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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Don’t Put Your Money Where Your Boob Is

pink

Groan.

Grumble, grumble.

Cringe.

Stomp foot.

It’s that time of year again.  October.  Pinktober.  The time of year that America and the world is supposed to “celebrate” breast cancer, bring awareness to the disease and get every woman to touch their boobs.  And, while we’re at it, buy a few pink things to support the cause.

But do me a favor.  Do not buy a pink toaster, kitchen aid, pen, purse, drink, lipstick, donut or bagel for me.  Do not buy a pink bra, t-shirt, socks, boa or scarf to show your support.  Please, do not buy a pink car, bucket of fried chicken, gun (yes, there are pink guns people!!!!), perfume, football, stiletto or nail polish because you think it’s helping.  In the grand scheme of things, it’s probably not.

I know you are buying these things because you are a good person and you are trying to help and why not get something cute you can show off while you’re at it?  I get it.  I do!  You’re heart is in the right place.  But when you buy these things, you need to ask, “where is this money really going and how much of it is spent on research?”  Breast Cancer Action has four questions you should be asking and they are good ones.  So if you really want that pink thing you found at your local shop, take a look at these questions to ask first.

  • Does any money from this program go to breast cancer products?  How much?
  • What organization will get the money?  What will they do with the funds?  How do these programs turn the tide of the breast cancer epidemic?
  • Is there a “cap” on the amount of money you will donate?  Has this amount already been met?
  • Does this purchase put you or someone you know at risk to toxins linked to breast cancer?

If after asking all of these questions you still want to buy something “pink” because of how it makes you feel, go for it.  At least you’ve done your research.  But I urge you to also donate directly to organizations that are working to cure metastatic breast cancer or that are providing essential services to those who are going through treatment or have finished active treatment.  Which ones, you ask?  Well, there are a lot and my goal is to feature as many of them as possible in the month of October.

In this post, I’d like to feature organizations that I have personally used that I am eternally grateful for.  They are not researchers.  They are not going to cure the disease.  But they make living with breast cancer a little more tolerable.  I hope that you can give any amount to their cause because they have helped so many women like myself.  What they do is nothing short of extraordinary.

5 Under 40 Foundation

Mission: To provide medical, wellness and beauty services to women under the age of 40 who have been diagnosed with breast cancer or have tested positive for a BRCA gene mutation. We focus on a woman’s whole being in order to empower, foster hope and improve the quality of life for women in the face of this disease.

The organization was started by Jennifer Finkelstein, who was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 32, 2 months before her wedding day.  The organization focuses on working with women who were diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 40 or have test positive for the BRCA gene mutation.  The money they receive goes toward services like medical (mammograms, lymphedema support, nipple tattoos, medical massage therapy), wellness (personal training, yoga, nutrition) and beauty (quality wigs, makeup, scarves).  The organization also holds support groups with leaders in the field such as nutritionists, oncologists, makeup artists, lymphedema specialists and more.

5 Under 40 helped to fund my very expensive lymphedema therapy and I have been to countless support group sessions.  I find the services they provide invaluable and have seen first hand the impact they have had on dozens of young women.  Please donate!!!!

 

Hair We Share

Mission:  “To help maintain the dignity, confidence and self-esteem of those affected by medical hair loss.”

Hair We Share makes custom wigs for men, women and children who suffer from medical hair loss.  This can be from cancer treatment, for alopecia or due to a trauma.  The organization relies solely on hair  and monetary donations.

Hair we Share generously donated a wig for me and I was ever so grateful.  Please consider making a donation in any dollar amount that you can afford.  Or, if you are considering donating your hair, this would be a great organization to consider.

 

Hidden Warriors

Hidden Warriors mission has many levels and goals that I invite you to read here but it’s main goal is to use costume and makeup role play as a way to empower women who have undergone cancer treatment.  Women dress up as “warriors” with over the top head pieces, costumes, fantasy makeup and then do a photo shoot while holding a power pose and listening to music that the warrior finds empowering.

I participated in their workshop last winter and it was one of the most fun experiences I’ve had in a long time.  What they do is truly unique and the director is passionate about empowering women to find the warriors within themselves as a way to help fight the disease and live a more positive lifestyle after treatment (or during treatment).

They are trying to do as many of these workshops as possible but need donations to make it happen.  If you would like to donate, your money would be going to a worthwhile cause.

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What organizations have helped you through the cancer process?  Please comment below.


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What Do I Really Think of Pink?

This was a sign I saw at a Panera I went to.  It's a breast cancer bagel!  Because nothing says "cure" like processed flour and sugar!

This was a sign I saw at a Panera I went to. It’s a breast cancer bagel! Because nothing says “cure” like processed flour and sugar!

I think the time has come for me to really weigh in on the subject of Pinktober.  What is Pinktober exactly?  It’s a time during Breast Cancer Awareness Month when the world turns pink, supposedly in support of breast cancer awareness and research.  You can go into stores and get everything from pink t-shirts, bags and lotions to cars and buckets of fried chicken.  The idea is that when you purchase these items, not only are you helping to spread awareness about the disease, your money is going to help the cause.  At least, this is what everyone thinks.

Sometimes it is the case.  There are products from companies where they are dedicated to the cause and contributing large sums of money to worthy breast cancer organizations and researchers.  But oftentimes, it is simply a way for companies to profit off an idea that has become fashionable, rather than a life altering disease that affects 1 in 8 women and kills more than 40,000 each year in the United States alone.

