Octobra and Tutus: The Pink Month Revisited

Portrait of a young girl in pink dress.

Portrait of a young girl in pink dress. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


There’s no getting away from it – it’s the Pink Month again. As they say, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. This year, it’s all about fashion.

Like gloves and dancing? Here’s the sequel. You won’t dance alone.

Just don’t try to play the guitar.

The exhibitionists among us can don the Madonna look. But you will see neither me nor my cup size here.

As a former ballerina, I can fully support the Tutu Project. The man behind this brilliant idea talks about his project here. And if you’re inspired to make your own tutu, here are some instructions. Choreography not included.

Yes, it’s Breast Cancer Awareness month — again.  If you must do it, just Think Before You Pink.

Anything But Pink

At this time a year ago, I was fuming about pink. Pink wrappers on my food, pink teddy bears in gift shops, pink ribbons stamped on my eggs.

Dwight D. Eisenhower photo portrait.

Image via Wikipedia

October is my favorite month and, though I’m ecstatic to be a survivor of breast cancer, I am not at all pleased to see the gorgeous reds and yellows of fall co-opted by the industrial-strength commercialism that now passes for breast cancer awareness.

And so, to put things back in perspective, I present here just a sample of the many other special days and causes that are honored in October.  (Many thanks to my sister for this information, which comes from Apples4theTeacher.com.)

Our excursion through the month of October begins on the 2nd, which is the day set aside to honor farm animals, guardian angels, and custodial workers (who might very well be guardian angels for us and the animals).

Next up is the 4th, which is, well, 10-4 day. (Ha!) Do you know where your CB radio is?

The 5th brings us World Teachers’ Day and Do Something Nice Day.  I say we combine these and just make it Do Something Nice for a Teacher Day (which ought to include giving them a raise).

Mad Hatters and German-Americans have their day on the 6th.  We could perhaps combine these two groups too, but that might be asking too much of the Germans.

The 8th brings us American Touch Tag Day, and I can’t think of any better way to celebrate what is also National Children’s Day.

The second week of October has two days we can all relate to: the International Moment of Frustration Scream Day on the 12th and National Grouch Day on the 15th. Two days later, though, we refocus our attention globally and recognize the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.  Too bad we can’t eradicate that problem on that single day.

The 18th is set aside to honor (if you can call it that) National Menopause Day, but whoever designated that day had the foresight to also make it National Chocolate Cupcake Day.

On the 19th, you can Evaluate Your Life, and then follow it up on the 20th with Information Overload Day. (I’m doing my part here, in advance, to ensure you’re sufficiently overloaded come the big day.)

Be aware of reptiles and count your buttons on the 21st. And give the moles their day on the 23rd. (Your cranky co-workers get theirs on the 27th.)

Statue of St Jude on the West Front of Salisbu...

Image via Wikipedia

I’m glad to see that my birthday, the 28th, is National Chocolates Day and also St. Jude’s Day.  My mother named me after St. Jude (sort of), her favorite saint, but I am by no means a hopeless case. I prefer to reflect his characteristic of perseverance.

Those of you with psoriasis can celebrate on the 29th. And anyone unable to wait for Halloween will happily recognize Candy Corn Day on the 30th.  Why not on the 31st?  Because Halloween is reserved not just for spooks but caramel apples, and magic, as well.

I noticed that a number of Presidents were born in October:  Jimmy Carter on the 1st, Rutherford B. Hayes, a fellow Ohioan, on the 4th, Chester Arthur on the 5th,  Dwight Eisenhower on the 14th, Teddy Roosevelt on the 27th, and John Adams on the 30th. I do wonder what Roosevelt would think of those pink teddy bears.  He doesn’t seem the kind of guy who would have ever worn pink. If you really want to go all out for these guys, you can download the coloring pages for each of them at Apples4theTeacher.com.

Eleanor Roosevelt: political activist, First L...

Image via Wikipedia

A couple of First Ladies also celebrate birthdays this month — Eleanor Roosevelt on the 11th (which is also National Coming Out Day), and Hillary Clinton on the 26th (also known as Mule Day). Why the odd combinations on these days? One can only speculate.

Because some causes deserve more than just a day, we have a few special weeks in October.  National Carry a Tune Week and Nuclear Medicine Week share the 2nd through the 8th. Customer Service Week comes a tad later, from the 3rd through the 7th. (I think EVERY week should be dedicated to customer service. We seem to have forgotten what that is.)

The 16th through the 22nd is an especially busy week:  Kids Care, Teens Read, Chemistry, the YWCA’s Week Without Violence, Food Bank Week, Forest Products, Lead Poisoning Prevention, Freedom from Bullies, Freedom of Speech, and recognition of Medical Assistants. The last week of the month brings us World Hearing Aid Awareness and Give Wildlife a Break.

