National No Bra Day & Breast Cancer Awareness Month — OR — Please Put that Pink Can of Soup Down & Put Your Bra Back On!

My “Where I’ve Been” post is still forthcoming, but in the meantime, I realize that I missed the opportunity to post on “National No Bra Day.”

I am reposting an article I wrote back on the unofficial No Bra Day during Pinktober (October — Breast Cancer Awareness Month).  The “official” fake holiday was actually yesterday, July 9th.

I see that you left a number of lovely comments on my M.I.A. post.  I will respond, but wanted to say “thank you” from the bottom of my heart in the meantime.  I am also looking forward to catching up with your blogs and all I have missed in the past couple of weeks.

My warmest thoughts & thanks are with you all…

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Peter Griffin / Family Guy "What Grinds My Gears" Episode

Peter Griffin / Family Guy “What Grinds My Gears” Episode

I am not a ranter by any means and I have been pretty quiet about “Pinktober” and what has come to be known as “Pinkwashing” in breast cancer circles, but seeing October 13th advertised as “National No Bra Day” and as a “fun” way to support people with breast cancer has pushed me over the edge.

Are you kidding me?  How on earth could a day where girls and women are encouraged to walk around with their nipples poking through their shirts be “supportive” for women who are living with or who have died from breast cancer, or who have managed to ‘complete’ the arduous treatments and disfiguring surgeries required to put them into remission?

I think the answer is simple.  It is not.

Like so many women–and men–who have faced this disease, I have lost my breasts to cancer.  Though I had a terrific surgeon, it was a physically and emotionally disfiguring surgery.

The cancer had gone so deep and was so extensive on my left side that it was at first inoperable.  Even after months of chemo, my surgeon took as much tissue and skin as possible and went deep into my axilla (underarm area).  The cancer had metastasized to my lymph nodes and had invaded them to such a degree that they broke open to allow the cancer cells to go beyond the walls of the nodes.  Because of how invasive the surgery was and of how much nerve damage, etc. resulted, it was not only extremely painful then, but continues to be a source of pain and phantom sensations that affect my entire upper torso even today.

I required over a year of physical therapy just to be able to raise my arms again and I still don’t have full function or range of motion.  And, because of pain, swelling, conspicuous compression sleeves and gloves, I am constantly reminded of the lymphedema that resulted from the surgery and loss of my lymph nodes.  Oh, and the life-threatening infections that forced a couple of hospitalizations and four months of massive doses of antibiotics this summer (almost 2 years after my original surgery), are also a little reminder of some of the things that the bilateral mastectomy and lymph node surgeries have left me with.  And there is so much more…

no-bra-day-july-9th-630x417

So the thought of seeing bra-less women flaunting two body parts that I have lost to cancer — more than I already see this on a regular day — does not feel all that supportive.  In fact, it feels quite the opposite.

I consider myself to be an open-minded person.  I do my best not to judge others or their beliefs and ideals.  I have a pretty good sense of humor and am usually the first to poke fun at myself.  And I make light of breast cancer and my struggles, treatments and their side effects, lack of breasts, fear of death, etc. fairly frequently.  It is how I cope.  But, given what I have been through, I think I have earned the right to joke and make light of how this terrible disease has affected me.  But if you haven’t been there or taken care of someone who has been there, then you should think twice before you publicize a day that jokes about putting the first body parts we usually lose to this disease “out there” on display even more conspicuously and then labeling it as an activity that helps our ’cause’.

We live in a society that makes a huge hoopla about breast cancer while at the very same time trivializing the seriousness of the disease.  How can we be so contradictory?

While I am beyond thrilled that breast cancer is no longer a taboo issue and that people are talking about it, the commercialism has gotten out of hand.  There is nothing pink and rosy about breast cancer, yet it has been pink-washed to death.  It is a serious disease that kills.

And while I do think we need more awareness and education (about metastatic disease, about how young women CAN develop breast cancer, about how women (young and old) DO die from this disease, about the importance of research, etc.), I don’t think we need the kind of awareness that buying a jar of salsa with a pink ribbon on it brings.  While I hardly ever see “awareness” products addressing the topics above, I can’t go anywhere without seeing pink products.  Heck, I just have to look out of my front window to see giant pink garbage totes.  Pink-Cart---cut

The stores are filled with pink as companies try to make a buck off breast cancer.  If you look carefully at these products, you’ll find that some of them don’t even donate a cent to breast cancer awareness, support, research, etc.  And oftentimes those that do make a very minimal donation–and not always to organizations/programs where the money is well spent.

