Breast Cancer

My 2015 Recap

A year ago, I focused on how my glass was half full. I was – and am – thankful to be a mom and an educator. Nonetheless, as 2014 drew to a close, there were still a lot of loose ends in my life:

  • Was my breast cyst benign or malignant?
  • Could I physically handle my job? (I only had six days between my lumpectomy and the start of the semester. I had three new classes to teach and 30 more students than the previous semester. And, I still had my usual two migraines a week.) Assuming that I could handle the added responsibilities and that the cyst was benign, would my full-time contract be renewed?
  • Was I really at peace with no longer being in a relationship with The Man? Or, would I return to my old pattern of going back to an ex-boyfriend?
  • How would I fare at being a single mom?
  • Where would Roya get into preschool? (The DC preschool hustle is an interesting process with applications, recommendations and interviews.)

Today, I can reflect on all of those questions and stressors with a huge sigh of relief.

Most importantly, surgery in January revealed that the cyst was benign. My November MRI showed no evidence of cancer. According to my oncologist, I now have the same risk of anyone else my age of getting breast cancer. Breast cancer thus becomes a disease I had, not a disease from which I’m in remission. That matters clinically and psychologically.

On the work front, I’ve been able to handle all of my responsibilities effectively. My contract has been renewed through May 2017, and I get excited every time I head to campus. I recently was asked what I liked best about my students. I paused as I tried not to shed any tears and replied, “How much time do you have?” I know how lucky I am to truly love what I do.

I also appreciate where I am professionally. If an opportunity as a panelist or expert doesn’t benefit my continued role as an instructor, I have the ability to respectfully decline. Choosing what’s been the right fit has led to some amazing opportunities, though. A few highlights:

  • Speaking about The Hunger Games to a sold-out audience at The Smithsonian;
  • Being interviewed by Associated Press about drone technology;
  • Filming a short video for WebMD about what to expect when you’re diagnosed with breast cancer; and
  • Talking about selfies for American Magazine.

With respect to The Man, I do not doubt that we were meant to meet and fall in love. I also do not question that we are no longer meant to be a couple. He was put in my life so that Roya would be born. He was a love in my life, and there will be another in the future. She is the love of my life.

As far as being a single mom, I don’t view that term — or my reality — as a negative. Roya is a great kid, and I’m thankful to be in control of every day and every decision in her life. And, I can exhale, knowing that she ended up in the right preschool for her.

Is our life utopic? Of course not.

Parenting is joyously exhausting (or exhaustingly joyful?). Between Roya’s sleep patterns, grading and curriculum development, a five-hour stretch of sleep is a good night for me. And, it would be nice to have time to see my friends, work out and write. But, I know how privileged I am to say that the toughest parts of my year were lack of sleep, missed brunches, and wanting to fit into my skinny jeans.

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As we change the calendar to 2016, I pray that the new year brings Roya and me more of the same. I am truly content with my relationships, my family and my job. I go into 2016 without any loose ends. Roya and I are blessed to be happy and (knock on wood) healthy. I hope the same for you and your loved ones, too. xoxo

87.5% Benign

True or False: If a woman has a double mastectomy, she can never get breast cancer.

False.

Despite what is often touted by celebrities in the media, undergoing a double mastectomy does not mean that a woman will not get breast cancer.

Think about it from a scientific perspective. Is there such a thing as zero risk, when dealing with the human body? Is anything a 100% guarantee?

Having a double mastectomy reduces the risk of recurrence for those who are in remission. If a woman elects to have the surgery preventively, she dramatically decreases her chances of developing breast cancer.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in my right breast, but not my left. Following treatment and a double mastectomy, my doctor estimated that I have a 12% chance of a recurrence in my right breast and a 5% chance of developing cancer in my left breast. A double mastectomy was the right choice for me, but nothing is foolproof.

Following a double mastectomy, my doctors informed me that I don’t need to get anymore mammograms. (Mammograms are a scan of breast tissue, and the double mastectomy removed my breast tissue, rendering the test unnecessary.) Instead, I get annual breast MRIs.