The really big causes, of course, get to claim the whole month. These include apples (how appropriate), bats (not sure if that’s the wooden or furry type), class reunions, and domestic violence. Emotional intelligence, which leads to emotional wellness (well, DUH!), fair trade, financial planning, and AIDS awareness. It’s the Month of Free Thought (something else we could stand to do all year round), books, caramels, chili, chiropractors, dental hygienists, Down syndrome, and ergonomics.

There’s something called “Gain the Inside Advantage” this month, though I have no clue what that means, and we are all to Go on a Field Trip (all month long?  I like it!). Kitchens and baths get the whole month, as do popcorn popping (oops, that poppin’), roller skating and raptors.  And if that’s not enough, we are to honor photographers and right-brained people, and hold conversations about prescriptions.

Two activities I can really enjoy this whole month are Sarcastic Awareness and Self-promotion (does that include the shameless type?).

And if you didn’t get enough of the hot flashes on the 18th, you can indulge yourself every day, no matter where you are, because it’s World Menopause month.

All sarcasm aside…

The list is a reminder that life is full of strange and wonderful things.

Autumn leaves

Image via Wikipedia

The Pink Month

So there it was when I opened the carton — that damned pink ribbon stamped all over my eggs.

Yes, it’s that month again, time to be aware of breast cancer.  If the eggs don’t get to you, the Sunday comics will.  I tried to overlook the ones printed in pink a couple weeks ago.  Then yesterday, the sign posted at the grocery checkout said that, if the cashier forgets to ask you if you’d like to make a donation to breast cancer research, you would get a free 2-liter bottle of soda.

Can we all say it out loud now?

This is nuts.



Try to find the logic in it.  If we DON’T ask you to contribute, you WIN some soda — 2 liters of the stuff that, for all we know, may help contribute to the very disease we’re trying to eradicate.

I’m all for bringing awareness to a serious topic. (Did you know it’s also Domestic Violence Awareness month? I wonder what the color for that is.) Since I can’t fight the marketers who try to fool us into believing that buying something pink will save us all, I’ll do my best in this post to bring an educated awareness to the topic.

Two items have caught my attention in recent weeks.

First, it’s important to know that cancer is not one disease but a complex set of diseases, and to anticipate a single cure is to court disappointment.  With breast cancer alone, there may be as many as a dozen varieties (in situ, invasive, inflammatory, lobular, triple negative, and then ER+, PR+, Her2 Neg, and any combination of these last three). So, when we hear people talk about finding “the cure” for cancer, breast or otherwise, we need to understand the complexity of this task.  Thus, one blogger has taken Gordon Brown, the current prime minister of England, to task for being overly optimistic about the role Britain will play. You can read about it here. Some of the comments after the post are telling.

There is good news, however, from the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation, the group that focuses on people like me. The booklet they’ve just released  (“Guide to Understanding Triple Negative Breast Cancer”) clarifies the confusion about the different types of breast cancer and treatment, and reports the progress of current research targeting triple-negative disease.

Some investigators blatantly state that the prognosis for those of us with triple negative disease is poor. The booklet helps dispel that idea with this hopeful information:

“Studies show chemotherapy works better against triple-negative cancers than hormone receptor-positive breast cancers.”

And this: “After five years, your risk of recurrence goes down. In fact, as time goes on, your risk for recurrence may be lower than that of someone treated for estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer.”

And I like this news best of all:  “Most women with triple-negative breast cancer never have a recurrence or a new cancer.”

Of course, I’m hoping to find myself in that group. All of us women hope we never have to be in any breast cancer group at all.  And I hope there are many other skeptics like me who wonder if focusing on awareness isn’t actually impeding progress in finding cures. For more on that discussion, read this column from the New York Times.

To be honest, I’d just like to eat my eggs and read my comics in peace.  Besides, there are so many more beautiful colors to choose from at this time of year.

Be Aware, Be Very Aware

You’ve no doubt heard the term awareness with regard to a number of topics: trans fats, mental illness, pollutants in the water and air, body fat, smoking, the decline of the honeybee. Awareness is something we’re always trying to raise. So many issues to be aware of, too many voices clamoring for the same audience. Impossible to keep up.

The term cancer awareness attempts to make the general, unafflicted public more aware of cancer — its causes and risk factors, the effect it has on society. A recent article even pins down the cost of cancer in hard numbers: nearly a trillion dollars lost in the worldwide economy from premature death and disability due to cancer. With this sort of news, how could anyone not be aware of the impact of cancer?

My own awareness, though, is now of a different sort.