What is most unfortunate is that well-meaning people are willing to buy pink products, even pay a little extra, because they think they are helping to do something to “cure” breast cancer or to provide “hope” to breast cancer patients.  Why is this sad?  Because those dollars spent on pink flowers, pink shirts, or a pink box of crackers or spaghetti sauce could be going to research, our only real “hope” of beating this horrible disease.

So please put your bra back on, put down those pink garbage bags (unless you really like pink that much!), that pink “awareness” pepper spray keychain, and that pink breast cancer “awareness” vibrator and dildo (yes, I’m blushing and yes, these are real things that their merchandisers say will “help you raise breast cancer awareness” — though they are shipped discretely in plain, unmarked boxes so no one knows what you purchased) and send a few dollars to an organization that devotes their fundraising dollars to research.  You just have to do a bit of homework or read the labels on those pink items to see where your money is actually going.  Or, if you don’t like homework, here are a couple of great ones:

StandUp2Cancer.org: Our mission is to fund collaborative, translational cancer research to bring treatments from the bench to the bedside faster, and save lives now.  Since Stand Up To Cancer was founded in May 2008, we have granted $161 Million Dollars to ten Dream Teams of scientists and researchers, one international translational research team and 26 high-risk, high-reward Innovative Research Grants.  100% of public funds go directly into research grants. A portion of the funds that are raised from major donations and third-party fundraising go towards administrative expenses and overhead.

Metavivor.org:  From support groups to funding vital research, our programs sustain the power of hope.  Passionately committed patients ourselves, we rally public attention to the urgent needs of the metastatic breast cancer (MBC) community, help patients find strength through support and purpose, and make EVERY dollar count as we work with researchers to regain longevity with quality of life.

…or consider a group that helps actual cancer patients and their families cope with their illness.  For example:

CancerIsAJerk.org  — This is a charity my dear friend jme set up to help families touched by cancer.  You can make a financial donation  or  if you’d like to have a tangible something to wear to show your support, you can purchase a “Cancer Is a Jerk” t-shirts with all proceeds going to help actual families touched by cancer.  You can also contact jme through the charity if you’d like to sell shirts as a fundraiser with all proceeds going to benefit cancer family applicants in general OR designate a specific family of your choosing.

And don’t underestimate the value of local organizations.  My local Breast Cancer Coalition is a perfect example.  The Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester‘s mission is to make the eradication of breast cancer a priority through education and advocacy; to empower women and men to participate fully in decisions relating to breast cancer; to provide support to those coping with a breast cancer diagnosis; and to focus research into the causes, prevention, treatment and cure of breast cancer.

Also local for me is The Karen Carson Crane Foundation.  Founded by Karen’s siblings after she died of breast cancer, the mission of the Karen Carson Crane Foundation (“the KCC Foundation”) is to provide support and financial assistance for individuals affected by breast cancer; to encourage breast cancer patients to have the strength, courage and passion to overcome their disease; to support local organizations that assist breast cancer patients; and to donate a portion of its fundraising dollars to organizations that research and promote alternative cancer treatment methods.  

There are many other great organizations and groups out there — these are just a few.

And if you can’t help with a financial donation, consider volunteering your time or talents.  Perhaps to local cancer patients — bringing a meal or knitting a chemo cap or scarf, or sending a cozy blanket are examples of ways to show your support.   I remember when a small box of craft supplies was left on my doorstep when I was first going through chemo — what a gift that was — my kids loved it and it kept them occupied for a little while when I was really ill!  Or consider volunteering at a local cancer center or for a local American Cancer Society chapter.  There are many ways to show your support that don’t require $$.

And, of course, don’t forget to go for your regular mammograms and to feel your breasts when you can (and report any changes to your doctor) because doing these things IS important.  It — what I can loosely call a self-breast exam (but really just washing myself in the shower) — is how I found my own lumps, about 17 years before I was due for my first mammogram (according to the recommended screening age back in 2009).  If I had ignored my lumps and waited for that first screening mammogram, I can safely say I would have been long dead!  So please pay attention to your body and your breasts.  While the vast majority of lumps are benign, I still believe it’s always best to bring your breast changes to the attention of your doctor.  Thanks for reading…

I will leave you with a picture that I think is my best advertisement for National No Bra Day and Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

lymph nodes

5 Days Post Bilateral Mastectomy and Complete Axillary Lymph Node Dissection (ALND)

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Side note:  The ACTUAL National No Bra Day is July 9th annually.  Someone had the great idea to do a braless day during October — Breast Cancer Awareness Month — to support “the cause.”  Adding insult to injury, the day they chose — October 13th — is actually the one day out of the whole year designated for Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness.  Sadly, I’ve seen far more No Bra Day awareness advertising circulating around the web than I have Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day info.

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23 thoughts on “National No Bra Day & Breast Cancer Awareness Month — OR — Please Put that Pink Can of Soup Down & Put Your Bra Back On!