I scheduled my 2014 MRI for November. Much like last year, I noticed that I felt edgy – or some scanxiety — for a few days prior to the test.  I just wanted it over with and to receive the “All Clear” call from my doctor.

Following my MRI, I headed to the Sibley cafeteria. I ran into three women who work in the Center for Breast Health and ended up talking with them during their lunch break. As we discussed my health journey, one of them commented, “We’ve watched you grow up!” And, they have. I first saw the head of the breast center in 2000. To say that a lot has changed since then would be an understatement!

The day after my MRI, I received a call from my doctor. The scan showed a tiny 8mm area of concern in my right breast.  The right breast was the side in which I had cancer. The mass was also located in the chest wall. (A breast cancer recurrence can occur in either the chest wall or where there’s any residual breast tissue.) A biopsy was scheduled for the following week.

Before the biopsy. the doctor tried to locate the mass with an ultrasound. It took her quite a while to do that because the area of concern is that small. Once she located it, she took samples.

In the very good news column, the biopsy results came back benign.

In the not as good news column, that’s not the end of the story.

Since the mass is so tiny, the doctor recommended that I obtain another MRI. She wanted to confirm that the area of concern that lit up on the previous MRI was no longer evident.

In the somewhat good news column, the small area of concern on the first MRI was even smaller on the second MRI. But, from a clinical perspective, the second MRI was inconclusive. The thought is that the benign area that was biopsied was part of the area of concern. (That would explain why the area reduced in size between the two MRIs, but wasn’t eliminated.)

My team of doctors all believes that the mass is benign. When I asked just how confident they felt that this was benign, one doctor replied, “85-90%.” But, they want to be 100% sure. The only way to do that is to have the area of concern surgically removed.

Surgery is on the books for January 6th.

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been a patient of Sibley’s Center for Breast Health for years now. I trust my medical team implicitly. When my doctors have been concerned that an area was malignant, they’ve told me. When they felt as though the odds were 50/50, they shared that with me. I know that this situation is no different. Although my Best of the Breast team of doctors doesn’t think this area is cancerous, they are approaching my case conservatively. (And, with my health history, that’s the right move.)

I’ve worked hard over the years to not give too much emotional energy to “What ifs?” This has been no exception. I shed a fair amount of tears for the first 24 hours after hearing the news, and then I let it go. There are so many people who are dealing with major known health issues and limitations. This is minor outpatient surgery for a diagnostic purpose. I’ve had several masses removed before. I typically leave the hospital feeling uncomfortable, but not in pain. If my biggest concern is trying to figure out how to deal with not being able to lift Roya for two weeks, I consider myself very lucky.

I’ll keep you abreast as always. xoxo

As a PS, I had to look up how big 8mm was. It’s interesting from a surgical perspective that 8mm is small. From a jeweler’s perspective, though, 8mm isn’t small at all!

How big is 8mm?

 

My Chemo-versary v4.0

I tasked my students in my Body in American Culture course with examining their thoughts about the body, beauty ideals and body image. The basic guidelines for this Body Genogram are as follows:

Connect your early life experiences with your current understanding of your body and beauty in general. How do they or do they not impact you today? Throughout the paper, ask yourself, “How did my culture, religion, socioeconomic background, race, ethnicity, friends and family affect my own views? How do these factors impact my current attitudes about my body and beauty ideals? What role, if any, did television, magazines, advertisements and social media play in influencing my views?” Your genogram will be graded on a pass/fail basis.

It’s ironic that I’m reading my students’ genograms today of all days. On September 21, 2010, I walked into my oncologist’s office. I was scheduled to begin treatment for breast cancer with a “lighter” form of chemotherapy and only had a 15% of losing my hair.

Once inside my doctor’s office, though, I learned that was no longer the plan. I needed a stronger chemotherapy cocktail because I had an aggressive strain of HER2 positive breast cancer. My hair would likely be all gone by mid-October.

