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Survivor Shines Light on Metastatic Breast Cancer

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Giddy little "awareness" word games on Facebook tied puzzlingly to Breast Cancer Awareness Month can be horribly offensive to young survivors. Sally Drees got so upset by one that she decided to start something important: the 31-Day Project.

(WOMENSENEWS)--If you're a young breast cancer survivor and on Facebook, you might not be happy with the loopy little fill-in-the-blanks word games or "memes" that annually make the rounds in the name of promoting Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October.

This year's meme plays on the theme of pregnancy.

Women are asked to write "I'm ____ weeks" (fill in the blank with the number corresponding to your birth month) and craving ______ (a list of snacks is given; fill in the blank with the one next to your birth date). I would have been "one week and craving chocolate cake" had I chosen to play this game, which I decidedly didn't.

Many survivors have instead chosen to post something like, "I'm three years [out from diagnosis], and I'm craving a cure for the whole damn thing."

Pregnancy can be a painful subject for those of us who've faced or are facing breast cancer during our childbearing years. Chemotherapy often brings on premature menopause, which may prove permanent. In any case, as my survivor friend Julie wrote in her blog, "even if it's temporary, the years spent fighting our disease may have been the years we needed to start a family."

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I'll add that the money often needed to adopt or to pursue surrogacy is not generally plentiful in the wake of huge cancer-treatment expenses.

The odd idea of these games is to be cagey: Never mention breast cancer, but instead make everyone who sees your Facebook status wonder what it's all about.

I have seen three memes so far, one leading up to each of the Octobers during which I've had a Facebook account. It's impossible to figure out where these things come from. Hell?

A 'Coy Secret'

"Don't tell the guys," the memes say for some reason--as if the stated purpose of raising breast cancer awareness should be a coy secret.

I've never joined in these games, and neither have the vast majority of my friends who, like me, are young survivors of this disease. Some who do join, fill in the blanks with a bluntness not recommended by the saccharine-jokey memes.

Last year's game was about where you "like it," meaning where you like your purse: "I like it on the floor/kitchen table/wherever I can find it," etc. My friend Kim blew open the kittenish sexual subtext with a full-on, well-expressed description of ways and places she likes to have sex. Then she ended on a not-sexy note: "And also: Breast cancer kills tens of thousands of people in this country every year. It's generally more aggressive and more deadly in young women. Do your self-exams."

Putting aside the fact that cancer of any kind is not a game and that talk of or actions regarding cancer shouldn't be one, there are other specific problems here. These memes don't mention breast cancer, so their awareness-raising claims are questionable at best. The note I got this year insisted that "the constant updating of status reminds everyone why we're doing this and helps raise awareness!!" (punctuation theirs).

The games are also quite seriously off-target. The first one I saw instructed women to post the color of their bras as their status. Really? Many survivors who've had mastectomies--even if they afterward chose reconstructive surgery--don't wear bras at all, finding that surgery on the area has rendered a bra uncomfortable, ill-fitting and sometimes even painful.

One of my favorite comments on the bra game was from my friend Tammy (age 32; diagnosed Stage 2; now Stage 4): "My bra is black. It covers my huge [expletive deleted] lumpectomy scar."

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"Chemotherapy often brings on premature menopause, which may prove permanent. In any case, as my survivor friend Julie wrote in her blog, 'even if it's temporary, the years spent fighting our disease may have been the years we needed to start a family'. ...The diagnosis, the treatment and years of recurrence-prevention drugs (which can lead to birth defects while being taken and, so, are not compatible with pregnancy) would have been plenty to handle. But this past June, with the recommended treatment for her initial diagnosis at last drawing to an end, Drees was diagnosed with a distant, or metastatic, recurrence of the disease. Evidence of breast cancer was found in her abdomen, requiring a hysterectomy and placing Drees' cancer at Stage 4."
I would like to see breast cancer surviviors include in their focus, a look at the harm that chemotherapy and radiation does to them, destroying their very lives while destroying the breast cancer. The physicians/scientists involved put all other forms of treatment as something close to hoaxes, yet none of these kill you or your potential for having children, and many help to decrease and often end the breast cancer. The survival rate may be better than with radiation. We need more research on this, so women will not continue to be the pons of the medical, radiation, and drug industries. We need more research and education of people with cancer on the environmental causes of cancer, so that, too can be changed by the cancer sufferers, to move to a more healthy locale or to stop having access to what may be causing your cancer. The 'Run for a cure' and the memes are a way of trivializing women and making their concern for their and their relatives' and friends' appear to be helped by the emotion and by money raised for these destructive industries that may be killing them instead of helping them. Radiation has after effects in the body that cause new cancers several to many years later, thus the second and third cancers that kill may be from the radiation that helped with the first cancer. If your physician says this is not true, do not believe him. There was a time when heart problems were considered basically to just happen, and only the physicians’ orders for medication and occasional drastic surgery could help. Then, ordinary people and phyisicans who had lost faith in the medical treatments began to insist that diet and exercise may be the most important preventer and treatment for many heart diseases, and guess what, they are right, and we have a totally different view of heart disease today. This can and should happen with most cancers, including breast cancer.
Take your lives into your own hands and find out how to heal yourself, you can! My heart and my head are with you!