  1. Well, I am going bra-less today, as I had a biopsy this afternoon. Shades of four years ago…. I don’t understand the whole braless day thing at all, unless those still with their breasts on a hot July day want to cool off!

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  2. I feel your rage, girl. Hug. Hug. Hug. No bra-less wonders here. Or pink wheelie-bins, either. I give money directly to charity if I wish to do so. Here in France nothing along those lines – just regular reminders to get breasts scanned using the free services at hospital and in the “mammobus”. I think I might get my skates on and get an appointment for a check-up, too.

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  3. Excellent post. I hate all that misguided pink b.s. I also agree about the inappropriateness of baring breasts for cancer. So inappropriate. As for your photo, yes, it really says it all. In fact, it made me cry. I wish it didn’t happen to any of us, but you’re too young for this. I hope you have some amazing years ahead. xoxo

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  4. This post is spot on and I am sorry you have really been through so much. Your photo is real and I appreciate your willingness to show yourself in the real light of what happens through this daunting process. I agree with Eileen that you are way too young for all of this. Hugs and xoxoxo – Susan

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  5. After a left breast mastectomy and reconstruction, I really only feel comfortable when I have a bra on, the weight of the implant pulling on the left side is something I have not yet gotten used to. And honestly, how does a bunch of women with no bra on help anyone with breast cancer? Perhaps we should have a no underwear day for men with testicular cancer, I’m sure that would be just as helpful.

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  6. “We live in a society that makes a huge hoopla about breast cancer while at the very same time trivializing the seriousness of the disease.” So true. It seems many people I happen across think its easy, its non-life threatening and the treatment simply consists of a lumpectomy and possibly some radiotherapy… little do they know.

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  9. Bravo! Well-said. I totally agree that so many companies exploit this disease and the No Bra fictional holiday is appalling. Your post resonated with me and is so beautifully written. I also had a bilateral mastectomy, mine with reconstruction after several lumpectomies, chemo, radiation, and just going through hell. Awhile back I wrote a post on body image issues resulting from my bilateral in particular. http://bethgainer.com/lost-in-translation/

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  10. My mom died of thyroid cancer, If anyone wanted to raise awareness of thyroid cancer by selling flashy bandannas to accentuate the thyroid zone, I’d be livid !

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    • Oh Roslinda,
      I am so sorry for the loss of your mom, and so sorry that you had to lose her to this terrible disease…

      What a great analogy! I can’t believe how insensitive people/corporations can be when it comes to such a serious illness.
      Thank you for taking the time to read/comment. My deepest sympathy and warmest wishes are with you…

      Like

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  12. WoW! Great blog post!
    My wife (also in her thirties) is fighting / dealing / managing (not sure which word to use anymore) with her cancer for the past few years. She had several surgeries and now doing immunotherapy with hope to be ‘done’ with it. Actually, I think that if you have or had any cancer, you are never going to be ‘done’ with it.
    Anyway, Live Long & Strong cancerinmythirties 🙂
    tm

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  13. A couple of days ago I posted a status on my facebook page wherein I expressed some very similar opinions and although I did get a few likes and comments from people agreeing with me, it was also met with some animosity from people who assumed that being anti-pink-everything-and-going-braless meant I must be anti-breast-cancer-awareness. Nothing could be farther from the truth. As someone who is battling an incurable form of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, I think awareness of EVERY type of cancer is important. I just think that true education and awarenss is getting lost in a sea of pink marketing. When my friend shared your blog post with me today, I immediately had to share it on facebook because it was so similar to what I had been trying to say. And coming from a breast cancer survivor, nobody can acuse you of being anti-awareness.

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  14. I just told my husband that I really am beginning to deed October. Thanks so much for articulating just what I feel during the month. I always have but especially this October as I am 4 months post bilateral mastectomy. I understand that people want to help and they are very well intended. But the pink October feels shallow and misleading. I am extremely glad that there is so much attention on breast cancer awareness but the fluffy, fun pink marketing needs a revamp. New IDs need to be issued for those organizations that are sincerely committed to breast cancer awareness, education, treatment, patient care and a cure. Those that want to sell pink trash cans etc on by exploiting breast cancer need to be kicked to the curb. Stay strong and keep writing. I have just found your blog and will be back soon to read all you other posts

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    • Thank you for you comment, Nicoline! I fully believe that women should be able to choose for themselves whether they’d like to wear a bra or not — and I know there’s even been some controversy about whether or not bra-wearing can increase one’s risk for breast cancer. But, like you said, that’s another issue… The post and my stance are a comment on pinkwashing and the belief that simply taking one’s bra off for No Bra Days “supports breast cancer” as the advertising for these days asserts.

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment!

      Like

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