Thinking Pink

October is ending, and with it ends Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Thank goodness it’s over.

There. I said it, and I’ll say it again. I’m not a big fan of the pink ribbon.

Those of you who follow me on Facebook probably know I’m a breast cancer survivor. I don’t advertise that fact very often; one of my first thoughts after my diagnosis was that although I knew I would survive, I wouldn’t allow my illness to become my identity. I’m a woman, a writer, a reader, and a friend. I’m a dog-crazy, cat-loving, wilderness-walking nature nut. I’m many things, and being a “breast cancer survivor” is pretty far down on the list.

Here’s my breast cancer story: I got sick, I got treatment, and I got better. My husband was awesome, and so were my friends. I still have some lingering aftereffects, but it’s not the center of my life.

Keeping the Barely-There Hair under my hat in Montana.
Keeping the “Barely-There Hair” under my hat in Montana.

I know I was lucky. My invasive cancer was treated successfully, and I owe much of that success, and probably my life, to the researchers and activists who keep breast cancer in the limelight. Many of those researchers benefitted from the storm of Pink that floods our stores, airwaves, and magazine stands during the month of October.

My Janis Ian look, a few months after chemo.
My Janis Ian look, a few months after chemo.

But I can’t help thinking we’re supporting the pharmaceutical companies as much as we’re supporting actual cancer patients, because the “cure” seems to be synonymous with new and expensive chemotherapy drugs. To make matters worse, various products and industries hop on the breast cancer bandwagon to use the pink ribbon as a marketing tool in a crass and calculating way. Cancer seems to have become big business, and that bothers me.

Of course, the awareness campaign reminds women to have life-saving mammograms, but lately doctors have found those mammograms often lead to needless suffering. Some women are being treated unnecessarily, and cancers that might never affect them are being hammered with the breast cancer trifecta of surgery, chemo, and radiation.

At the outset of my own treatment, I had no doubt I would throw every weapon in the arsenal at my disease. My doctor approved, but little was said about side effects. Not that it mattered to me at that point; I would have submitted to any medical regimen that promised to rid my body of those renegade cells.

Again with the hat--but starting to feel like myself again.
Again with the hat–but starting to feel like myself again, mostly because I’m at Stillwater.

But I thought cancer would be a once-and-done ordeal. Once it was over, I was sure I’d pick up my life where I left off.

That’s not how it works.

Happy - with Hair!
Happy and Hopeful – with Hair!

Today, two years after my illness, I still deal with a foggy memory, daily pain and numbness in my hands, and fatigue, all of which have made it a challenge to continue the work I love. That’s why I encourage patients to ask their doctors about the possible problems associated with treatment in general and chemo in particular, so they can make truly informed decisions.

In Hawaii, celebrating my recovery.
In Hawaii, celebrating my recovery.

While I’m ranting, I’ll make my most fervent breast cancer wish: let’s allocate more funds to the study of causes and prevention. I’m not sure there’s actually a “cure” to be found, but I wonder if we couldn’t help future generations avoid this disease altogether by exploring the effects of environmental toxins, food additives, and hormone supplements. Because although I’m hugely grateful to have survived cancer, I sure wish I’d never gotten the disease in the first place.

Meanwhile, I’m reminded of my cancer by floods of pink every time I go to the mall, get on the internet, or read a catalog. Selfishly, I wish the Pink Brigade would tone it down a bit.

It’s all worth it if BCAM (Breast Cancer Awareness Month) helps even one woman get the treatment she needs in time to save her life. But still, I’m glad it’s over.

There. That’s all the space I plan to give cancer on this website, at least until next October. If you’d like to enjoy my survival with me, I’d love to have you along for the ride, but there aren’t likely to be any more posts on illness*. The threat of mortality taught me to live, so my husband and I bought a home in the mountains (I call it our Life-Is-Short House), and I spend my time writing novels, reading everything, and savoring the small miracles of day-to-day life in our woodland paradise. I take pictures. I share them. I write stuff. That’s about it.

And there’s nothing pink about any of it.

*(So I say, but who knows? The subject of cancer is like a scab on a wound you vowed to keep secret; you keep fiddling with it, and next thing you know it’s bleeding all over the place and everyone knows about it.)

If my response to the Pinkness surprises you, here are a few breast cancer blogs that seem to share at least some of my feelings. They also offer a lot of useful and informative information about cancer, treatment, and survival.

Nancy’s Point

the small c

Caroline’s Breast Cancer Blog

Pink Ribbon Blues

Stupid Dumb Breast Cancer

Have you been through the cancer experience? How do you feel about the “pinking” of America?