, funny or sexy and nothing you do can make it that way. In fact, 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. 114 men and women die from metastatic breast cancer every day. And even when we get mastectomies, chemotherapy and radiation, the cancer can still come back and kill us by moving to the bones, brain, liver and lungs. Early detection does not save breasts. It can catch the disease early but that’s not a guarantee. So, “save the ta tas” really doesn’t make any sense.

Please consider how sticking these stupid little signs in a sandwich can be offensive and traumatizing. Even if that’s not what you meant to do.

They ended up responding and apologizing for offending me.  The chef is a 5 time cancer survivor and his intension really was to show support.  He hadn’t considered the fact that these might be traumatizing to some.  They agreed to take the picks off and not serve them again.

Originally, Ken didn’t think I should say anything about these picks but I felt like I had to. Because if I didn’t, will they have learned anything?  Would they ever have understood who ill informed they are?  What they did was the antithesis of awareness.  Awareness should be about knowledge.  Real knowledge.  Not cutesy little slogans

I didn’t escape Pinktober unscathed as I had hoped.  But maybe I helped by saving another woman from being re-traumatized.  Maybe, someone who read the post will think about donating money.  Maybe the chef or other workers will become advocates in the future and speak up about other injustices.   I don’t know.  Maybe I’m being idealistic.  But that’s who I am.

Have you spoken up when confronted with a Pinktober slogan or item for sale that made you red in the face?

How do you handle the onslaught of pink and cutesy advertisements during this month?

On the bright side, here  are some pictures from our apple picking adventure.

 

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Devastation and The New Fight

I try not to talk politics here.  This is a breast cancer blog after all.  But I have pause our regularly scheduled programming.   Something important has happened.

Most of you know by now but Donald Trump has won the United States presidential election.  Our country is shocked.  Even those who voted for him didn’t really think it was going to happen.  For many of us, it is the unthinkable, the worst case scenario.  But I don’t want to get into that here.  I don’t want to talk about right and wrong, educated and uneducated, bigoted and accepting.  My views are strong, that’s for sure.

What I want to talk about is how this election has felt so much like getting breast cancer (hear me out) and what it could mean for those with cancer and pre-existing conditions.

I started out on Tuesday, November 8th with so much hope.  I took my son with me to vote in the morning and we cast our vote for Hillary Clinton.  I was shaking with excitement because I believed she was going to be a great president, we were helping to shatter the glass ceiling and because Oliver wanted to help me do it.  Oliver and I spent the day doing wonderful things around the city; going to Chinatown to find Oliver Street, going to Bryant Park to ride the carousel, eating too many treats.  It really was special.

But after I put Oliver to bed, with the promise of a beautiful tomorrow, things started to turn.  By 9:30, things were not looking good.  My stomach started to sink.  The rest of the night, the waiting game, was like waiting for my cancer diagnosis.  I know that sounds dramatic but the feeling was similar.  The same dread.  The same lack of control.  The same deep knowing of what was coming.  Like the time of my diagnosis, I started to cry and I didn’t stop.  I didn’t sleep.

By 2:30am, I had gotten one hour of broken sleep.  The announcement was made.  I was devastated.  I didn’t sleep again.  Just like my diagnosis.

The next day, like many New Yorkers, I was in a daze.  I wavered between shock, denial and devastation.  Just like my diagnosis.

And just like my diagnosis, days later, I am ready to fight.  I have fought the cancer within my body and now I’m ready to fight the cancer in our society.  Consider my gloves on!

No matter where you stand politically, if you are reading this blog, we all have something in common; a pre-existing condition.  I am so lucky to be on my husband’s wonderful insurance.  I am in a good place.  But there are so many who are part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) who stand to lose so much.  I know that Trump recently said that he will protect those with a pre-existing condition.  But he has flip-flopped so much, we can not trust anything he says.  I can see him saying “I never said I’d protect people with pre-existing conditions.  That costs way too much money!”  And even though I have my husband’s insurance, it’s always possible that he could lose his job.  And then what?  That frightens me and I think it should frighten you.

I don’t have any solutions now.  Words of advice or comfort.  I’m not there yet.  These things just need to be said.

I hope that no matter how you voted, we can come together and love each other.  I really do hope this.  Because come January, we will need each other more than ever.

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I Have Always Been Aware

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Me on the left, next to my grandmother, my brother, Jesse on the right and my cousin in the front.

I honestly can’t remember a time that I didn’t know about breast cancer.  Along with the Holocaust stories my grandmother would share with me, crying in anger for what she had experienced, she would also cry about losing her breast to cancer.  She often complained about the pain she was in and how uncomfortable her prosthetics were.  I remember seeing her body, one breast completely mangled, missing, concave.

Breast cancer is something that’s inherited in my family.  Some families get long legs, blue eyes, dimples.  We get breast cancer.

I always knew that breast cancer was going to happen to me but I planned out the way it was going to happen.  I’d be in my 60s.  I would have been getting yearly mammograms for 20 years at that point so, when we caught it, it would be very early stage.  Treatment would be minimal.  I would be praised by doctors for being so diligent about my care.  They’d wish that there were more patients like me.

I never expected to avoid the cancer.  I just never imagined, in a million years, that it would happen to me in my 30s and that it’s effects would be so life altering.

This is one reason why breast cancer awareness month is so hard for me.  Because I was so aware of the fact that it would happen to me and even though I was more aware than most thirty something year olds, it didn’t make a difference.  I still needed to lose my breast.  I still needed chemotherapy, radiation, hormone therapy.

I think we should completely do away with Breast Cancer Awareness Month and replace it with Breast Cancer Advocacy Month.  It should be a month where doctors and nurses go into underserved communities to provide free care to all women.  It should be a month where congress hears the pleas and needs of my metastatic sisters.  It should be a time when the whole breast cancer community comes together; patients, doctors, researchers, etc…to discuss what we need to move forward.  It should be a time when awareness looks like real statistics and information for men and women rather than cutesy slogans, pink products and images that sexualize and demean our disease.

Awareness only gets you so far.  It helps us to be curious and, hopefully, diligent about our bodies and care.  But that’s it.  And that’s not enough.  I am proof that it’s not enough.

 


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“Picture Your Life” Project

I was doing a search on nytimes.com on breast cancer after reading a couple of articles shared with me by family and I came upon a project called, “Picture Your Life.”  NY Times readers were asked to share photos of themselves and stories about how their lives were affected by breast cancer.

I was shocked to see how many young women wrote in with their stories of breast cancer.  I asked my breast surgeon why it seems like so many more young women are suffering from this and she said that it only seems like more because we live in NYC.  But looking at this, I’m a little more suspicious.  

Anyhow, I found the pictures and stories beautiful and inspiring and wanted to share.  

Oliver and I when he was 17 months old.  I had cancer then but didn't know it yet.  Oh, the ignorant bliss!

Oliver and I when he was 17 months old. I had cancer then but didn’t know it yet. Oh, the ignorant bliss!