Our Cups Runneth Over?
“Diagram of Survival, 2008”
Decidedly, one of the stupidest things I’ve ever done was to return to work full-time a mere six days after I’d finished getting poison death-rays shot at the remains of my right breast. It happened to be October, 2008. Unless you are an extra-terrestrial or haven’t been born yet, you probably know that October was designated as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Well, we Americans call it ‘national,’ but it’s really global. What you may not know (I didn’t, until I looked it up just now) is that NBCAM was established by AstraZeneca, an international pharmaceutical company which happens to manufacture Tamoxifen and Arimidex, two drugs prescribed to breast cancer patients to shut off our estrogen and prevent it from being absorbed by estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer cells. I can’t help hearing the “Church Lady” from SNL in my head, skeptically intoning, “Isn’t that special!” Call me cynical, but I very much doubt that AstraZeneca’s motives were purely altruistic. Global corporations that are listed on three stock exchanges are not devoted to altruism.
On October 7, 2008, the White House was lit up in pink lights, no doubt as part of the effort made by First Lady Laura Bush to raise breast cancer awareness nationally and internationally. That happened to be the day after I finished radiation. It was also four days before the Providence State House here in Rhode Island was lit up in pink lights as part of a special Waterfire celebration of NBCAM called Flames of Hope, organized by the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Research Foundation. I had been hoping to go to that Flames of Hope with my boss and another PT colleague. I thought it would be a great way to end my days of acute breast cancer treatment, and to mark the fact that I was returning to work the next day.
Instead of strolling along the Providence River with hundreds of other sistahs and friends, however, I had to stay home that night. My armpit had blown up a few days before — a common occurrence after radiation — and my breast was so red and sore that all I could do was lie on my back, naked from the waist up, gently slathering Silvadene on my crispy skin and laying a soft, cool, flannel-covered gel pack over the entire area. Not one of my better weeks. I did go to work the next day, but I had to wear the stockinet tube top they’d given me after surgery instead of anything resembling a bra, and over it, I wore the loosest, lightest top I could get away with and still look ‘professional.’
A few weeks later, I went to a fundraiser called “Tickled Pink,” an evening of dinner and women comics that raised money for research at the hospital where I’d had my partial mastectomy. It was the only pink thing I did that month. I went dressed as a pink and black witch, determined to cast a spell on breast cancer and make it disappear. Laughing my butt off and being given a pink feather boa seemed like a therapeutic way to spend my time. Between work, tamoxifen, relentless fatigue, and trying to get my life back, that’s all I had the energy for. But by the end of that month, I’d already learned what every survivor learns sooner or later, which is that pink can really get on your nerves.
Pink: The Merchandise
In case you’re interested, you can buy this pair of Oakley ‘Enduring Pace’ Breast Cancer Awareness Edition sunglasses for a mere $170. Not only will you have acquired a status symbol, but $20 of your purchase will be donated to Oakley’s Young Survival Coalition, which “is a non-profit network focused on the concerns and issues unique to young women affected by breast cancer.” Personally, I’d rather spend $20 for sunglasses at Rite-Aid and give the remaining $150 directly to a young woman battling breast cancer so she can hire a baby sitter, for instance, or maybe help a young woman who doesn’t have health insurance get a mammogram. But that’s just me.
I have to confess, though, that I would be very much inclined to spend $85 on these shoes to help BC Awareness because, well, I am rather addicted to frivolous, femmie, feck-me pumps. And I’d probably buy them whether they helped breast cancer awareness or not, were I in the mood. And I can actually walk in shoes like this. Not far, but, you know, you don’t wear feck-me’s to perform your daily constitutional. Even if I only wore them once, even if I perhaps never got to wear them, I’d still be delighted to know that they were in my closet, looking hot and sexy. It’s not something I can explain to those of you who are not high-heel-dependent. But for those of you who understand, you could have purchased these, or another 99 other pairs of pink high heels, last October and supported breast cancer awareness. According to the blog, ZestyPink.com, there was a fundraising campaign in 2009 called “100 Hot Pink Heels for Breast Cancer,” which was sponsored by such notable couturiers as Diane von Furstenburg. Details were very sketchy, though, and when I clicked on the various shoe thumbnails, I was taken to Zappo’s website, which is not by any means a terrible thing, mind you. But there was nothing there about how precisely and in what amount your purchase was going to help. Hmmm. Quel dommage! I have emailed the blog admins requesting elaboration.
