During the month of October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we are surrounded by pink. Although I have become accustomed to the wave of pink billboards, pink ribbons, and even pink lights to illuminate the Museum of Fine Arts, I was shocked to receive my weekly local paper and see it was on hot pink paper. Here is the letter that I wrote to the editor:
I am writing in reaction to this week's pink "Concord Journal". After my initial surprise, I had a range of other reactions to your wish to support breast cancer awareness.
Since 1979, I have managed the Oncology Social Work Program at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center; my own clinical work has been primarily with women with breast cancer. I have been diagnosed and treated, with surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and hormonal therapy, for two separate breast cancers, one in 1993, and one in 2005. No one could have more identification with or empathy for the cause.
However, I believe that the "pink campaign" has taken on a life of its own. Breast cancer is not pretty and pink. It is bloody red and brings fear, grief, sickness, pain, and too much death to everyone it touches. Although early detection is touted as the likely cure, the truth is that many women eventually die who were first diagnosed with early/Stage 1 or Stage 2 breast cancers. Even the best treatment, such as is available in the Boston area, cannot save every life When wearing pink or purchasing pink-ribboned products or donating to one of the many excellent breast cancer foundations or research centers enables us to imagine that this monster has been tamed, we are sadly misinformed.
Most women who have been treated for breast cancer find healthy, adaptive ways to identify good that has come from the experience. We can be proud of our grit, our courage, grateful to our medical teams, and very glad to have found the friendship of other women. None of us think it was worth it.
The abundance of funding and resources and attention for breast cancer can also be painful for people diagnosed with other cancers. Where is the public outrage about gastric cancer or rectal cancer or lymphoma? In my clinical work, I often hear the pain of women who feel less well supported and angry that, because their cancer is other than breast, they can't qualify for some benefits or find appropriate support groups.
Yes, please, let us support awareness of all cancers, encourage one another to take full advantage of appropriate screening tests, donate what we can afford to cancer foundations, and be very wary of anyone or anything that encourages us to think that the cure is near.
Hester Hill Schnipper