But how did this all happen?  How did breast cancer become synonymous with pink products, pink ribbons and pink parties?  According to thinkbeforeyoupink.org, it began with the yellow ribbon that was tied to a tree by the wife of a man being held hostage in Iran in 1979.  She tied the ribbon was to help bring awareness and to signify her hopes of seeing her husband again.  So successful was this act that 11 years later the AIDS movement adopted the same strategy, using red ribbons to spread awareness of the disease and garner support for research and programming.

So successful were these campaigns, suddenly everyone was on the “ribbon” bandwagon.  Susan G. Komen was first on the scene to bring the ribbon to breast cancer awareness, handing it out to every participant in their race for the cure in 1991.  In 1992, seeing the popularity (and possibly dollar signs), Estee Lauder in collaboration with Self magazine worked to spread the word about BCAM and put the pink ribbon symbol in every Estee Lauder counter in the country.

At the same time, a woman named Charlotte Haley, the granddaughter, mother and sister of women who had breast cancer, was already distributing peach ribbons to cards that said, “The National Cancer Institute annual budget is $1.8 billion, only 5 percent goes for cancer prevention.Help us wake up our legislators and America by wearing this ribbon.”

Self magazine and Estee Lauder approached Haley to collaborate which Haley declined because they were too corporate and not grassroots enough.  But did that stop them?  Of course not!!!  This ribbon thing was gold so they contacted their lawyers who said, “just don’t choose peach” and the pink ribbon was born.  Estee Lauder and many other organizations began using the symbol on and to sell their products.  This is now why, in October, everything is pink.

For some, this show of pink is uplifting and empowering while for others it trivializes the experience of having cancer.  What do I think?  I think if wrapping yourself in a pink feather boa as you march down the streets in your pink lipstick, pink t-shirt and pink sneakers on brings you joy and makes you feel good, do it!!!  Hell, whatever makes you smile, laugh and give cancer the great, big, pink middle finger, go for it!  But I do think that there is a way to buy pink responsibly.  When buying an item that claims to donate proceeds to a breast cancer organization, make sure you know which organization that is and just how much is being donated?  Do you support the organization that the product is donating toward?  Do the fund research and programs for those who are going through cancer treatment?  Would you donate your own money to that organization?  Why or why on?

For me, all of this pink is meaningless.  It’s a color and nothing more.  Seeing people wearing it doesn’t make me feel more supported.  I wish, that instead of buying a lipstick where a fraction of the asking price was donated, that people actually donated to a breast cancer organization that they support, hopefully to one that spends its funds on research.  Because, let’s face it, that pink lipstick is pointless if you don’t have that loved one to kiss anymore.

What I wish most of all is that companies would quit turning breast cancer into a party or something kitschy and cute.  I haven’t felt much like celebrating this year and I certainly haven’t felt cute.  I wish they would stop over sexualizing the disease because, speaking from experience, I have never felt less sexy in my life.  There’s nothing like having a breast amputated and to have estrogen medically eradicated from your body to get the sex drive knocked out of you.

If we are going to raise awareness, let’s just deal with the cold, hard facts.  They are ugly, depressing and scary but they are real and honest.  No more dogs in bras.  No more freeing the ta-tas.  Please….PLEASE put your bra back on!  If I could wear a real one, I would!  So there’s no reason to take yours off.  It doesn’t change my experience or circumstances.  Let’s instead focus our attention to how we can finally ensure that stage IV metastatic breast cancer is no longer a death sentence.  Let’s find out why breast cancer spreads beyond the breast and into our vital organs, bones and brains and stop it it’s tracks.  Because that is what finding a cure really means.  A cure means we don’t let one more woman die of this disease!

How do you feel about Pinktober?  Does it empower you?  Make you smile?  Or does it anger you?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

*The opinions above are my own.  I respect all positions on this subject and don’t mean to demonize any side.  I only mean to demonize cancer and the corporations/companies who profit from and exploit our experiences.


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Mommy Monday: Faces of Breast Cancer

It’s breast cancer awareness month.  I have so many feelings surrounding this month.  I am working on finding a way to put it into words that are unique.  Or not.  So many of you have written so eloquently about your thoughts and I share those thoughts.

Many of you will remember that last month (or was it two months ago?), the Komen foundation posted an advertisement on national dog day of dogs in bras with balloons for breasts.  This was their way of spreading awareness.  Some people found this to be cute and funny.  Others, like myself, found it trite and offensive.

Some people feel like we have done enough awareness.  We are as aware as we can be and we should spend all of the funding on research.  I will agree and disagree with this.  I think WAY MORE money needs to go toward breast cancer research but I also think awareness is important.  We have all seen the statistics.  Those are fine.  But I think the best awareness comes from story and seeing the faces affected by breast cancer (or any cancer, for that matter).

When I think of how breast cancer has affected me, I think of the toll it has taken on me as a mother and the time it took away from raising my son.  While I am early stage, I remember every day that this can be temporary and that recurrence is possible at any moment.  I’m constantly in fear of leaving my son without a mother.  The thought is unbearable to me.  It is always on my mind.  If I were to share anything about my experience with others is would be that breast cancer is not an older woman’s disease.  It can happen to young women as well.  That is why it is important for women to know their bodies and do self examinations.  If I didn’t do this and my cancer was caught later, I think my prognosis would be much different.

s3vdbIf you are willing and able, I’d love to collect and share pictures and stories of women and men affected by breast cancer during this month.  As an actor, arts educator and facilitator, I believe in the power of story to unite a community.  So let’s share who we are and how breast cancer has affect us and our loved ones.  To me, this is the best awareness we can give.