My Story: What Breast Cancer Awareness Month Means to Me

Insight Articles
September 28, 2018
By: 
Eric Fitzsimmons, Copy Editor and Content Coordinator

Every year, people, companies and organizations around the country recognize October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The occasion brings a wave of attention to breast cancer, but many of those affected have mixed feelings about it. 
Here, four women share their impressions of Breast Cancer Awareness Month: what is good about it, what they hope for it and what frustrates them.

Dara Insley, 48
Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii
Diagnosed with stageinfo-icon IIIc hormone receptorinfo-icon-positive breast cancer

I am equally divided between loving and hating Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
What I hate the month for:
I hate that the whole month is sexualized with memes and ads that make breast cancer out to be sexy. I have many friends living with metastaticinfo-icon breast cancer, so it’s potentially a whole body disease. It’s not just about breasts.
I also hate that wherever I go there is another pink ribbon on another product that may or may not actually support any kind of cancer help. I’m already aware and dislike the visual reminders of my own disease! 
On the other hand, I am frustrated with everyone hating Breast Cancer Awareness Month because their X, Y or Z can-cer/disease/cause doesn’t get the same attention. Just because I got breast cancer and it’s popular for a month every year doesn’t mean I don’t care about other causes.
What I love the month for:
It has caused many a woman to remember her self-exams, to get a mammogram, or to see her doctor about “this lump,” which is exactly what good comes directly out of the month: awareness that it can be happening in your own body, not that it happens only to other people! 
And, that some of the products do support various good and worthy breast cancer causes like Living Beyond Breast Cancer.

Wanda Johnson, 62
Houston, Texas
Diagnosed with stage IIa, hormone receptor-positive, HER2-positive breast cancer

Breast Cancer Awareness Month is nationally designated for breast cancer survivors, advocates, caregivers, family, friends and healthcare professionals to recognize the triumphs, treatment successes, hope and quality of lifeinfo-icon of those impacted by the disease. I continually hope Breast Cancer Awareness Month activities will shift to focus on education and spreading hope, two messages I try to highlight as a breast cancer survivor 
and advocate.
Historical events have played an important role bringing breast cancer to the limelight, sharing the message that it is no longer a taboo subject, highlighting the importance of research and need for funding, and let’s not forget fundraising for the cause.
It has been extremely important to focus on the role of early detection for the preventioninfo-icon and successful treatment of breast cancer. However, so much more needs to be done to educate and encourage those impacted so they can take their journeys from a perspective of hope rather than despair.
There needs to be more messages about access to care and the types of resources available in the clinic and beyond to assist survivors’ progress through their journeys with the hope of a better quality of life. Add to this list education about the availability and importance of participating in clinicalinfo-icon trials and research studies while in treatment and beyond, because every person who receives a diagnosisinfo-icon of breast cancer is a beneficiary of previous successes and should participate at some level as a contribution to those who will be diagnosed after them. 

Ilene Fogelman, 51
Weston, Florida
Diagnosed with stage IV, hormone receptor-positive breast cancer

When I was diagnosed early-stage in April 2013, I loved October. I loved the Pink. I supported it blindly. I also did not know anything about stage IV and how it could occur any time after early-stage. I shared the hearts. I had the T-shirt. I organized the pinkification at work. September 2016 pushed me into reality. I was confirmed stage IV with metastasisinfo-icon to the lining of my lung and scapula. I started research and while there was information out there, it wasn’t coming from the same organizations pushing awareness. The money trail wasn’t going to research to cureinfo-icon stage IV, the only stage where women die. People around me, even others who had early-stage breast cancerinfo-icon, wore pink and talked about saving the tatas. There is nothing cute or sexy about cancer. If I could just be on a deserted island September through October, I would be happy. I am tired of people calling me a warrior or a survivor. It’s exhausting having to constantly explain I am terminal. The color pink has become a color I hate. I am tired of being made aware of something that 113 people die of daily. I know. I live it, and it doesn’t have a color.

Jessica Shephard, 36
Tampa, Florida
Diagnosed with stage IIb, triple-negative breast cancerinfo-icon

To be honest, my first reaction to Breast Cancer Awareness Month was … nothing. The messaging on most campaigns I’ve seen is still about getting checked early, or it’s a billboard with a silhouette of hands and one pair is a lovely pink. What is that really saying? I got checked but I still got breast cancer and I still went through treatment. 
Since my own diagnosis of cancer, I have started to think there is nothing wrong with Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but the “awareness” piece has gotten washed out and it doesn’t go deep enough into the disease. It barely skims the surface. I know other survivors who share the same sentiment. 
I share the names of those organizations that directly helped me during my diagnosis, treatment and even post-cancer on my blog and on my social media pages. I feel it is especially important to share these during a time when many are adding pink ribbons to their profile picture and while our pizza is delivered in cute pink boxes.
Before handing over money to an organization that says it’s for “breast cancer,” I ask that my friends and followers take an extra 5 minutes to use sites such as Charity Navigator to see how that organization distributes 
its donations. 

