Buckets, take 2

A few years ago, my friend Rachel and I became embroiled in a possibly ill-advised debate in the comment section of Huffington Post. The specifics I’ve lost, the essence remains. Rachel was jabbing at someone about all the juvenile booby fun people have with breast cancer “awareness” and he told her to lighten up.

(As I’m writing this, I am remembering more – I believe we were discussing those pink bracelets that were all the rage in 2011 and why “I heart Boobies” isn’t a particularly helpful rallying cry.**)

I don’t remember if I happened to be following the conversation of if she told me about it, but I let the dogs out on him.

Why did I care?

Lovely Rachel and her husband

Because I knew Rachel’s story.

Because I knew Rachel.

In her early 30s, she was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer and had an excellent prognosis. She did everything “right.” Some six years later though, it returned as Stage IV cancer, metastasizing in highly unusual ways like to her skin and, in the end, to her spinal cord fluid.

Yes, I said in the end. To get ahead of the story, she died of it in 2012.

By the time I met her in 2010, her cancer had already metastasized but she was feeling pretty well. Unfortunately, I saw her decline precipitously as the disease crippled her. Fortunately, she was a generous person as well as a smart and prolific writer, so we can all read her story on her blog.

So when this HuffPo thing went down, I knew about her suffering and thought, How dare this total stranger tell Rachel to lighten up?  She had already revealed her diagnosis to him and I couldn’t believe he could be so insensitive. That’s when the downside of all these positive “awareness” programs hit home to me.

No one wants to be told they’ve been played. And people behaving badly when they find out they have been.

We want to believe that we can wear silly pink bracelets and dumb slogans on shirts and cure cancer. But if we could, we would have already. It’s a swindle – exploiting people’s dual desires to help a good cause and to have a good time.

And when it’s exposed, you not only have the shame of realizing you’ve followed the wrong star home, but you also don’t want to believe it.  So you blame the messenger, ironically that’s often the person you claimed to want to help in the first place. All because you don’t want to admit you were wrong.

It happens ALL THE TIME in the pink ribbon movement.

I’m now hearing the same shouts about the ice buckets. Sit down, shut up, lighten up, stay positive. Well, I’m here to tell you – people throwing up the caution flag are not trying to melt your ice.  They are saying this: HOLD UP. Research. Don’t assume that your good intentions matter more than critical thought.

As I said last time, I have no idea if this ice bucket challenge is the birth of a new pink ribbon planet. But I do know that it is valid to ask that question. If you feel like you need to lay blame to for the buzz-stomping, don’t blame the questioners, blame those who have been shameless; those who will exploit anyone or any tragedy in order to make a buck.

** (1) Breast cancer that stays in the breast won’t kill you.  It has to move outside of there and take up residence in major organs before becoming fatal. (2) Catching breast cancer early does not guarantee a cure.  See: Rachel’s story above. (3) In an attempt to diagnose and/or stop the march of cancer, many of us insiders have had disfiguring surgery. To constantly hearken back to the societal supremacy of a nice rack as the pinnacle of female beauty is actually painful to many of us, deepening our already raw wounds of humiliation. (4) To put it succinctly, Forget the boobies; save the women.

See also: Gayle Sulik, who has literally written the book on the costs of exploiting breast cancer.

10 thoughts on “Buckets, take 2”

  1. Very well-written, Katie. I don’t get all the breast cancer awareness stuff…especially the things that have NO connection to breast cancer. It pisses me off that they piggy-back on such a serious thing as breast cancer.

    Recently we were approached at the gas station by a guy pedaling some product meant to clean the car. We said we weren’t interested and he mentioned a few more selling points. We again said we weren’t interested. Then he said a purchase would benefit breast cancer awareness and I realized why he was wearing a pink shirt.

    A few days ago a friend’s Facebook status said something about becoming a mommy. As she’s in her late 40’s with 3 older kids, I was surprised and sent her a message. She said she’s not pregnant – it was meant to raise breast cancer awareness. I don’t get it – why would that post make me more aware of breast cancer?

    Thanks for all you’ve written on the subject. You have certainly helped me see all things breast-cancer-related more clearly.

    1. Thank you Sheilah. I had that same experience with the message this week, except the one I commented on was about underwear. It’s another symptom of this tyranny. How do you speak up about that without hurting feelings?

  2. As always, dear friend, you make me think. And it breaks my heart to realize that I too, have been one of the many duped. It angers me to no end to know that my sincere desire to help women with cancer was taken advantage of. I want to believe that the latest Ice Bucket challenge is innocent, but sadly, I now question every donation….all because of one pink ribbon.

    1. Thank you Michele. I hope this campaign turns out differently. And don’t feel bad about being duped, in my first year after diagnosis, I raised over $1k for Komen. If these organizations were good swindlers, they wouldn’t be around.

  3. Thank u for this post. I, too, wonder whether the ice bucket challenge participants, other than posting on Facebook, realize the cuts made in ALS research. As an example, those politicians that accepted the challenge and proudly displayed on social media after voting to cut ALS funding. I’m just SAYIN!

  4. If I ever getted dogged online, I want you to have my back. You are smart, thoughtful and sharp. Rachel was lucky for that, to feel that catch of you in her last days. And you are right, the thing is, if there is a cure, there will be no more for the cure, and that is a disagreeable fact with many….god forbid, women living.

    1. Thanks Lauren. I will always, always have your back. The dogs are at the ready. Hopefully the gentler, more marshmallow parts of me are too. 🙂

  5. I like you let the dogs out on him. People can say the most atrocious things in the comments sections. I glanced at the blog. So sad. Aren’t you glad we live in a time where we can write your own blogs without regard to subject or word count? I sure am. It is great you honored and are still honoring her by telling her story.

    1. Amy, it really is the best part of the internet (also a dark side = confirmation bias) but it’s great to be able to polish up some thoughts and put them out there. Even better when you connect with strangers. 🙂

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