Martha lives in Illinois and was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in January 2015. She has a husband and three children, ranging in age from 12 to 18, a dog and a lizard.
If you want my money, you'll have to do better than just putting a ribbon on a t-shirt.
It started earlier this month when I made the mistake of "clicking" on a Facebook link that showed an empowering cancer phrase on a t-shirt with the prerequisite pink ribbon. These posts start showing up on my Facebook feed at about a one-in-ten ratio in September and by October are about one of every five posts I see.
I rarely open them.
I know that most of these are not going to give me the information I want, which boils down to two direct and easily answered questions:
If that information isn't easily found on a post or website, I am not buying. It's that simple.
As October approaches and the number of advertisements I see online increases and nearly every business seems to feature a "breast cancer awareness" stack of goods, my friends are dying. Because I've been living with metastatic breast cancer for almost five years - that's two years beyond the average - I've had time to meet a lot of similarly diagnosed women (and men). I've had time to learn about what they're doing to try to save their own lives and the lives of others like us. Without exception, they are a fierce and vocal bunch. I've also had time to love and laugh with many people whose smiles still pop up in my social media feeds but can't be seen in real life because they've died. Sometimes people will say hurtful things that imply those of us with advanced cancer should or could have changed the course of our diseases and lives, but let me assure you:
We want to live.
We do what we can to live longer or better and, yes, sometimes our "better" isn't the same as yours.
We talk to fellow patients and our doctors, we pore over the latest research, we follow doctors and researchers on social media, when we're healthy enough we go to conferences for patients and we go to conferences for doctors. You never know when or where or how you might learn one little piece of information that could help. Judy Perkins, who has famously remained disease-free after being the only metastatic breast cancer patient to survive and thrive on a National Institutes of Health treatment of tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes, met the researcher who changed her life at an advocate-education program.
Yet despite all that we do to live, and despite researchers trying to find ways to stop or cure breast cancer metastases, progress is too slow for too many.
Sometimes when I am reading about a new treatment, I get angry at the idea that an improved overall survival is measured only in months. I cringe at side effects that may mean a treatment will betray a person's dreams of quality of life.
This past month, five friends took their last breaths because of metastatic breast cancer. One dreamed of being a grandma, one was a world traveler, three were mothers of children in preschool or elementary school. Each of them wanted to live. Each of them should have lived.
When a business or an organization says they support breast cancer, I want to know how. Not because I am a demanding, angry person, but because people are dying and all that money raised with pink-this and pink-that is going somewhere it shouldn't. It's past time it went where it should.