Cancer Is Not Cute, or Why Pinktober Makes Me Queasy

Pink-to-ber A portmanteau coinage used by many people who live with breast cancer to refer to October, the Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is heavily dominated by marketing in the color pink and cute tags like “Save the tatas”. (See Komen, etc.)

(The following post appeared in a slightly different form on April 6, 2013.)

 Cancer isn’t cute. It is a mortal illness. It disfigures. It kills. The treatment involves cutting off pieces of your body, killing living tissue with radiation, poisoning your system with chemotherapy. The treatment can have life-long effects on your health and well-being   And that is still no guarantee. Thirty percent (almost one third!) of women diagnosed with breast cancer AT ANY STAGE will end up with distal metastasis.

To be clear, distal metastasis means Stage IV breast cancer. Stage IV breast cancer is terminal cancer.

Cancer isn’t cute, and breast cancer isn’t “the good cancer”. How can anyone possibly call a disease that kills almost one-third of the people who become ill with it “good”? This isn’t about boobies or tatas—it’s about a killer disease. When I was first diagnosed I didn’t give two toots about saving my “girls”; I wanted the cancer out of me.

When I was first diagnosed, I experienced and conceptualized the cancer as a rapist inside me. GET THIS THING OUT OF ME! There was nothing cute about it. When I had my breast and lymph nodes removed and sat with surgical drains coming out of the incisions and I couldn’t lift my arm high enough to hang up the laundry, there was nothing cute about it. When I was having my first round of chemotherapy and all I could vomit was bile and I could barely hold down water – there was nothing cute about it. When I had first and second degree radiation burns over two-thirds of my chest from the daily radiation treatments – not cute.

Well-meaning as they may be, pink ribbons and cutesy “awareness” campaigns make me angry. To me, they feel belittling. They make me feel ignored. They make me feel cast aside because I have a a disease that is killing me. Go ahead and have a great fund-raising campaign and use the best PR tricks you can, but please don’t ignore the reality. Cancer isn’t cute, not even at Stage I. It bears repeating: thirty percent (almost one third!) of women diagnosed with breast cancer will end up with distal metastasis.

We don’t know who will belong to the 30% and we don’t know how to reduce the number of people who will get recurrences and/or mets. Yes, awareness is nice, but research is better. If you donate to a breast cancer cause, please know where your money is going. Give to organizations that are actively funding research. You can always buy a pink ribbon at the notions counter.

This month I will be featuring guest posts from men and women who have been affected by metastatic breast cancer. There are still open slots. If you’re interested, please read the Call for Posts.