Comments

I don’t have “mixed” feelings about breast cancer awareness month; I just despise it. It’s absurd (we don’t need more awareness); infantilizing; corrupt (pink products sold to burnish brands and increase sales); FILLED with offensive memes, chain maiks, ads, and so on; and punctuated with false and misleading data. I hate October with a passion. Make it STOP! (I had Stage 2, bmx, chemo, hormone suppressants. Alive, but never use “survivor.”)

For me Breast Cancer Awareness month is a time to personally celebrate that I am a survivor. However on the flip side, it is a time to be reminded that many, too many women/men have succumb to the disease. It also is a time to ask myself how can I help women/men who are living with Metastatic Breast Cancer 365 days of the year.

I was dx at 44 with stage 4 BC, mets to the liver. I never wanted to be part of the pink party. It offended me, like many others. I don't want to see bald women high-giving others as they cross a "finish line". My time with cancer has a finish line, indeed, my death. Not much to celebrate there. But, because of all the support that October potentially brings out in people, it isn't all bad. I was "suppose to be" dead 7 years ago. I AM NOT!!! I like to think of my story as Shocking Pink. From one metsbabe to many earlier stage women, remember that some of us can never say we're cured. That Aromasin that you hated? I still take it. But, we ARE alive right now. And if people wanna give me kudos for that every October, I've grown to appreciate that! Support is always good. The majority of people are well intentioned. In a country that is feeling offended in so many ways, let's let this one go. Let's just smile and keep living vibrant lives, with or without any pink in our closets!

I'm praying for you my sister. Survivors need each other. Now I understand metastatic bc. I had her2. Went to the lbbc conference this year. I just want a cure. To see so many of us made me so emotional. Learning more after 5 years. Well I don't like pink. Never have. I don't get it. But go along with some of these things. I still don't like pink. But important is prayer. Prayers for you and ur journey. May you continue doing what works. And know I support you as a bc sister.

I'm praying for you my sister. Survivors need each other. Now I understand metastatic bc. I had her2. Went to the lbbc conference this year. I just want a cure. To see so many of us made me so emotional. Learning more after 5 years. Well I don't like pink. Never have. I don't get it. But go along with some of these things. I still don't like pink. But important is prayer. Prayers for you and ur journey. May you continue doing what works. And know I support you as a bc sister.

I don't like the commercialization and commodification of breast cancer and the pinkwashing that goes on in October. I don't participate in any of it.

I was dx with 2b 3x- brca1 4 years ago. If bc awareness wasn’t a thing prior to my dx I may not be here to write this. I think for all the cheapness of the commercialization of the pink branding that preceded my illness in many places smart people are still working for cures. I’m so grateful for this. I won’t complain about pink. It likely saved me from dying with my first round of cancer. If/When cancer rears it’s ugly head again I won’t be blaming breast cancer awareness month. I’m thankful.

I get very upset over the commercialization that makes a profit off of a disease. Any disease. But Breast Cancer is the Most exploited. Mets patients are not considered "Still in treatment" with a lot of foundations that offer help with bills etc. I am exempt. We are Dying for a Cure. Pink Boas, Pink Nike shoes and arm bands on football players, etc, and all the hooplah doesn't help me or any of my Mets Sisters. Actually it doesn't help early stagers either. Its all about Manufacturers making money off of a disease that doesn't kill. Breast Cancer does not kill us. Metastatic Breast cancer does. Most of the donated money goes right back into marketing and exploiting the "Awareness". People need to know. They should make sure the money they spend on what they think is helping Cancer patients goes more to research and funding for those of us who are being financially bankrupt due to Metastasis. So I am Angry. Some families are completely ripped apart because of the ongoing care and Money needed to stay alive once Metastatic is their diagnosis. I appreciate what the Pink Ribbon has done to capture such a huge audience in October, and has made such an awareness impact over the years, I just wish consumers were not mis-led by corporate marketing scams making them think that their money and support is spent on researching for a Cure. I am so thankful for Organizations like LBBC, MET UP, and METAVIVOR for doing everything in their power to change the stigma. All three of these foundations have personally helped me become more aware of how to advocate for myself and others. #stage4needsmore #kissthis4MBD

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