I knew that losing my hair would change me, but I wasn’t prepared for just how much. I also had no way of knowing then how poorly my body would react to chemotherapy. Steroids caused me to gain 23 pounds and develop insomnia and an eye twitch. I forgot conversations and plans. My migraines increased to three times a week. And, after hemorrhaging following my second round of chemo, I was thrown into menopause.

Four years later, my hair has grown back, and although my weight isn’t what I would like, it’s in a healthy range. I’m also proud of all that my body has done from the minute (being able to walk three miles a day) to the miraculous (getting pregnant and giving birth to Roya despite being post-menopausal).

Nonetheless, I’m not the same woman that I was four years ago. I was diagnosed with breast cancer at a time in my life when my body looked its best. My metabolism was stable, and the age of 37, I was able to eat what I wanted, rarely exercise beyond walking and physical therapy, and not worry about the scale moving. (After suffering from an eating disorder in my late teens-early 20s, I was in a much-improved place emotionally and physically.) I looked in the mirror and felt attractive. My priorities at the time were my blog, increasing my experience as a sex educator, charity and social events, and boys. I also was considering taking a local modeling agent up on her offer to book me and had met with an adoption agency to begin the lengthy process to adopt a little girl.

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Shoot with Patrick Onofre February 2010

I had waited to submit my adoption application and to schedule the meeting with the agent until after I had my mammogram. The mammogram led to biopsies which in turn led to a diagnosis. My plans to adopt and my chance to do some local modeling were put on hold. Four years later, I doubt that I’ll adopt now and I objectively wouldn’t have a shot at modeling. I look at the photograph above, and I’m no longer that girl anymore.

Most days, I relish the roles I now play and the directions that my life took. I love being a professor, an advocate, and a partner. And, I don’t doubt for a second that God had a plan for me to be Roya’s mom. Cancer forced me to reprioritize my life, my views on women’s bodies in general and my body in particular, and my relationships. That was all meant to happen.

However, there are times like today when I can’t help but wonder, “What if?” Where would my life have taken me if I hadn’t gotten cancer? How would I feel about my body, if I had never gone through chemotherapy and a double mastectomy? What would it be like to watch a movie or read a magazine and not be so uncomfortable with how women are portrayed, and their bodies sexualized and commodified? Will there be a September 21st in the future when I don’t question these things?

I’m left with more questions than answers, but that’s my reality. I’m beyond thankful to be cancer free, but my life isn’t free of cancer.

What factor or experience has played an influential role in your views about your body and beauty ideals? 

The Love of My Life

In 2010, I was on a date with a man who wanted to talk a lot about my blog.

Him: Your stories would make a great book! Each relationship could be a chapter with the last chapter about the man you decide to marry and spend the rest of your life with!

I thanked him for the compliment and then paused before responding, “You know? I don’t think a man will be the love of my life. I want to adopt and become a mom. I think that my daughter will be the love of my life.”

Prior to starting chemotherapy for breast cancer, my oncologist asked me if I planned to have children.

“I’m going to adopt a girl who is of elementary school age,” I said, matter of factly. I didn’t need any information about freezing my eggs since I never envisioned getting pregnant or giving birth.

When I was going through treatment for breast cancer, I would picture the daughter that I would adopt as a source of inspiration. I couldn’t see her face, but I visualized her black hair in pigtails with a white cardigan over her navy dress.

I didn’t know then what I know now. I wasn’t meant to adopt. I was meant to meet The Man, fall in love and astonishingly conceive.

Medical professionals don’t typically use words like, “miracle,” but with my pregnancy, they did. During my bi-monthly sonograms, four different radiology technicians commented that my daughter-to-be was gifted and sassy. I would smile and remind myself that she was just a fetus. But, a part of me realized that even as a fetus, she had already proven that she was strong!

After the doctors delivered my daughter, Roya, one of them commented that my ovaries were postmenopausal. Medically, there wasn’t an explanation for my pregnancy or her birth. And yet, in spite of all the odds and obstacles, Roya was born.