A little more than a year ago, I was made painfully aware of cancer, something I didn’t think would ever come to visit me.  And now that I’m past the intense treatment, muddling along with my new hair in the stream of “survivorship,” I’m able to forget, for long periods of time, that cancer indeed plays a role in my life.  (That’s the damndest thing about cancer.  Even if it never comes back, it still owns part of you because you can never be sure.)

But then, during the course of an average day, I am once again made aware.

I’ve noticed now a habit of misreading words, a subliminal prompting perhaps.  On the computer screen, I read the button on a page that says cancel and momentarily see cancer.  In looking through the stack of folders on my desk, I come across the one labeled — what’s that? — cancer? No, no. That’s Career written on that tab. Maybe I just need reading glasses.

On a recent trip east with my family, we went to an amusement park to ride the roller coasters. Standing behind me in the line for the Blue Streak was a woman wearing that telltale baseball cap, frail wisps of hair sticking out, and a black T-shirt with one of the current trendy slogans for people affected by breast cancer:  “I love boobs. Let’s save them all,” enhanced by that ubiquitous pink ribbon.

Now I hate the use of that term to refer to breasts. Really, do we want to be calling our body parts by derogatory names?  But I admired the woman’s courage, and rejoiced in being back in the line for the Blue Streak myself, a year after my own ride on the cancer roller coaster began.

Until the moment I caught sight of the woman, though, I had been thinking about how hot it was and wondering how my son would tolerate the ride this year.  Now that I have hair, anyone who didn’t know my story would never guess what I’ve been doing all year.  I thought for a moment about speaking to the woman, but found myself in the quandary that others have likely found themselves in with me.  Do I intrude into her thoughts, introduce myself and commiserate with her?  Or do I let her have her privacy?  There were those who intruded unpleasantly into my space, but I also remember the woman in the red coat who spoke to me of hope and whose message lifted me up. If I spoke to this woman, which role would I play for her?

I’ve become aware, but still lack awareness.

Later in the trip, while mindlessly reading the Sunday paper, I came across a review of Promise Me, a book by Nancy Brinker, the sister of Susan Komen and the one who established the famous foundation.  And there it was again between the Living section and the comics, another moment when cancer intruded and made me aware.

And then again when we traveled on to Washington, D.C.  There I was contemplating airplanes while standing in the crowd at the Air and Space Museum and suddenly I saw four people with T-shirts bearing pink ribbons, promoting various races for the Cure.  (Some race, huh? President Nixon declared war on cancer back in 1971.  Maybe the length of this race explains why there are now more walks for the Cure. It‘s hard to keep a race going for 40 years, even with relays.)

And finally, on our flight back home, I glanced up from my seat to see a woman settling into the seat directly in front of mine. Full make-up and earrings. A head covered with stubble, indicating a recent shave. I sat there remembering how that stubble gets rubbed off pretty quickly.

How could I be sure the woman was being treated for cancer and not just flaunting a lifestyle choice? The flight attendant was extra solicitous, bringing her for free one of those snack boxes they now make you pay for.  Once again, I wondered whether to speak but chose not to, suddenly understanding my own hesitance.  By initiating a conversation, I would drag myself back into the pit that I’ve been managing to get out of for good lengths of time.

Instead, I became more aware of the man sitting next to me, who downed four of those small bottles of whiskey with his Coke during the course of the flight.  I can only guess what particular awareness he was trying to obliterate.

If you really want to get total awareness of cancer and its impact, tune into any of the major TV networks on September 10 to watch Stand Up To Cancer (8 p.m. EST).  You can find out more about the program here.

The Colors of Cancer

My hummingbirds are visiting again.  Seems they come more on grey, dreary days than on sunny ones.  I’m glad to see they haven’t vacated for the season yet. The Mountain is hiding behind clouds today, but we’ve got patches of sun turning up over the water.

The Popsicle Report (and it seems I should have been capitalizing Popsicle all along.  Who knew it’s actually a trademarked name?):  Another treat yesterday — strawberry-lemon, from that same box the blueberry-lemon one came from.  I still prefer the blueberry, but this is a close second.  The brand is indeed Dreyers (not Breyers).  I hope your local stores carry these if you have a hankering for them.

I’ve got the iPod on as I’m writing, an assortment of tunes ranging from Stan Kenton, to Sting, to some old Chicago and Bonnie Raitt, mixed in with a little reggae (UB40), Brahms Liebeslieder waltzes, Bobby McFerrin, and a new assortment of Celtic women.

We’ve found another household helper to replace our college student from the summer. So now that the kids are finally back into school routines, I’m starting to actually have some blocks of time to do the self-care I’m supposed to be doing.  I worked through the exercises the physical therapist gave me with a few yoga poses this morning.  About half an hour of that and I’m ready for a nap.  I deeply envy those folks I see out riding bikes in what’s left of our good weather, and my rollerblades are looking mighty sad just sitting in the back of the van.

