About this blog

I was diagnosed with breast cancer on June 11, 2010. As a result of my treatment, I have lymphedema in my left arm. I draw my strength from the Lord, as well as my family's Scots-Irish heritage. Our Graham's were a tough and scrappy bunch of fighters on the Scottish/English border. They came to America and continued to fight when necessary: in the American Revolution; the Civil War; and my brother is a Captain in the U.S. Army. My ancestors settled this country against all odds. My great-grandmothers on both sides of the family were pioneer women who settled the West. Along with that heritage, and the full armor of God, I am walking the walk and fighting the good fight.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Thoughts on "Awareness"

As we embark on Breast Cancer Awareness Month 2014, here are some of my thoughts:

October is a month that is dreaded by many women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer and gone through treatment. Not all of them, but there is definitely a vocal segment of the “survivor population” that detests all things pink. I'm not one of them, although I do understand some of their sentiments.

I understand that numerous corporations jump on the pink bandwagon all in the name of “awareness” to get people to buy their product with the promise that money will be donated to charities that support breast cancer research and support. I understand that in some cases, not as much money actually gets donated as the consumer may think. Its just a marketing scheme. I get that. Buyer beware. If you are buying a product because you think its going to help, make sure you know where you are putting your money. As some critics urge, “Think before you pink.”

I understand that just because breast cancer is detected early with a mammogram, it does not mean that the patient will survive.  "Early detection" doesn't necessarily save lives. First of all, mammograms aren't the be-all and end-all of screening. They don't always detect cancer, especially in younger women with dense breast tissue. My mammograms and their interpretations failed to catch a 3 1/2 centimeter tumor on my left breast! Secondly, mammograms introduce cancer causing radiation to your body. Thirdly, there is always the potential of recurrence. I'm not saying women should not get mammograms. But it that is the focus of “Breast Cancer Awareness Month” we are missing something.

Is anyone in this day and age “unaware” of breast cancer? I understand that 20-30 years ago, it was a disease that women may have been ashamed of and no one spoke of. But those days have long passed.

"Awareness” is nice. I like the color pink.  I appreciate the sympathy. But I think everyone is “aware” of breast cancer now. Having football teams wear pink is nice, but it doesn’t do anything to solve the problem of breast cancer. Don't get me wrong-I really do appreciate the sentiment and the desire that people have to support those affected by this disease. I don’t want to poo poo on people’s well intentioned efforts.

But it is time to go beyond awareness. It’s time for action. Especially when we consider those who are diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer, which there is NO cure for. Even people diagnosed with earlier stages of breast cancer can go through treatment and keep on living and think they are fine and then have a recurrence. Once it has gone beyond the breasts, it is incurable. That's scary stuff.

 I get a quite annoyed at all the “save the ta ta’s, ” “I love boobies,” and “protect 2nd base” stuff I see during October. Or the pink bras, or dogs with balloon boobs, or any of it. It isn’t cancer in your breast that kills you. You can live without breasts. I know, because I do. It is when it moves into other organs or your bones that kills you. That is what I want people to be “aware” of.

We all know breast cancer exists and is bad. But boobs are so not the issue! Some people think October gives some the license to talk about boobs...come on! How old are we? When I see a teenage boy with a shirt or bracelet "I Love Boobies" I cringe. Of course you do, dear! Most teenage boys do, after all. Grow up, people!

So what kind of action do we need to take beyond a squishy warm fuzzy feeling of “awareness” that accomplishes nothing? I believe it means funding research on Stage IV, or metastatic, cancer. 30% of all breast cancer patients will metastasize, but only 2% of research funding goes into Stage IV. Isn't that where the focus should be if we really want to find a "Cure?" We need to fund organizations that give grants and money to institutions that are researching cures. Some organizations that are on my radar:

  • The Noreen Fraser Foundation
  • The Breast Cancer Research Foundation
  • Metavivor

  • I'm sure there are other worthy organizations. If you know of some, I welcome you to add them in the Comments section.

    Finally, there is a lot of backlash against the Susan G. Komen organization and its affiliates among some in the survivor community. I'll say here that I do support Komen. I appreciate the advancements over their history that they have made towards research and treatment of breast cancer. Most, if not all of the treatments I received probably had some origin from a Komen grant. They have a very informative website. I enjoy their events and lead a team for the annual 5k race here in San Diego. I've done the 3 Day Walk twice and enjoyed every moment. I've met survivor sisters who have become friends through Komen. Heck, I even appeared in some of their commercials!  But only a small percentage of the funds they raise goes towards research. The rest they use to help women who are in treatment and pay for their operating costs. Some women in treatment need the assistance. Some women can't afford mammograms. I'm not against these other programs that Komen sponsors. They are helpful and there is a place for them. I am not a Komen hater. There is room for all kinds of organizations to address the needs and issues that breast cancer raises. I'm not one to tell people not to donate to Komen if they want. In fact, I'd be happy if anyone wanted to donate to my team, the Pink and Plaid Warriors for the 2014 Race for the Cure.  

    As we go through the month of October, I just hope that people move beyond the warm fuzzy, amorphous idea of "awareness." If you really care, go beyond wearing pink. Donate to organizations that are funding Stage IV research. Or volunteer to drive a cancer patient to chemotherapy appointments. If you know someone going through treatment, bring them dinner for their family. Call your local organization and see what you can do to help.

    It's time to go beyond "awareness" and really make a difference.

    Just my 2 cents!


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