I’ve heard from quite a few people over the past year that Roya’s birth has given them hope. It’s important to believe that the seemingly impossible is in fact possible. She is living proof that miracles can happen!

Several doctors and friends have commented that Roya is destined for greatness. Well, greatness is subjective and ascribes to certain conventional benchmarks of success. I hope that whatever the future holds for Roya, she realizes that she’s great just as she is.

On the eve of Roya’s first birthday, I held her in my arms with tears in my eyes. So much of the past four years was unplanned, but I guessed one thing correctly:

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My daughter would be the love of my life.

And, she is.

A Tale of Two Foobs

I was watching TV when I felt a lump in the middle of my right breast. I raised my arm, and I could still feel it. I looked down, and it was noticeable to the eye.

“It’s just scar tissue,” I told myself.  But, I immediately reached for my phone. I sent a message to my breast reconstruction surgeon, Dr. Kathy Huang, thankful that she was only a text away. She replied that she could squeeze me in for an appointment a few days later.

With health matters, I’ve worked very hard to get to a point where I don’t exert a lot of emotional energy over that which is unknown. However, since I’ve become a mom, I find myself edgier about any tests or appointments related to life in remission. The stakes are exponentially higher. Even though I knew that what I felt was most likely nothing, I couldn’t help but going to that place in my head for a few minutes. I didn’t even tell anyone, including The Man, about my appointment for three days.

I was clearly concerned, but I reminded myself of the recent study that indicates that carrying my pregnancy to term didn’t increase my risk of recurrence of my hormone-positive breast cancer. However, that’s not a guarantee that my cancer won’t return. As any “survivor” knows, we might be cancer free, but that doesn’t mean that our lives are free from dealing with cancer and the repercussions of our diagnosis.

The following week, I visited Dr. Huang’s office. After a thorough examination, she commented that she, too, thought the small mass was scar tissue. However, she recommended a breast ultrasound (sonogram) just to be sure. I headed to Sibley the next week for the ultrasound. When the breast radiologist indicated that the lump was in fact scar tissue, I let out a sigh of relief. I exhaled deeply again later that week when my internist informed me that my blood counts were good.

I am thankful that this turned out to be nothing. Yet, I can’t help but think of the loved ones and acquaintances who weren’t and aren’t as lucky. I remain humble and small in the face of this horrible disease.

So, does that mean I’m done thinking about my foobs (my post-mastectomy breasts) until my next MRI?

Well, not exactly.

As I mentioned earlier, I’m still dealing with the repercussions of my cancer diagnosis. The skin around my foobs sags and bunches. (That’s to be expected since I have a connective tissue disorder and got pregnant so soon after my double mastectomy.) I also have very pronounced scars across the entire width of my breasts and no nipples. Dr. Huang proposes another surgery to tighten up the skin. That would also minimize the appearance of the scars and lift my breasts. She would then construct nipples from the excess skin at the end of that surgery.

I miss having nipples and don’t like being so ambivalent about my breasts. I imagine that this surgery will leave me with much-needed feelings of fondness for my foobs. I also know enough about Dr. Huang’s work to know that the foobs will look much better after she works her surgical magic.

I had hoped to have this surgery over the summer, but a change in my childcare arrangement will make that difficult. I need to schedule this when I have ample coverage since I won’t be able to hold Roya for two weeks. The tale of two foobs must be continued…

Advice for Recently Diagnosed Breast Cancer Patients

In less than a month, three friends have contacted me because an immediate relative was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. With the disclaimer that I’m not a medical professional and every person’s case and experience are unique, here are my thoughts for these women:

