October is a tricky month for me. It's "Breast Cancer Awareness" month and has been for a long time. In fact, there's been a pink October every year of my life since my first diagnosis in October of 2000. I participated in my first breast cancer walk that
year — just days before I learned I had breast cancer too.
October is when those of us who've had breast cancer, and who then show up at walks and other fundraisers, are given ribbons and trinkets stamped or printed with the word "Survivor". I know the intent is loving and kind. I know for some it keeps memories
alive of those who've died. It's a way to heal the loss of a friend, a parent, a child, a sibling, a spouse. There's community surrounding breast cancer, bringing us together every October, pink ribbons and all. So there's an upside to October.
For me, though, the focus on breast cancer awareness is steeped in a hope that's based on the false idea that we're getting closer to a cure. That's not really the case. The bulk of the money goes to studies of new treatments: chemotherapy cocktails, hormone
supplements, and other means of addressing the disease after you've gotten it. Very little time is spent on studying how to prevent getting it in the first place, or how to cure it for good.
There's nothing wrong with spending money on treating breast cancer. But it doesn't hurt to remember that — despite the walks — one in three women (33%) die of the disease, and that percentage hasn't changed in over 40 years.
Here's some other bits that aren't in the pink handouts:
- Chemotherapy will increase the 5-year disease-free survival rate of an 80 year old woman by about 1%. For a 62 year old woman like me it's about 4%.
- Without doing anything, there's an 80% chance that the 80 year old and the 62 year old won't get breast cancer again no matter what you do.
- Chemotherapy and hormone treatments lose their efficacy after about 5 years... meaning that the 6th year can be full of havoc.
- The side effects of breast cancer treatments are often so toxic that some women never overcome them.
Please don't get me wrong: there are many MANY patients who've lived long lives thanks to chemotherapy and/or radiation and/or hormone treatments, and hats off to each and every one of them. But facts are facts: the progress that's been made has been in
detecting the disease early and then treating women as aggressively as possible knowing there's no cure. In so doing, treating breast cancer has become a lucrative business. That part of things really bothers me. There are entire companies who'd go out of
business if a cure was found. So how inclined are they to look for one?
It probably goes without saying that I don't wear pink ribbons, or pink wrist bands, or otherwise promote my "survivorship" with anything pink. I'm also not the kind of patient who follows doctor's orders without looking into them myself. Which is how
I arrived at my decision to use diet, and not drugs, to deal with my third breast cancer.
By the way, in my world we're all survivors. If you're reading this, it means you didn't get hit by an 18-wheeler or choke to death on a sandwich today. You, too, are a survivor. The difference between my survivorship and yours might only be that I've
come closer to knowing my mortality than you've had to come. For me, that's an advantage: I'm more aware of the moments (and thus, quality) of my days... a truly unexpected blessing.
Now that November's come 'round again, and I'm not in any pink spotlights, life is back to my new normal: juicing, fruits, veggies, legumes, nuts, and seeds. These are my food groups now, reigned in from the days when I'd frolic with chicken, beef, seafood,
pasta, and the wonderful ingredients I came to know from the inside out. As mentioned in an earlier blog, I'm at a new starting point, still trying combinations of flavors drawn from a smaller palette. So far, other than some great input from readers, I haven't
found one recipe on this site that fits my eating regimen. And yet, here I am, still blogging in this space. Go figure.
To Rosebud: I didn't even eat ONE piece of the large basket of candy we passed out on Halloween (we live in a "destination neighborhood" which is great fun for costume watching but taxing on the candy budget). This year, though, I felt guilty when I handed
young girls a Kit-Kat or a Hershey's Kiss: it's this kind of eating, in too much quantity, that can set her up for developing breast cancer later in life. Here's hoping her mother knows that — or will learn it soon — so she can make sure her daughter eats
well during the rest of the year.