Ever since I was diagnosed with stage II invasive breast cancer three years ago, it seems I’ve become quite popular. I’ve never had a shortage of party invitations, but since my breast was removed and all my hair fell out,the invitations just haven’t stopped coming.
October seems to be a particularly popular month for festivities. Just last week I was asked if I wanted to be a model in a fashion show for an event benefitting local breast cancer non-profits. Music! Food! Drinks! Dancing! And a few weeks ago, I was invited to come celebrate my survivorship aboard a cruise ship docked in Seattle. The party promised to be oodles of fun, complete with pink balloons and pink frosted cupcakes.
I respectfully declined, preferring to celebrate my lopsidedness with my prosthesis and a cup of chamomile tea, but one invitation particularly intrigued me. A breast reconstruction clinic in New Orleans was celebrating Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day (get it? BRA Day) with a Q&A session about breast reconstruction options following mastectomy – including a “show and tell” afterwards. If I got there early, I’d be able to participate in a special Breast Reconstruction Day flash mob, right there at the clinic! The website even offered a how-to video so I could learn the dance and come shimmy right alongside all the other attendees.
What’s there to celebrate, other than the clinic’s bottom line? The parties, the dancing, the pink teddy bears – they all make it look like everything’s OK. We’ve drawn our eyebrows back on, stuffed a sock in our bra, pinned a pink ribbon to our cocktail dresses and tried to pretend we’re ready to party, even if we’d rather be calling it a night.
But it’s not OK. Maybe our hair starts growing back, our energy begins to return, and our pink attire has been pushed to the back of the closet. But the cancer is not gone. Some are living with stage IV disease, where the cancer lurks in their bones, lungs or brain, beat back by rounds and rounds of chemo, radiation and pills. Others are living with the uncertainty that the cancer may return at any moment. The fear lingers well beyond the last Herceptin infusion, no matter how many times you do the two-step to the tune of “I Feel Like a Woman.”
I appreciate the invitations. I really do. It’s nice to be recognized for making it through those eight months of chemo when I lost my hair, my dignity, and sometimes my lunch. But is this really the time to celebrate? Let’s save the balloons for birthdays.
When it comes to breast cancer, I’d rather sit down with fellow survivors and talk about serious stuff: Why did we get breast cancer? What role does stress play in a breast cancer diagnosis? Why is the toxic, endocrine disruptive chemical bisphenol-A found in the blood of just about every person tested? What’s really in our moisturizer? I really don’t need a buffet luncheon and pink lemonade. How about a brown bag workshop while we figure out ways to get companies to stop genetically modifying our corn?
Let’s turn down the invitations to “Save the Ta Tas!” and instead join the movement to pass the Safe Chemicals Act. Let’s lobby our legislators for meaningful action to end breast cancer, instead of throwing our money at meaningless, pink ribbon promotions to raise awareness. Let’s show our scars, remove our scarves and talk about the realities of cancer. Let people stare. Welcome questions. Answer honestly. Because breast cancer is more than flash mobs, feather boas and sequined tshirts.
The party’s over. Now let’s get serious.
Take Action! Click here to take action on our “It’s an Epidemic, Stupid!” campaign, which calls on our elected leaders to help address and end the breast cancer epidemic through independent research and strong regulation of toxins.