  • Make sure that you surround yourself with a team of doctors that you support wholeheartedly. Your team will include your oncologist as your main point of contact, your breast surgeon, a radiation oncologist if radiation is needed, and various technicians and nurses. If you don’t feel an affinity for a person with whom you’ll need to regularly interact during this process, find a different doctor, tech or nurse! It is your prerogative as the patient to do so!
  • Make sure that you take notes or bring a loved one to take notes during your initial appointments. That will help you understand your diagnosis and the plan for surgery and treatment.
  • Ask your oncologist to give you a referral for a second opinion. Have his or her receptionist help you with the scheduling of that appointment. When there is the possibility of major surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, you want to give yourself some peace of mind that the plan of attack is the right one. If there’s a difference of opinion between two doctors, remember that you have the right to get a third opinion!
  • Realize that a lot will need to happen from the time you’re first diagnosed until you begin chemotherapy or have surgery. You’ll get a breast MRI. You may need more biopsies. You’ll need to make appointments to meet with an oncologist and breast surgeon. You might require gene or oncotype testing. Then, you’ll need to play the waiting game for results or scheduling for all of these.
  • In a conversation with six friends who have had double mastectomies and chemotherapy, the prospect of more surgery didn’t make them anxious. However, the thought of more chemotherapy and losing their hair again did. I didn’t appreciate that until I had my double mastectomy. The surgery surprisingly wasn’t that painful. The most bothersome and limiting part of the process is the need for drains under your armpits to remove excess fluid from your breasts. The drains – not the surgery itself — make it difficult to raise your arms or sleep comfortably. I took this video two weeks after my double mastectomy to show what the drains look like and how I was doing:

  • Quite a few friends and I also found the expansion process of stretching the thin skin to accommodate the implants to be more painful than the surgery. Expansion allows for the best end results, but for those women who need to go in for several expansion appointments, it’s very uncomfortable. For more of my tips on how to prepare yourself for a double mastectomy, check out this post.
  • If you test positive for a hormone-positive breast cancer, your cancer feeds on estrogen and progesterone. Your doctor may recommend hormonal therapy since that has been shown to significantly reduce your risk of recurrence. Giving a pre-menopausal woman daily medication to suppress the estrogen in her system throws her body into early menopause. On the surface, no periods might sound like a good thing. But, try to prepare yourself if you can for the possible side effects. These include hot flashes, vaginal dryness, sleep difficulties, and irritability. As if those weren’t enough, these symptoms don’t appear gradually or sporadically as though you were in natural menopause. They come on in full force rapidly, which adds insult to injury during the treatment process.
  • Try to line up as much help and support as you feel comfortable with in advance. You won’t just need rides to and from the hospital. You’ll also need to secure transportation to the follow up appointments and other places until you’re cleared to drive. Make sure you have help with your meals, laundry, children and pets. Figure out what, if anything, you can do from home. Let your employer know that you’ll need to take it easy even when you’re able to return to work.
  • I always end all of these calls and emails with two reminders:
  1. There’s no right or wrong way to react to a cancer diagnosis. Go easy on yourself as you process the news and what lies ahead; and
  2. I’m here if they – or their loved ones – need anything. And, thanks to the Internet and the #BCSM community, there’s so much support out there for someone who has been recently diagnosed. This community is a beacon of hope and camaraderie in the midst of a long, dark tunnel! Take advantage of it if you need to!

What advice would you add? What did you or a loved one find helpful?

On Cancer and Platitudes

My friend, Kiki, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2007. The prognosis from the start wasn’t promising.

“She’s dying. I don’t know what I should say to her,” I shared with a friend.

“You don’t think she knows she’s dying? You don’t need to pretend otherwise. All you can do is continue to be you and be her friend. Just focus on that.”

My friend’s advice stuck with me and helped me be myself around Kiki. I let how Kiki was feeling be the guide as to what we would talk about. Most of the time, we laughed about my dating antics, our mutual friends and our dogs. When she wasn’t able to have visitors in the hospital, I sent her cards. With respect to her health, I wasn’t maudlin, but I also didn’t throw cliches around either. That approach is one that I’ve continued when communicating with people dealing with an illness or loss. Specifically, I think about the following:

  • How can I be authentic to our relationship?
  • How can I be supportive without being dishonest or saccharin?
  • If I offer to help, is this an offer that I’m prepared to follow through with?
  • If I say I’m praying for someone, do I make a point to do so regularly?
  • What would make the person in need of support feel better? (This experience was about them, after all.)

