Saturday, October 22, 2011

Painting the World Pink!

In case you haven't noticed, the world got painted pink this month.     This is in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.    Over the past few years, the month of October has gotten pinker and pinker as more people, organizations and businesses signed on to be sponsors of all things "pink".   There are now so many activities and fund raising/awareness events that I really can't keep up any more.     Many of them support the Susan G. Koman Foundation while others donate their earnings to the American Cancer Society.    All that I know about are well intentioned and remind women (and men) to know the symptoms of breast cancer and the importance of early detection, with or without symptoms to send you scurrying to your doctor.   

In recent years the type of activities used to increase awareness have gone from somber, survivor centered events to some that are more "in your face" and on the edge of good taste, as well.     Today we have an event in our town called "Bras Across the Bridge" where participants will link new bras (you gotta know they are mostly PINK) across a three mile bridge that spans the Pensacola Bay.     Heavily promoted on radio, TV and newspapers, it is meant to bring a lighter note to the serious side of breast cancer as well as to collect bras for needy women in the community.   

A few weeks ago I was a guest speaker for an event honoring breast cancer survivors and promoting the local version of Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, a mall to mall walk raising funds for the American Cancer Society programs that assist breast cancer patients with much needed services.   It is a great program and the walk just gets more and more participants each year.    During this year's survivor event, a group of women sponsored a "fashion show" of bras, mostly very heavily decorated  with sequins, feathers and lots of bling.     They came out to loud music, strutting their stuff and it was mostly met with hilarious laughter since some of the models were men who were good sports about wearing the gaudy bras on the outside of their clothing.  I would say almost without exception that the fashion show was deemed a hit and the vast majority of the audience laughed their way through the two dozen or more entrants who danced and pranced their way across the stage.   

However, I must add that one lady came up to me during the fashion show to express her dismay and horror at the trivializing nature of the fashion show and the minimizing (in her eyes) of the seriousness of breast cancer.     You see, she was diagnosed with breast cancer not quite a year ago and is still in the midst of her treatment.    She has had about six different surgical procedures and numerous staph infections.      In an almost apologetic tone, she explained that what she was seeing (while well intentioned) was not funny to her.   Her exact words to me were, "Maybe I am just too close to it, but there is nothing funny about breast cancer."   

As a twenty-one year survivor of breast cancer myself, I had to agree with her.   There is NOTHING funny about it, no matter how you look at it.    Yes, you do have to have a sense of humor when you're going through treatment and being able to laugh again is an important part of healing;   however, when you are in the midst of a battle for your life and have had nothing but one set back after another, see no good news ahead of you and are not yet feeling hopeful about your future, the last think you need is for someone to try to tell you how "funny" this all is.     'Cause it's not.  

So with a note of thanks to the those who want to advocate for awareness of breast cancer (or any other kind for that matter), please keep in mind that many people are still in the midst of their treatment and may have a hard time seeing the humor in their situation.     And many thousands of people will succumb to their illness, in spite of advanced treatment available today.    It does not respect your gender, social status or sheer determination to overcome the odds against you.      It is a biological process gone awry, not a demon or a "boogey-man" out to get you.    And when you are fighting for your life it doesn't quite feel right to see people trivializing this disease, no matter how well intentioned they are. 

The next time you see a bumper sticker that says, "Save the Ta Tas" or a three mile line of bras linked together, just remember that breast cancer is a deadly serious matter to some people and when you try to make light of it or reduce it to silliness, you might give some people a good laugh.    However, you should also remember that there is the possibility you'll hurt feelings or make someone who is having a hard time with their disease feel worse or even guilty that they fail to see what's so funny about it.     No one is suggesting that October needs to be a month of gloom and doom when making people aware of breast cancer but we do need to make sure we balance the light hearted fun with a keen awareness of those who are in the midst of their battle and who need our compassion and understanding to get them through their ordeal.   Some time in the future when THEIR future is less murky and uncertain, they might be ready to join you in the laughter, but for now let's give them dignity and respect for the very real fear and threat they feel.   

Happy Trails,

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