Archives for posts with tag: Pinktober

As you know I am a child/adolescent psychologist with a private practice. A few years back, I got a voicemail from one of the local news stations asking me if I was interested in writing a parenting column for the health section of their website. I returned the call and listened to the description of the webpage. I also looked at it online while on the phone, at the man’s suggestion.

Then he said it. “So, we want to partner with you financially to set up your parenting column.”

I said, “Wait a minute. You’re selling advertising.”

After I confirmed this to be the case, I continued, “Look, I run a business. There was no reason for you to hide the fact that you are selling advertisements. Businesses advertise. But I need to tell you something. Psychologists are ethically bound to be honest in how we represent ourselves, our education, the methods we use, how much we charge, and what are intentions are. If you want to engage with us, you need to be honest.”

We ended the conversation awkwardly and I suspect he may have even thought of my emphatic assertiveness in an extreme unfavorable light, a response with which I have become accustomed over the years.

One of my friends is a professor back east. She is a cancer researcher and does basic work on the metastatic process. She says that the power and influence of breast cancer research advocates is discussed by her colleagues. It is reassuring to hear that we have a voice and influence.

But because of this, we are ripe for exploitation. I was contacted earlier in this week by someone who was representing an organization that purportedly raised breast cancer awareness and was raising money. They asked if I would be wiling to be featured on their website. I did a little quick Google search and discovered that there was a business behind the group. The purpose was to promote a particular panel of medical tests to guide breast cancer treatment decisions. Having benefited from the information provided by oncotype testing, I understand the benefit of such tests. But why not inform me of the real purpose of the group? Consequently, I declined and further noted that I was uncomfortable with the lack of up front disclosure.

It was a bit of a surprise to me that my modest blog might be seen as a resource for free advertising of a medical test. But it’s easy to find breast cancer blogs and easy to send each person a form letter email invitation. The breast cancer blogging community, as a whole, communicates information quickly and widely.

In both of these examples, I was offered something that I may have actually given serious consideration to if I had been told the truth up front. At the very least, I wouldn’t have felt like someone was trying to take advantage of me for their own profit.

The worst of this in breast cancer, as you will read time and time again, is the use of these horrible diseases and their high profile, to make profit. Companies use pink ribbons as an icon of respectability, honesty, and compassion, even if they do very little to help eradicate breast cancer. It has become such a powerful iconic communication that  a lot of people don’t even notice anymore how incredibly tacky and tasteless a lot of this merchandising of our disease is. For example an enormous pink bra statue was installed in a busy pedestrian area of a city. It was inscribed with a healthcare company name and directions to advertise said company through texting so that a tiny bit of money, much less than was likely needed to build and install a 3/4 ton statue.

Then there are all of the sexualized images of women that are used to promote breast cancer awareness because sex sells. You know, if these companies really thought about what they were doing, I mean REALLY thought about it, do you think the marketing departments would say, “Hey, we can make money by leveraging the power associated with a physical disease by combining it with the influence of the cultural disease of sexism. The air of philanthropy legitimizes it and the misogyny will close the deal.”

The last bit, the last layer of this that bothers me so is that not only does all of the pinkwashing use the sexism that is already present in our society to propel itself but by legitimizing it by associating it with a charity, a way to supposedly help women, it makes sexism even more insidious. As a woman, I find this reprehensible. As a mother of a 16 year old girl, I am outraged. As a human being, I am livid.

I emphatically assert that we need more money for breast cancer research. To better understand it, to better treat it, to cure it, and to prevent it. One out of eight women and one out of eight hundred men in this country will develop breast cancer in their life time.  These are awful diseases, just awful.

So much about my breast cancer and the commercialization of this disease has reminded me of my youth, when I would be groped and sexualized by boys and men. When I complained I was often told that I should be glad to be desirable enough to solicit attention.

I am very happy to be alive. But I will not be exploited and told that it is a small price to pay for “increased awareness”. I have a brain and I know how to use it.

Corporate America, you may be powerful, super powerful. But even in my few short years as a breast cancer patient, I see increased outrage about Pinktober and it’s exploitative underpinnings. Things are changing and if I’ve discovered one thing about the breast cancer community is that we organize, we write, we talk, we support each other, and we grieve for eachother. We wish these diseases on no one.

Ta ta’s, my ass.

Recently I met with some parents to obtain background information as part of my assessment of their son. They are highly educated people, both with advanced degrees. They have three young sons, all of whom they speak of lovingly. The father charmed me with the fact that he calls his sons, “honey”. There words were measured and they described their concerns about their oldest son, his tendency at time to not to own his own actions, his quickness to anger, and his frequent use of exemplary verbal ability to argue with adults.

Despite their calm and professional demeanor, I could see the mounting fear behind their words. Their fear for their son’s happiness and safety in the world. We had had a chance to establish some rapport and I decided to take a chance on expressing an awareness of an issue that had yet been unsaid. “I can only imagine the stress that you feel in raising a Black son who has these difficulties, in our country.”

