Breast cancer is a topic that everyone seems to know about. Awareness of the disease is at an all time high. Thanks to money-making marketing targeting caring consumers, billions of dollars has been poured into research. And for what? The upside is that we now know what the color pink is. Of course, I learned that in kindergarten. The downside is that after more than thirty years, cases of it have increased, and the age of the patient has decreased. All cancer is devastating, but this one has touched me like no other. Maybe it’s because I’m a woman. Maybe it’s because our breasts are supposed to give life not take-a- life, which is exactly what cancer of the breast is doing to far too many women.
It is happening to so many young women – by young I mean from 30 all the way to as young as 18. (yes, you read that right). I had to adjust my age range from 50 to 20 after reading The SCAR Project website. If you don't know about this project, it is an unbelievable photo documentary (by David Jay, a fashion photographer)of breast cancer victims showing what's left over from surgery and subsequent treatment.
After #1 Lung Cancer, Breast Cancer is #2 leading cause of death among women. In the United States alone each year 200,000 are diagnosed, and 40,000 of those die. It is now considered a “pandemic” (Webster’s: universal; prevalent. Prevalent=exist in force; predominate), which means it is indiscriminate and everywhere. These are strong descriptions for a disease, and should alarm each one of us. Why is this happening?
Beauty and The Beast
The anatomy of the breast may be what makes it so vulnerable. Breasts are full of soft, fatty tissue with milk ducts running throughout. Along with the lymphatic vessels, there coexists a virtual irrigation type system, able to funnel large amounts of liquid on demand. But anything toxic or contrary to the immune system entering into just one of those tributaries probably can reach the rest of the breast very quickly, which in a layman's guess, causes the lightning spread no matter which type it is. But what is causing the problem? Is it residue from cosmetics? Is it deodorant? Is it preservatives in food, pink slime, or pollutants?
Types, Statistics, Reality
Any breast cancer can become metastatic (spread), which means anyone with a diagnosis is at risk for "mets" as it's commonly known. So common it has a nickname. A person with "garden variety" ductal carcinoma can be diagnosed at Stage 1, become metastatic in under a year and be dead in two. Another person can be diagnosed with Stage 3, live for a number of years, then find out it's in their lymph nodes, and discover it's been found somewhere else in the body. It is a terror to live with the diagnosis.
Up to 20% of breast cancers spread within 10 years of diagnosis. Ten years of the uncertainty. These women have to deal with physical pain, chronic fatigue, nausea, depression, oral and dental problems, just to name a few side-effects of ongoing treatment. Some are still having to work and are still raising their children. Along with normal everyday challenges we all face, they fight the ongoing mental stress of wondering every single day, sometimes for those eternal 10 years..."is a cure just around the corner? Will it just one day go away? Will it spread today, tomorrow? How do I tell my children? Will my children watch me die? When will it ever be over?" I cannot even imagine living like that.
Always a Crap Shoot
Breast cancer has morphed from a cancer of several types to categories so off the charts that doctors aren’t sure how to treat them. For instance, my friend’s niece had been diagnosed with [phyllodes] type breast cancer. She was around 31 and her doctor told her that type is very rare. My friend asked me to look it up. She said her doctor chose to put off surgery, and only treat her with radiation for now. After doing a search, I decided she had a smart doctor, and I relayed this to my friend. In my search I visited both MayoClinic.com and WebMD.com. Both sites had this type cancer listed, which I decided did not make it rare at all. What I did learn, however, is that this type of breast cancer is very unpredictable, and leaves doctors perplexed on how to treat it. It behaves wildly and can sometimes succumb to a treatment with success, or come alive and become more aggressive with treatment, which makes its personality schizophrenic. No smart person would play with a gun that has a “hair trigger”. Who wouldn’t be intimidated by that? That said, it is not surprising that having breast cancer is like walking into a mine field – physically, psychologically and emotionally.
The Power of Grief - The Strength of Love
If you are a regular here, you know by now I am on Twitter a lot, and have met some outstanding people there. Some of those are in fact, breast cancer survivors. Some have been living with the disease for years, and in just one single day the breast cancer social media (#bcsm) community has lost two fellow friends with breast cancer. Both were active and beloved bloggers whose disease had become metastatic. Both of them died on the same day. Ironically, it was a Monday which was chat night. It was my first time joining in for the chat. I'm not a breast cancer survivor, but this group had peaked my interest with their passion, so I tuned in that night. That evening while the regular chat was going on and everyone was sharing the loss of the first friend, news came of the second one passing. Twitter never stops, but that night it was like time stood still. I held my breath as I watched the feed slow down. The grief was palpable, or was it fear...or both? It was then that I truly understood the “sisterhood”. Since then, true to the form of a warrior, their devoted and loving peers have taken to task to carry on with their staunch and unrelenting advocacy.
The Power of Social Media
There are so many questions that need answers. And some that should have been answered a long time ago. If you are fed up with not getting answers, you are not alone. One breast cancer blogger I follow on Twitter and admire so much, is AnneMarie Ciccarella, and she is definitely someone you will want to meet. She has dug deep into the well of truth, and is quite honestly, at times paying a price. But she is tenacious, and pushes right back. Just reading the comments of her visitors is heart wrenching. The same story is told by a thousand voices. Anne Marie's blogroll has grown to about 100, so she has moved them to their own page. Her posts are powerful, and not for the faint of heart. But then again, neither is cancer. You'll find a new #fearlessfriend (endearing hashtag of #bcsm) when you meet Anne Marie (and her friends) at her blog ChemoBrain.
My article on the SCAR Project is below, with a clickable link to their awesome site. You'll find your circle of #fearless friends will only grow!