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Underwire, Part I October 16, 2006

Posted by marymac in Excuses for not posting, I'm so deep.

Note from The Management: Due to a combination of some kind of plague being a little under the weather, work that actually requires…working, and (mostly) a lazy streak a mile wide, posts here at Story Value are about a week behind. If you’re looking for my pictures of Yarner’s Adventures at WEBS, you’ll have to come back in a couple of days and put up with what’s here in the meantime. If you must have some current news, visit Shetha and say hello to Mister Gabriel, who just arrived last week. (I know he’s cute, but please try to make your way back here eventually.)

We now return you to your regularly scheduled rant.

At some point when I was a student at Hippie College, I learned about my mother’s breast cancer. Of course, by the time I found out about it Mom had been cancer-free for five or six years already. When she was diagnosed and all through her treatment (a lymphectomy followed by radiation) my father told my brother and me vague things about cysts that needed to be removed. We were eleven and fourteen at the time.* Mom just went along with him — even now she still refers to “when I had my operation” instead of using the c-word, because talking about that sort of thing is Just Not Done.**

Anyway, the truth finally slipped out one day while I was on the phone from college begging for money from Dad. “Oh, that was when Mom had breast cancer,” he said casually. As if this was old news. Turned out, he and Mom and pretty much everyone else in the family had decided that my brother and I were too young to know/understand what was really going on when Mom was sick, so they just didn’t tell us.

I was fortunate in that I was young and healthy when I learned the truth and I’ve been able to make sure my doctors know that I have a first-degree relative who’s a breast cancer survivor so we can all be aware of things that might increase my risk (for instance, some studies have shown that oral contraceptives can increase your risk of breast cancer, others show no connection — these things are good to know).

You may already know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month in the US, and as someone who was unaware for longer than I’m happy about, I am certainly a proponent of awareness. So I could tell you all about doing regular breast self-exams (BSEs) (warning: boobies in that link), and where to get a free “shower card” (meaning you hang it on your shower head to remind you) with BSE instructions. I could help you find a way to donate money to the cause by clicking, by shopping, by more shopping, or by…. well, this is getting kind of silly, now.

Here’s what I think: It’s important to pay attention to your body, and if doing a breast self-exam is the only way you’re gonna pay attention to what’s happening to your boobage, then by all means do it. But no less an authority than breast cancer researcher Dr. Susan Love says that “getting acquainted with your breasts” is the most important thing, whether or not you perform a formal BSE in the shower on the appointed day every month. There’s also some question on whether mammograms are useful in women under 50 (I know you’re all spring chickens out there, but if you have a first-degree relative [like, say, your mom] who had breast cancer, they do encourage you to begin having mammograms when you’re ten years younger than she was when diagnosed).

And then there’s the shopping.

I’m all for solidarity. If you want to wear a pink ribbon or have one tattooed on your forehead or decorate your rec room with them, you should absolutely do it. But as the “bad girls of breast cancer” over at Breast Cancer Action say, Think Before You Pink. How much money from that pink or pink-beribboned Thingamahoozis you’re buying is actually going to fight breast cancer? For that $400 Dyson, it’s $40. And 3M’s swell pink sticky note campaign? In 2004 they spent $500,000 on it — and donated a total of $300,000 to the cause. Cui bono***, as the lawyers say — who benefits — the researchers or the corporation?

If you want a pink vacuum cleaner, you should have a pink vacuum cleaner. If you want to help prevent and cure breast cancer, write a check, donate your time, make something people can use. Urge researchers to look at environmental factors. Support survivors, and remember those who didn’t survive. Get angry, and kick some ass.

More in Part II, In Which We Put Our Money Where Our Mouth Is.

*Yes, a fourteen-year-old should probably have been able to figure out what was going on, but would you go looking for a possibly fatal disease if you didn’t have to? This was BG (Before Google), so one believed what one was told or one did hours of research at the library.

**She uses it for other people, too: so-and-so’s husband had “an operation” (prostate cancer); my aunt had “the operation” (breast cancer)….

***As if the world needed any further evidence that I am acquainted with entirely too many lawyers.



1. Laura - October 17, 2006

Pink Barbie! You need one.

2. bajada - October 18, 2006

Barbies come in something *other* than pink?

3. oldladypenpal - October 18, 2006

I bought a vacuum, but it’s lime green and I don’t think it supports anything other than my quest for a clean carpet.

I agree.

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