My approach can be seen as less than positive and too honest, though. Typically, the harsh realities of cancer, illness and loss are met with trite expressions. This penchant for platitudes was on my mind recently as I looked at my Facebook news feed. One of my friends was undergoing treatment for breast cancer, while another friend had passed away after her cancer had returned and metastasized.

There was an outpouring of support and positivity for the friend in treatment. I cringed as I looked at the well-intentioned comments on the Facebook wall of the friend undergoing treatment for breast cancer.

“You’re such a fighter!”

Umm…does she have any choice?

“Cancer doesn’t know who it messed with!”

It’s cancer. It’s a horrible, often insidious disease. This beast is bigger than all of us!

“You look great!” “You’ve never looked more beautiful!”

There is beauty and raw emotion in suffering. There are days in which people in treatment will present themselves in the best manner possible. And, there are those genetically-blessed people who just look beautiful no matter what. Nonetheless, when you mix beauty with chemotherapy, fatigue, and surgeries, even the most gorgeous person is going to look less so.

“God doesn’t give anyone more than they can bear!” “These things only happen to the strongest of people!”

Is God really responsible for cancer, illness, and devastating loss? That’s not how I regard a benevolent God. Moreover, as the example of my two friends indicates, both were strong and both fought hard. One is currently in remission, and one has passed. Beating cancer is more a case of luck than faith or strength.

I’ve written about how to show support to loved ones during a health crisis. The recent juxtaposition of unbridled positivity against the enormous despair of grief on my Facebook feed reminded me yet again of the need for genuine support. I understand why people respond to illness and death with well-intentioned platitudes. I just hope for the day when we can be more honest with each other. There’s nothing wrong with saying, “I’m sorry. Cancer just sucks.” Period.

What are your thoughts? How do you respond in these situations? Are some comments inappropriate or is well intentioned enough?

Welcome to My New Site!

When I first began blogging in December 2008, I had a basic WordPress platform. The pale mint green and grey template was neither busy nor fancy. Since I blogged anonymously back then, there were no images embedded in my posts. I appreciate that a strong blog is about the written word, but I also acknowledge that my posts were very text heavy.

In September 2010, I obtained my City Girl Blogs™ logo via crowdsourcing and had my site professionally redesigned. I loved the new look of my brand and my blog!

The same month that my site launched, I started chemotherapy. I honestly didn’t know where my blog – or my life – was headed. Getting through treatment was my main priority, and blogging about my relationships was a fun diversion.

Back in 2010, I thought that I would finish treatment and put the whole cancer journey behind me. In retrospect, that approach seems blissfully ignorant! I’m thankfully in remission, but the experience still impacts me on a daily basis in both positive and negative ways. I know that one of my life’s missions is to write, speak and advocate about cancer and cancer prevention.

My blog led me to teach at American University. Three years later, I feel blessed at how much joy my job continues to bring me.

The most significant change in my life is that I’m the mom of an eight-month-old miracle baby named Roya! Every decision is made with her in mind.

This new site reflects who I am now and the many hats I wear. In addition to my blog posts, the site also includes information about:

My blog will continue to feature content that’s as varied as my life. From Roya to health advocacy to sex advice to giveaways to cancer, you’ll never know what topic you’ll find when you click on the latest post! For those who’ve missed my Sex and the City-esque adventures, fear not! Quite a few of my old dating tales are still accessible.

I’ve genuinely missed writing and being a part of the blogging community.  It’s nice to get back to both.

I hope that you enjoy my new site as much as I do!

Many thanks and much appreciation to Earl Wyatt of Feedigital.com for all of his help with the site transfer, design and updates!

xoxo, Stef

Knowing Better Now

There was a time when I embraced the pink of breast cancer. I know better now.

