Tag Archive | awareness

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…

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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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PLEASE stop eating PLASTIC!

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer thirties 30s young plastic

Please Try a Sandwich Instead!

After hearing yet another “young” person’s cancer story, I feel absolutely compelled to write this post.  It’s too late for me to prevent my cancer, but it may not be too late for you or your mother, sister, daughter, friend, wife, husband, son, father, aunt…

I am writing today to urge you to limit your intake of the harmful chemicals found in plastic.  Because the dangers of plastic use have been largely ignored by the powers that be, you probably ingest more chemicals than you even realize each and every day.

As a breast cancer patient diagnosed in my early thirties, I am literally sick cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer plastic mastectomy bpa fda garbageover this.  I am actually quite surprised that I haven’t posted about this topic sooner because it is something I think about every day.  Until I was aware of the danger (at some point after my cancer diagnosis), I ate and drank from plastic packaging at least as much as the average consumer.  I used plastic water bottles and those plastic travel coffee mugs all the time.  I left water bottles in the hot car and drank from them without a thought.  I consumed soups and other foods from cans, used plastic food storage containers, plastic wrap and plastic bags, and I didn’t think twice about handling store receipts coated with BPA (bisphenol A, a hormone-disrupting chemical often found in plastics and register receipts and linked to cancer, obesity, heart disease and other diseases).

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer awareness pink ribbon mastectomy illnessCan I blame my cancer on my exposure to the chemicals in plastics and other products?  No, probably not entirely.  But do I think this played a role in encouraging my illness?  Yes, definitely.  As a young person with no family history and no risk factors for breast cancer, I feel pretty justified in pinning some of the blame on an environmental cause, especially since I am in a segment of the population that has seen an increase in breast cancer rates since plastic use became so widespread.

Plastic is EVERYWHERE.  Food, drinks and personal care items like lotions and cosmetics are packaged in plastic more often than not.  This makes chemical exposure almost inevitable.  I have tried to eliminate plastic from my life (and from my children’s lives) but have determined that this would be far too costly and time consuming for tired ol’ me.  In the world we live in today, plastic exposure is virtually unavoidable.  So I have refocused my energy on limiting our plastic use.

cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer plastic landfill mastectomy bpa fda

Some of my favorite ways of reducing our plastic exposure:

-We drink from glasses and mugs whenever possible.  I have recycled most of the kiddie cups that once filled the shelves of my

cupboard (and I wish I could take back the years I used plastic sippy cups for the kids).  We make a concerted effort to use non-plastic drinking vessels now.

-I reuse my empty glass Snapple bottles.  I fill them with water (and other beverages) and carry them in lieu of a plastic water bottle.  I  usually keep one or two with me and have a couple in the fridge so I can just grab them and go.  Of course you can do this with any glass bottle.  Not only will you be making a healthier choice for yourself, but you’ll also be making a good choice for the environment.

-We store food in glass and never in plastic.  At first this was really difficult because I just had a few glass storage containers.  cancerinmythirities.wordpress.com breast cancer plastic bpa glassI made makeshift containers by putting plates on top of bowls as lids — not a good use of space!  But I have since asked for Pyrex for Christmas and birthdays and my little collection is growing.

-We have reduced our use of canned foods.  BPA is often found in the lining of food and baby formula cans.

-I avoid leaving cosmetics, lotions and other liquids packaged in plastic in the car.  You may have heard the warning about not leaving water bottles in the car for the same reason — heating plastic encourages the release of toxic chemicals.

-We don’t use “steam in the bag” foods like frozen vegetables.

-Whenever glass is available (for food, beverages, personal care products), I’ll choose it over plastic, even if it costs a little bit more.  We are on a REALLY tight budget, but I think it’s worth it. cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer plastic carcinogens chemicals Unfortunately, though, it’s not usually a choice — glass is often hard to find.  Even the organic hormone-free milk at my grocery store comes in a plastic container!

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Why am I publishing a post like this?  It is not because I’m having a bad day and need to vent (that’s just a coincidence!).  It is not because I am trying to blame someone for the hell I have been through in the past few years.  It is because I want to save someone else from the pain and the loss I have experienced and will likely continue to experience.  It is because I want to save YOU.

While I realize you may not be able to nix plastic from your life entirely, I hope you will please do your best to cut out as much plastic exposure as possible.

And PLEASE ask your friends and family and everyone you care about to do cancerinmythirties.wordpress.org breast cancer squirrel nuts plastic carcinogen bpa fda mastectomythe same.  If you are worried about sounding like an alarmist or a nutcase or a conspiracy theorist, take comfort in the fact that there is enough evidence to support the cancer – plastic link to validate your plight.

You can also consider joining an email writing campaign to urge companies to use safer packaging.  Or sign a petition urging the FDA to ban the use of packaging that contains carcinogens.  Here’s one asking the FDA to ban BPA, a carcinogen found in cash register receipts, in many of the plastics we eat and drink from, and in the bodies of more than 80% of Americans!  It will just take a minute and could make a big difference:

http://www.change.org/petitions/fda-get-cancer-causing-chemicals-out-of-all-food-packaging-now

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I googled “breast cancer plastic” and at the top of the list of search results (other than images of plastic ‘breast cancer awareness’ items — that’s another blog post!), I found an article that was featured on one of my favorite go-to sites for breast cancer information and support — breastcancer.org.  While I love bc.org and think the article is great for creating awareness, I do disagree with one section.  It lists “safe” plastics, but based on my research, it seems there may be no truly “safe” plastics.  Plastic = Chemicals.  Right now the focus is on BPA which was long considered “safe” by the FDA (we’re talking half a century here!).  I believe it’s just a matter of time before more of these chemicals are studied and deemed carcinogenic.  In the meantime, here is the breastcancer.org article:

http://www.breastcancer.org/risk/factors/plastic

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cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com breast cancer plastic turtle mastectomy bpa fda

Of course I hope you will share this post with everyone you know and I hope you will work to reduce your chemical consumption.  But I know that’s a lofty dream in today’s world.  So, please do whatever you can.  Whether you do one of these things or all of them, know that I am proud of you.  

If we can prevent even one more person from getting sick, we’ve done something good.

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If you have an idea for a way to reduce plastic use, please share it with us!   Thanks!