- Posted August 28, 2012 by
New York City, New York
The Airbrushing of Breast Cancer
I am a breast cancer survivor. I am well aware that October is the month to bring awareness to breast cancer, yet many survivors like me are disturbed to watch every year as the parade of positive pink, not necessarily realistic, is marched across television screens and through magazines and newspapers.
The public awareness campaign about breast cancer is disturbing to many who have been down in the trenches of this disease. It isn’t that I am not a positive person or many of the women whom I have been fortunate to meet are not positive and amazing, but we know the real deal. I am amongst a group of women that are young survivors. We have seen young women in their teens, twenties, thirties, and forties die of this disease. We have watched women we love and care about making videos for their children as well as putting together boxes of cards for the birthdays, graduations, weddings, and other life moments they will miss because they will not be here for them. We have seen daughters planning funerals and celebration of life services with devastated mothers and fathers because they will not survive. We have watched women do everything they can to survive for years enduring treatment after treatment to battle metastatic breast cancer. Where are the faces of these women during this month of breast cancer awareness? Where are their stories about when and how to choose hospice or ending treatment? Where are the stories of the partners (men and women) who are left behind and how they cope?
You see, there is something those of us down in the trenches know and that is there is no “too young” for breast cancer. Breast cancer does not discriminate. No cancer discriminates. Christina Applegate is not representative of most young women who face breast cancer and she is wrong when she says one can not get breast cancer again because of mastectomy. A woman (or man) is still at risk of breast cancer recurrence even after a double mastectomy. Young women with breast cancer rarely have it detected as early as older women. There are many reasons for this and the public needs to be informed properly about the difference in breast cancer diagnosis, treatment, survival, etc. based on the information available regarding those under age fifty and those over age fifty.
There are different issues that are faced by survivors of different ages. A woman who is diagnosed and goes through treatment at age sixty does not face the same issues a woman does who is age twenty-two, thirty-five, or forty. Many younger women have not had children or gotten married or even had a true serious relationship. They face the loss of their breasts and possibly their ability to have children due to treatment or decisions they must make because they discover they are BRCA1 or BRCA2 positive. Many younger women face dating challenges during and after treatment. Many younger women face issues related to work and children and home that older women do not.
The magazines and news programs never mention the long term side effects women of all ages face after treatment for the disease. There are many and some women face far more than others. Some women die from the side effects. Younger women are facing these issues for a much longer period of time. Just one major issue that younger women face is premature menopause, which in turn causes its own side effects. When do we talk about the true reality of breast cancer from the young women to the older women who are diagnosed and the issues each of these groups face? When do we roll out the women who are making end of life decisions? When do we show the women who have battled metastatic disease for five, ten, or fifteen years and what it is like for them? When will the media stop trying to airbrush everything, including breast cancer to make it more marketable to the public? Saving lives isn’t always pretty.
I think the media from news programs to magazines to newspapers needs to step up and promote changes in the awareness campaign. The media is in a position to cut through the pretty pink ribbon of October and reveal the whole truth. The truth has the ability to save far more lives than a pretty pink ribbon does.
(This is relevant now as the pink ribbon and October awareness campaign begins earlier each year and the stores have already started stocking their shelves. One of the young women presented in the photos above lost her battle with a rare breast cancer, Phyllodes, and another sarcoma last year at the age of 25. One of the young women pictured above has entered hospice, but continues to Live Sincerely. It is a pledge and organization that she began with her sisters. Two of the other young women pictured above are LIVING with metastatic breast cancer. Two of the young women are participants in The Scar Project. All of the women pictured are incredible survivors. Their stories matter because many people are LIVING with Stage IV cancer every day. I am not one of the survivors pictured above.)