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Posted 10/10/2013

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  Sometimes I just can't control myself. For the last several years, the first Thursday in October has brought a pink version of my local newspaper. I wrote a letter the first year which (rather to my surprise as it was quite passionate and critical) they published, and since then, I have tried to hold my peace.

  If you are a regular reader here, you know that we have a small cottage in Maine and love our time there. We subscribe to the weekly newspaper from Mt Desert Island, and I was horrified when it, too, arrived, pink. For a few days, I tried to be calm about it, and then I couldn't hold it any longer and sent this letter which will be published in today's paper--which we won't receive in Massachusetts until next week. I am sharing this to encourage you to write something similar to your local paper. Do it. For us all.

It appears that The Islander has been swept along into Pink October. Breast Cancer Awareness Month, long ago a not unreasonable effort to increase awareness and, hopefully, encourage screening, has morphed over the years into a nationwide hysteria of pink marketing. Anyone who is interested in the history of this movement should look at Breast Cancer Action’s excellent site: www.thinkbeforeyoupink.org.

My comments, however, are more directed at the real experience of this potentially life-threatening illness as opposed to the pink-washed version that is currently so prevalent. For more than thirty years, I have directed the Oncology Social Work program at a large Boston hospital. For more than twenty years, I have also been a woman living with breast cancer. More specifically, I have been diagnosed and treated for two separate breast cancers, separated by twelve years. Blessedly, as far as I know, I am well, but that has not been the luck of hundreds of women whom I have known, cared for, and loved.

Breast cancer is not pink and soft and fuzzy. It is blood red and characterized by pain and fear and sadness and loss. It means surgery, greater or smaller (and don’t be fooled by anyone who suggests that breast reconstruction is anything other than very major surgery that results in something sort of like natural breasts), often weeks of radiation therapy and concomitant burns, frequently months of chemotherapy with accompanying hair loss, fatigue, nausea, and general malaise, and up to ten years of hormonal therapy that usually causes bone and joint aches and pains, hair thinning, sexual changes, and either initial or revisited menopause.

Breast cancer is not best illustrated with a pretty woman striding confidently down the beach. More realistically, it is a bald young mother sending her children off to school, a woman who is too ill to go to work and, therefore, is panicked about finances and paying her bills, a woman trying to adapt to a very changed body and self-image, or a woman facing death and leaving half grown children motherless.

Yes, advances have certainly been made, and survival rates are better. However, approximately 30% of all women who are diagnosed with breast cancer will eventually have a recurrence. Recurrent or metastatic breast cancer is treatable, but is not curable. If you want to help support breast cancer research and/or all the women and families who have been affected, please “think before your pink” and consider, instead, making a donation to the breast cancer charity of your choice.

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