Yesterday was infusion #11 — one more of these and I’ll be halfway through.  This infusion went routinely, and the white cell count is staying steady with the two injections of Neupogen during the week. No major side effects at this point — just some ringing in the ears, twitches in my calves at night, and the continuing fatigue. The center was busy yesterday and I shared a “pod” with three older patients, two of them men who seem to be under long-term treatment.  They were both reminiscing with the nurse about the old infusion center, with its smaller space and chairs wedged side-by-side, and what it was like to feel the earthquake of 2001 while there.

While the nurse was installing the IV in the man next to me, she was talking about having to do so once for an anesthesiologist and feeling a little nervous about her technique.  The man asked her if many doctors had been patients there, saying that he heard doctors make horrible patients.  I turned subtly to glance back at my husband, who was seated slightly behind and to my right.  There he sat, decorously reading his medical article, and I turned back, smiling slightly to myself. Didn’t think I should get in on that conversation.

I had my own interesting discussion with the same nurse.  I’ve started to pay more attention to the many breast cancer organizations out there raising money.  The Susan Komen Foundation is probably the best known, especially for their races for the Cure, which my sister and her daughters took part in last week, but there’s probably half a dozen more, all trying to raise funds for the cause.  I wondered whether these agencies work in consort or whether they engage in the turf wars other organizations do when they cover the same territory.  The nurse stated that they may be separate agencies, but they all channel funds to the institutions doing the research and studies.

Now what percentage of the funds raised by these foundations gets channeled to research is a question for another day, and some people take issue with the corporate connections some agencies have.  For a skeptical analysis of the “breast cancer cult,” you can check out Barbara Ehrenreich’s essay from Harper’s magazine in 2001.  It’s called “Welcome to Cancerland”:


Ehrenreich mentions several of the problems I’ve noticed, namely the ineffectiveness of mammograms as a screening tool and the social pressure on survivors to always be cheerful and upbeat.  She also points out the skewing of media exposure that makes it seem breast cancer is the primary killer of American women, when in fact heart disease, stroke and — among cancers — lung cancer kill more every year.  (More women are diagnosed with breast cancer than lung cancer each year, but lung cancer is overall more deadly.)

I couldn’t help but recall — ironically — my discussion with my English 102 students just last spring about the way media skew what we know about the world.  For emphasis, I used the symbols of the pink ribbon and the red dress, which the American Heart Association has adopted as its comparable symbol.  Every student knew what the pink ribbon stood for.  Not one knew what the red dress meant.  I chose the dress for comparison because my family has a strong history of heart disease.

Well who’s staring down that pink ribbon now?
Its image follows me like the Cream of Wheat bowl from those TV ads.

I did find that there’s an agency dedicated to women with my specific type of breast cancer: triple negative. Though this type doesn’t get as much attention as those that can be treated with hormones, we do now merit our own website:

If you’d like to support their work, you can certainly do so in my name! This group does work in concert with the Komen foundation, and assigns not one but *3* pink ribbons to their cause.

While I was waiting for the happy drugs (the 12 mg of the steroid) to kick in yesterday, I noticed the tall bookcase along the back wall of the infusion center — 10 shelves packed with thick novels and books — free reading for those who have longer infusions than mine.  (I have just enough time to get that popsicle — oops, Popsicle — down and write a journal entry.)  On top of the bookshelf is a board on which are glued ribbon loops, the Cancer Awareness Ribbons.  Not just pink, but a host of other colors for the various types of cancer:

Cream = stomach
Beige + white stripe = lung
White = skin
Yellow = bone
Half light blue, half pink = male breast cancer (you can read about that here: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/male-breast-cancer/DS00661)
Mint green = lymph
Dark green = thyroid
Dark blue = prostate
Royal purple = pancreatic
Purple = Hodgkins lymphoma
Orange = testicular
Dark yellow = leukemia
Beige = childhood
Dark brown = colon
Black = melanoma
Gray = brain

Can’t say I’ve seen any other color but pink (women never seem to be able to escape pink).  The nurse commented that all the emphasis on breast cancer has meant that research for some of these other cancers has been pushed aside.  Ah, the politics of cancer.

Now back to musing about hair.  Yesterday, I read an article in the paper about men getting waxes to reduce hair on their backs, chests, ears, nostrils, and other anatomical parts.  Seems it’s a popular activity in some places, even the Brazilian style of waxing, and even among construction workers, police officers, firefighters and lawyers.  There I sat with my bald head (which has actually sprouted a little fuzz now) thinking how crazy is this??!

Silly humans.  Always wanting what we don’t have, not wanting what we do — and willing to go through painful procedures for the sake of vanity.

I miss my hair, though I still have my brows and lashes.
And I’m tired of the taste of baking soda from the mouth rinse.