Fashion statements aside, once I became a person with breast cancer, it didn’t take long at all for me to develop a very low tolerance for all things pink. The sheer ubiquity of pink as the symbol of the fight against breast cancer is overwhelming. And one of the things that you discover when you yourself have personally fought the fight is that everyone who has not personally fought the fight seems to assume that you are now the local poster chick. At a time when you are probably as weary, beleaguered, stressed and broke as you have ever been in your entire life, everyone assumes that you have the interest, time, energy, inclination and funds to contribute to or participate in every bleaping event, cause, or group that is even remotely associated with helping everyone else not end up like you. Then there is the astonishing volume and variety of pink merchandise out there, all of which purports to be beneficial to the Cause. Susan G. Komen alone has signed up droves of sponsors, causing the appearance on store shelves of such pink-packaged items as Purina Cat Chow and Yoplait Yogurt, and the availability of special edition items like KitchenAid’s “Cook for the Cure” Collection.
It’s easy to sneer at pink-tinted cream cheese and food processors, but these sorts of corporate sponsors have contributed absolute gobs of money to foundations that fund breast cancer research and supportive services, although it may be difficult to find out how much and what kind of research and services are funded. On the other hand, so many groups and companies have jumped on the breast cancer bandwagon, it’s entirely reasonable to feel that your personal misery is being exploited to make some capitalist bozo look like he has a social conscience. I have personally taken cell phone photos of dozens of items boasting their support of the Cause, ranging from automobile air fresheners (yes, they are indeed made by those folks who make the cardboard pine trees) to ice cream sandwiches. And I have no compunction whatsoever about emailing the makers of these items and asking them to ‘splain themselves. If you’re too tired to research all this on your own, you can visit a few handy websites. Think Before You Pink is a watchdog project of Breast Cancer Action that investigates the truth behind the Pinkwashing. For more information about groups that look behind the corporate do-gooder veil, you can also read my post from last year called Pink. It’s Complicated.
Crawling For The Cause
It’s really Facebook’s fault that I decided to write this post right now. July happens to be the month in which I was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago. I have seen an amusing and baffling array of pink nonsense advertised on my Facebook sidebar over the months, but the above item appearing there the other day simply took the proverbial pink cake. There on my sidebar was a baby doll from Collectibles Today wearing pink frilly undies embroidered with the slogan, “Crawl for the Cure.” I really didn’t know whether to barf or howl with laughter. And baby dolls are just the beginning. In their special breast cancer collection, Collectibles Today offers everything from special edition pink ribbon refrigerator magnets, to ceramic teddy bears riding pink motorcycles, to pink ribbon tabletop Christmas trees with pink lights. Naturally, I could not find any details about which breast cancer causes they support and how much money they actually contribute to these causes. All I could find was the usual vague statement, “A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this item will be donated to help fight breast cancer.” Clear as mud.
Charitable integrity aside, I am heartily sorry if any of you, my dear readers, are as genuinely fond of kitsch as I am of high heels. My mother was a lifelong devotee of the Spencer Gifts Catalog, a long-time, mail-order retailer of the unapologetically tacky, so I really do understand. But honest to god, I have never seen such a nauseatingly sentimental, cloying, and useless bunch of pink crap in my entire life. Wow. You almost have to admire the gutsy pretentions of these folks. The thing that really scares me, though, is that there are people who really buy this stuff. My own dear mother, before she died, drained her savings account on tchotchkes like a life-sized ceramic greyhound (“If someone peeks through the window, Kathi, they’ll think I have a real watch-dog.”) and cookie-cutter-like things that you pressed into your bread before toasting it so that you could have toast embossed with smiley faces. Sigh.
In the face of such indefatigable forces, I say we have to fight fire with fire. Therefore, I propose the following Creative Crap for the Cause:
- Tats for Tits — a fundraising event featuring tattoo artists who will provide an array of tattoos, including post mastectomy, scar-coverage and reconstruction tattoos; a portion of the proceeds will go to help under-insured sistahs complete safe, competent breast reconstruction.
- Limp for Life — a sporting event & fundraiser for us normal folks; ’nuff said.
- Texting for Ta-Ta’s /( o )( o )\— a contest in which cell phone users thumb themselves silly attempting to create the most inventive and expressive emoticons; prizes will be awarded in the following categories: body parts, medical procedures, surgical scars, and treatment side effects. (See my previous post, “Emoticons for Survivors”)
- Hippies for Hope — aka Tie-Dye for Ta-Ta’s; a retro music festival à la Woodstock.
Hey, these could work, couldn’t they? I’d “Limp for Life”…
This amazing tattoo was designed by breast cancer survivor Inga Duncan Thornell after her bilateral mastectomy, with the help of her very special tattoo artist Tina Bafaro. Click on the image to see the back part of the design.
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Hmm. I think we’re onto something here…
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