Pink epitomizes all that is sweet and feminine. A pink ribbon is small and aesthetically pleasing. Breast cancer is anything but pink and pretty. The reality of battling the disease is enormous and ugly. Pink ribbons are gender-stereotyped accessories for my infant daughter, and no longer empowering for me as a breast cancer survivor.

There was a time when I embraced the sexualization of breast cancer. I know better now.

When one thinks of “tatas” and “second base,” smiles often ensue. Our culture is obsessed with full, perky breasts. Heterosexual men fantasize about them, and more than 300,000 women annually in the US get breast augmentation to fit that mold.  

It’s a lot easier to focus on the fact that a woman’s breasts are buoyant after reconstruction than to discuss how cancer has affected her breasts. Picture multiple surgeries, drains, expanders, large scars, burns from radiation, and no nipples. That’s the reality for most women under 50 after they’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer. It’s not the nipple-sparing surgeries and immediately reconstructed breasts of women impacted by this disease that the media chooses to highlight.

There was a time when I didn’t think about breast cancer spokeswomen. I know better now.

The celebrities the media features with breast cancer are typically women who have a genetic marker for the disease or who were diagnosed at the earliest possible stage and didn’t require chemotherapy. The common denominator to this equation is that all of these women have hair — and often, long, flowing locks! These women personify a standard of female beauty that is far from the reality experienced by women in the chemotherapy room. Images of bald women are few and far between. Those bald women who do share their stories with a large media outlet often do so with a stylist, a makeup artist and airbrushing. The raw pictures of breast cancer like those in The Scar Project don’t receive the same coverage. That’s not how the majority of society wishes to see women.

There was a time when I thought that we needed more breast cancer awareness. I know better now.

In this day and age of pinkwashing, we are aware of breast cancer and its impact. It’s time for action and for talking about those elements of the disease that need to be highlighted. I hope you'll join me in moving beyond the pink and the pretty.

Pinktober

I used to think Breast Cancer Awareness Month was a good thing. We need to raise awareness…to encourage dialogue about breast cancer…to reaffirm our commitment to saving second base! That’s no longer the case.

Pink products and pink-themed fundraisers associated with Breast Cancer Industry Month represent money given to people and organizations that are not necessarily committed to finding a cure or helping those dealing with this disease.

Interested in buying a pink product?

Here are my tips for how to think before you pink, as Breast Cancer Action implores!

  • Is the product a safe product? (A pink ribbon on a gun doesn’t change the fact that a gun is a weapon. Likewise, if there’s a connection between breast cancer and obesity, a campaign involving a pink tub of fried chicken doesn’t make a lot of sense.)
  • Does the product contain toxic ingredients linked to cancer? (These are especially common in bath and body products, including perfume, lipstick and lotion.)
  • Is it clear where the money raised from this product is going? Is a specific charity listed as the beneficiary of all funds raised? (Prior to my diagnosis, I bought checks and address labels with the pink ribbon on it. I have no idea which organization was the beneficiary.)
  • How much of the money goes to the cause? Is there a cap on how much the company will donate? Or, is this all just a smart marketing campaign to seem altruistic, while raising corporate profits?
  • Is there a guarantee that the money is going to the cause? Does this corporation have a successful cause marketing record in the past?

Apply a similar check list to Pinktober events designed to raise money for the cause.

  • When you buy a ticket to an event or make a donation to a breast cancer organization, how much of your money is going to what exactly?
  • Is the organization transparent and diligent with respect to its financial records and reporting?
  • For organizations focused on the rather nebullous “raising awareness,” what does awareness consist of?
  • How much money goes to event expenses, overhead and salaries?
  • Are there patients and survivors at these events as a testament to how the organization has directly helped them?

What are your thoughts about Breast Cancer Awareness Month? How do you decide which pink products to buy and which organizations to support? 

For those of you interested in more information, you can download your Think Before You Pink! Toolkit here. For more information before you buy pink or participate in a walk related to breast cancer awareness or research, click here.