I didn’t pay much attention to Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM) to before my diagnosis of ER+PR+HER- breast cancer in August of 2016. My treatment began that September and I didn’t give any thought to BCAM that year, either. But since then, October has been a month not only to celebrate my birthday, but to reflect on my cancer experience and on where my life is now.
There are many things I’m grateful for as I think back on my 9 months of cancer treatment. Being surrounded by and lifted up by others’ love and caring during a time of great need. The expert, compassionate medical care I received, allowing be to be here today, with my husband, doing work I love, still bicycling regularly, and thriving on grandmotherhood. The herbalist and acupuncturist who supported my health and well-being throughout and after treatment. My gradual recovery from the impacts of treatment on body, mind and spirit.
I’m struck now by how much better I feel than I did at this time last year. My current cancer classification is NED (No Evidence of Disease), which means that I presently have no signs of cancer. I’ve learned, and am still learning, about soothing and releasing worry, anxiety and fear. I continue learn to ground and center when in the grip of difficult emotion, and to shift to uplift. I’ve grown in my capacity to empathize with and be of help to others facing serious health conditions. I’ve had the chance to realize that I want to guide my remaining days and years by the principle, “Choose what matters most.”
It was because of having had cancer that I followed my intuition to learn Reiki, beginning as a Level 1 practitioner and continuing on to become a Reiki Master. Reiki has given me so much and is something that I’ve gone on to share with others.
Along with what I’ve gained through having had breast cancer, I also remember the darker side of the experience, and continue to learning from it, as well. And I continue to live with the aftermath which includes, among other things, lymphedema, chronic pain, and fear of recurrence.
Does Any of This Sound Like Fun?
For many affected by breast cancer, BCAM is a time to celebrate overcoming this disease. And that is something well worth celebrating. But for me there’s another side to it, and it’s a side that bothers me. A lot.
That’s BCAM’s increasing commercialization of cancer for gain, too often in ways that disparage women and discount our suffering, while often failing to represent women of color and ignoring that men can also get breast cancer. The ubiquitous cheery BCAM messaging creates a false narrative that breast cancer is the “good” cancer; that this life-threatening disease is somehow fun, perky and even sexy.
Breast cancer is not the “good” cancer. There’s no such thing.
Despite the barrage of BCAM messaging to the contrary, breast cancer is not perky, sexy or fun.That is unless you think that enduring the stresses and side effects of chemo, surgery and radiation are your idea of a good time. Or that having your body disfigured is perky. Or that being diagnosed with a recurrence is sexy.
While there have been many advances in understanding of, screening for and treatment of cancer, there’s much more work to do.
BCAM campaigns tend to be for fund-raising and merchandising which too often do little to support much-needed needed research or services, instead sexualizing women and ignoring the real struggles encountered by those who have, or have had, breast cancer. Some products promoted with pink campaigns may even contribute to risk of developing breast cancer!
That isn’t to say we shouldn’t donate to worthy breast cancer charities and foundations, or buy from businesses that contribute to breast cancer research or services. They’re both great things to do, but make sure to do some research on the charity you’re thinking of supporting, or the products you’d like to buy. This article offers help in choosing breast cancer charities to support. This one offers suggestions for thinking critically about the products you might purchase during BCAM.
It’s Time To Change The Focus of BCAM
What if we shifted the emphasis of BCAM? Instead of the trivializing merchandising messages, what if we celebrated the gains made in breast cancer research and treatment as knowledge has grown, attitudes toward women have been shifting, and technology has improved?
What if BCAM messaging addressed the real needs of those affected by breast cancer, including the serious financial problems it causes due to lost income and high out-of-pocket medical costs? Suppose we helped people learn how best to help those in our lives who have breast cancer?
During BCAM and all year round, let’s focus attention on what is still needed: More research to find less debilitating treatments for breast cancer; greater attention to preventing, treating and living with metastatic breast cancer; a better understanding of social and environmental causes of breast cancer, since gene mutations are understood to be linked to just 5%-10% of cancer; greater representation of and inclusion of BIPOC breast cancer patients in BCAM campaigns; improvements to our health care system so that breast cancer patients and their families don’t lack access to care or face severe financial problems due to the considerable out-of-pocket costs incurred during and after treatment. Finally, let’s call for a commitment to supporting integrative health practices that tend to body, mind and spirit, all of which are affected by cancer, and all of which are important to recovery and healing.
We’re All Touched By Breast Cancer
Most of us have been affected by breast cancer in one way or another, whether through our own illness or that of a friend or family member. Know that I am grateful to you for taking the time to read this post, and to give thought to how you can make a difference. It might be by using what you’ve learned as a cancer patient to help others, or by providing emotional or practical support to someone with cancer. It might be through advocacy efforts, or by making careful choices about products to buy or charities to support during BCAM.
Be well, and feel free to comment here or reach out to me privately with any questions or comments.