By Pamela Grossman
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.
Into this most recent ill-conceived, inadvertently hurtful Facebook game with the pregnancy subtext stepped Sally Drees, who was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer almost five years ago, at age 36, while she was trying to get pregnant. She's a proud and loving stepmother to two boys, but breast cancer crashed into the choices she was making about continuing to build 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.
For Drees, this latest Facebook "awareness" meme incited her to anger and action. I spoke with her recently about how she's responding.
"I went to bed upset by it," she said, "and woke up at 4 a.m. thinking, 'Let me do my own.'"
In mid-September, Drees launched the 31-Day Project. The idea is to raise $41,000; a dollar for each life lost to breast cancer in this country annually.
Drees is promoting the goal mostly through social-media connections: "I'm thinking, let me see if I can educate people and raise some money along the way."
The funds will be divided between Metavivor, an organization that provides funding for research on metastatic breast cancer and support for those with this diagnosis, and the Pink Daisy Project, which helps younger women in treatment for breast cancer (of any stage) pay for child care, meals, gas, etc., so they can better focus on recovery. Both organizations were founded and are run by breast cancer survivors.
"My perspective on breast cancer 'awareness' has changed," Drees said. "I used to think my life was saved by these treatments and by relatively early detection. I'm not bitter, but the issues of metastatic breast cancer are central to me now."
Only 2 percent of funding for breast cancer research goes to metastatic breast cancer, even though this cancer isn't fatal unless it metastasizes, she added.
"Thirty percent of breast cancer cases will either begin at Stage 4 or get there. So why isn't 30 percent of the research money going there too? People see breast cancer as a 'bump in the road' kind of situation--fixable. But 30 percent is a big segment, and it's not acceptable," she said.
Drees' original plan was to conduct the project during the 31 days of October, in all its pink-ribbons-for-awareness glory.
But enthusiastic friends started spreading the word early (mostly via Facebook), and so the project began in mid-September and will continue until around Oct. 13, National Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day.
After that Drees says there's no reason to cut the project off. "I'm happy to keep it going as long as people keep donating," she said with a laugh. So far, $7,921.87 (and counting) has been raised.
Drees is glad the irksome meme got her fired up.
"I could sit and dwell," she said, "but I'm much better served doing something. And the time to act on what we believe is not 'someday' but now."
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