October is when we all leap onto the breast cancer awareness bandwagon. Everyone can be a hero in the fight. All we have to do is to wear pink, the official color of breast cancer awareness. Voices exhort us, not merely to wear pink, but to buy pink and to think pink. Think pink? I think not. Buy pink? That’s what lots of companies hawking pink crap hope you’ll do, but that’s an entirely different blog.
Three years ago, in the Spring, I discovered a lump in my left breast, which turned out to be a small but invasive tumor. Within two weeks, I’d had surgery to remove it. By the time the big pink blitz arrived, I was still awaiting — actually, dreading –radiation therapy. The constant hammering— and it’s not as bad here in Costa Rica as in the US— made me want to dive into my bed, pull the covers over my head, and wish for the world to go away.
Breast cancer awareness is about boosting the number of mammograms and biopsies, which increases detection and treatment, but do more tests spell more lives saved? Many studies say they don’t. More mammograms mean more discoveries, more false alarms, and more unnecessary surgeries. As I have written before, I no longer submit to mammograms. I have come to believe, after extensive reading on the subject, that the procedure is carcinogenic.
To me, it seems a cruel joke to declare oneself or another a cancer survivor. There are only people who have been diagnosed with the disease, and as a result of some level of care, appear to be cancer-free at a particular time. Make no mistake about it: cancer is the gift that keeps on giving, and it could reappear at any time.
The awareness campaign seems to suggest that detection equals not only prevention, but a cure. Let’s get this straight: there is no cure, and very little of the cash raised by the various awareness campaigns actually goes towards finding one. For example, the NFL raises money for breast cancer awareness by selling pink paraphernalia, and donates less than four dollars for each hundred they collect to research.
Get your yearly or biennial mammogram and relax, they say. But please, don’t rely on that. To prevent breast cancer, eat the right things, don’t eat the wrong ones, exercise, keep your weight down, forgo cans and plastics, and do whatever it takes to lower your stress levels. Don’t settle for passively waiting, between mammograms.