Both parents nodded vigorously and the father said with palpable relief, “Finally, someone gets it.”

I am not African American. It was chancy for me as an outsider to make the comment that I did. It was also chancy for me to use the term “Black” instead of African American. The former is more likely to be acceptable when used by African Americans, not by an outsider and further a member of a privileged race, such as myself. But I thought “Black” was a better reflection of their own thoughts and feelings about their son. I also know that due to my personality, I tend to be able to say things like this and they are interpreted in the way I intended. But I am still very careful. I will never know what it is like to be African American.

But I can try to understand the best I can and to be aware of the common challenges that African American families face. And my awareness must be more than an internal event. It needs to be linked to effective action. In this example, my action was communicating my awareness of the rational sources of their fears. These parents have three boys. The number one cause of death for African American males between the ages of 15 and 34 is murder. And one might think that the risk does not apply to these boys because they live in an educated and relatively affluent family. I think realistically, it may buffer this risk to a certain extent. However, even looking at my own life, I know there is a particular danger that cannot be eliminated. I have a lot of friends. A great number of them have advanced degrees. Two of my friends, both Ph.D.’s, have had murder in their immediate families, one attempted and the second resulted in the death by shooting of a friend’s brother, who was waiting in line to get into a night club. Both of these friends are African American women from well educated families. One of them even had an uncle who ran for president of another country.

There are many people who live with the cloud of potential catastrophe. We are often unable to fully appreciate it but we can do our best to understand.

I am awaiting the results of the routine MRI I had yesterday. I am learning to deal with the anxiety of these scans but I am anxious. My husband forgot about the MRI even though I’d told him a couple of times as recently as the day prior and had asked him to accompany me. His alarm went off yesterday morning at 6:30, his normal time to get ready for work. However, he was planning to go to work after my scan and it was not until 9:45. He was getting up too early to have remembered the scan so I reminded him and he came back to bed. My husband is more forgetful than I would like. But I understand that he is not doing it on purpose and further, he would have seen the appointment on his calendar. Plus, he doesn’t live in the perpetual state of Potential Cancer so there are some things he doesn’t quite understand about my experience as a cancer patient. Similarly, a close friend apologized to me yesterday for checking in with me about my MRI. He’d had quite a stressful day of his own and again, he doesn’t live in the state of Potential Cancer. Before I lived there, I didn’t really worry so much about my friends’ scans once they’d had no evidence for disease for a couple of years. The panic subsides. I don’t want my husband or my friends to live in the Potential Cancer state with me. I don’t wish that on anyone just as my friends with metastatic disease wish it for others. But the actions that come from understanding our situation are important.

As a world, we need to find a cure for breast cancers. But as individuals, we also need people in our lives who have an awareness of the unique stresses of being a breast cancer patient who are also able to convert their awareness into emotional support. You,  friends and family, may be helpless to prevent recurrence or to cure a loved one’s active disease, but you can provide emotional support. You can make living in the Potential Cancer state or the state of Perpetual Cancer more bearable and less lonely.

Perhaps it would be helpful to explain to you what scans mean to me. A clear scan means that I can live another six months with “no evidence of disease”. A clear scan to a person with metastatic cancer means that they can live with “no evidence of progression”.  If my scan shows evidence of cancer, I will go into the fast paced chaos of not knowing and having many tests, the perpetual “hurry up and wait”. If it turns out that I’ve had a recurrence, I will likely undergo a more aggressive treatment protocol than I did in the past and to undergo previous treatments for which I now appreciate the full impact having gone through them before. By the way, a lot of cancer treatment sucked. My family will suffer. My patients will suffer. I could go on and on.

I keep telling myself that the results of a scan, assuming accuracy, don’t tell me anything about myself that wasn’t true yesterday. I often tell my patients this about the diagnoses I give them. “You are the same person you were yesterday.” On myself, this is a hard sell. I am a clinical psychologist. Nobody comes to me unless they already know something is wrong. Something is not going well. There is a problem. I didn’t know I had cancer. I felt fine. There was no lump. Right now, due to my mental and physical health practices, I feel healthier than I have in years. But cancer can hide for  a long long time without someone even knowing something is wrong.

For me as a cancer survivor, it is surreal at times to realize that I can’t trust my own sense of my body. I can’t gauge my own health. My body can lie to me.  I try to be a very truthful person with myself and with others. Honesty and clarity are extremely important to me. This is hard.

Offer your loved ones your understanding and support. You don’t need to live with us and we don’t even want you to,  but do connect with us. And when the Pink wave  tells you that awareness is action and pink is helpful, put your money and volunteer time somewhere else. Somewhere that helps.

Gray and black clouds
hide the sky.
The light shines through
There is clarity above.

The clouds will burn off
maybe today
maybe tomorrow
some day, certainly.

I will see the sky
I’ll know if I traveled
during the quiet space
between dreams
to the terrifying place
the familiar chaos,
the Cancer Place.

This morning's sky inspired the poem, my first in nearly 20 years so be kind.

This morning’s sky inspired the poem, my first in nearly 20 years so be kind.

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