Unless you’ve been in a cave for the past 2 weeks, you know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. That means everything is plastered with pink – from radio commercials to my favorite restaurant to just about every general cancer organization ever. The Susan G. Komen Fund does an exceptional job of marketing breast cancer awareness, as is seen by the fundraising efforts toward breast cancer. But September was lymphoma month (as well as children’s cancer awareness) and there was no “greenwashing”, no ribbons, no mention of the disease despite the fact that it’s one of the most diagnosed groups of cancers for young adults.
Now, on one hand, every dollar donated to any cancer fund is helpful to eradicating the disease in all forms. On the other, the focus on breast cancer is so strong that it negatively influences the services provided for others with cancer.
In April, there was a big news story about a 26 year old man who was diagnosed with breast cancer and not covered by medicaid because he is a man. The plight of men with breast cancer is tragic regardless of the circumstances – they are all but ignored in the breast cancer dialog. But the most interesting facet of this story was the one that wasn’t publicized.
Though Johnson wouldn’t normally qualify for Medicaid in the state of South Carolina because he is a single, non-disabled man with no children, he was advised to apply for a special supplementary program created specifically for those diagnosed with breast cancer whose income is 200 percent of the poverty line ($21,780 per year) — even those with no dependent children. What Johnson didn’t know is that the program, created by the Breast and Cervical Cancer Prevention and Treatment Act, is women’s only.
The Breast and Cervical Cancer Prevention and Treatment Act. Great. I’m all about more services to more people. But why those two cancers? Why does society bend over backwards to offer women with reproductive cancers special exercise classes, funding, and services when many of those needs are not any different for people with other cancers? If Raymond Johnson had been diagnosed with lymphoma or testicular cancer or melanoma, would there have been a special medicaid provision for those cancers? It appears that the answer is no. It goes beyond the issue of a man being left out because he has a cancer that is often seen as exclusive to women – it’s an issue where women’s reproductive cancers are favored by governmental programs.
That is unacceptible. I recognize that there are specific traumas involved in women’s reproductive cancers that are not found in other cancers. I have had to reevaluate what it means to be a woman due to lymphoma, but did not have to lose an organ to do so. That unique pain does not explain or excuse the abundance of aid for women with breast cancer as compared to other cancers.
I hate to participate in “cancer jealousy”, but I’m angry. I have been solicited more times by friends fundraising for breast cancer research DURING MY OWN TREATMENT FOR ANOTHER CANCER than for anything else.
The language and culture involved in breast cancer awareness is also just plain offensive to many breast cancer survivors. “Save the Tatas” – as if saving the breasts rather than the person is the important part. For some reason, encouraging men to “Feel Your Balls” doesn’t seem to pack the same punch. In some ways, I’m selfishly happy that September’s lymphoma awareness month does not receive the same attention because that would mean having to relive the experience every year beyond the general important dates: scans, cancerversaries, etc. Breast cancer survivors have to face it every single year and, like Halloween candy and Christmas decorations, it seems like the “awareness” starts to happen earlier and earlier each year.
There is an entire industry around the pink ribbon – from bracelets to jewelry to checkbooks to calendars to shoes. There’s a friggin Barbie! How much of that money really makes it back to research or support? I can get a Massachusetts license plate with a pink ribbon, but not one that goes to support the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. I am glad that there are plates for the Conquer Cancer Coalition (though I have never seen one of those plates nor heard of the organization before) and the Jimmy Fund, and I understand that there is an endless list of medical organizations that could request a license plate. It still strikes me as unfair.
I have nothing but respect for breast cancer survivors. Some of the people I have grown closest to and who have been my biggest cheerleaders are breast cancer survivors. In no way am I diminishing their fight nor the need for research and services to support them. I especially want the message to get across that young women and men can and do get breast cancer. It’s a message that is uncomfortable for many and far too often does not get across. Since young women aren’t bugged by their doctor to get a mammogram until they are at least 40, it is easy to not even think about self-exams even when you are surrounded by “awareness”.
…That doesn’t stop me from wanting to scream when my local YMCA won’t let me into their free cancer survivor’s exercise class because it’s meant for women with reproductive cancers. I had an armpit (and right above breast tissue) lymphandectomy too, and am likely going in for a second one in the same place shortly – exercises meant to help prevent or minimize lymphadema absolutely can help me and others with lymphoma. And dude, so many dragon boats I can’t row with. So. many.
There just ain’t no love for the lymph nodes.