This October it’s important to put your money towards breast cancer research or brands that are transparent in their support of research, prevention and awareness, explains a woman with metastatic breast cancer.
The crisp fall mornings, the leaves changing color and pumpkin spice everything – I can see it starting already. The pink-tinged products are appearing on store shelves and in my social media feed with the same messages we’ve all heard year after year: “Early detection saves lives.” Not mine. I was diagnosed with de novo metastatic breast cancer at age 38, meaning my cancer had spread beyond my breast to other parts of my body at my diagnosis. Screening isn’t recommended for those under 40 unless they have a family history. I have no family history. How is this early detection? Early detection isn’t saving lives, you just find out sooner and the cancer can still metastasize even many years out from an early-stage diagnosis.
When I was newly diagnosed, I can remember well-intentioned acquaintances telling me, “Oh, you’ve got the good kind of cancer.” Let me tell you, as one who knows firsthand, there is no good kind of cancer. There still is no cure. Even if you have been diagnosed at an early stage, the cancer is never completely gone. There is always the chance and fear of recurrence. I’ve known countless women who were diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer, went through all the treatments and were told they were “cured” only to have their cancer return as metastatic and ultimately kill them. Without a cure early detection means nothing.
To this day I’ve never had a mammogram. I managed to skip that step entirely and headed straight for a biopsy and chemo in less than a week from my diagnosis with a mastectomy to follow. With the disfigurement of a mastectomy our breasts should not be objectified in October, or any other month, for that matter. I am still a woman after my mastectomy with aesthetic flat closure. When I see “Save the Ta-tas” it makes me cringe every time. No. Save the women. Save the young women, not just their breasts. As more young women are being diagnosed metastatic, we need to work on saving us. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and one in three of those will become metastatic. Metastatic breast cancer is the only type of breast cancer that kills. This disease is fatal for 97-99% of those diagnosed. The average survival continues to remain at 18-24 months.
One of the more popular breast cancer awareness slogans is “Fight like a girl.” This is in no way a chronic disease or something that can be fought without a cure. While the slogan is well-meaning, so many of us with metastatic breast cancer have fought as hard as we can with the treatments available to us, and many have run out of treatment options and are no longer with us. They didn’t lose the fight. It isn’t the patient’s fault the medications failed. As a patient we do everything we can to survive and sometimes it just isn’t enough, and it’s not because we didn’t put up a good fight or we didn’t fight like a girl. Science has failed us and no amount of pink ribbons can change that.
“Think Pink” is another slogan for Breast Cancer Awareness Month that is not helpful. We don’t need to see pink products the entire month of October, commonly called “pinkwashing.” So many of those products are not benefitting anyone but the manufacturer and the products are sometimes even linked to the disease. With roughly 2% of funds raised directed to metastatic research, a cure seems very far off. Over 41,000 people in the United States will die this year from metastatic breast cancer. We can do better.
So, please, “Think Before You Pink” this October and put your money towards metastatic research or brands that are transparent in their support of research, prevention and awareness. Metastatic research is our only way to a cure. Early detection wouldn’t have saved my life, but my treatment is extending my life, which to me is why more research is so important in October and all year long. I want to live long enough to be able to complain about many more “Pinktobers” and to see a cure in my lifetime.
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