Another Breast Cancer Awareness Month is winding down. Where do we (patients and advocates) find ourselves today? Unfortunately, on the precipice of a great divide that we have seen before. Breast Cancer Awareness consistently and without fail creates a chasm, a fractured fault line of tectonic vapidity, righteousness, and isolation. Women versus men, younger versus older, early stage versus metastatic…and do you know what we all have in common?
We all have breast cancer. One cancer. The commonality that links us also creates within the breast cancer community a deep division. Within that divide are multiple more divisions. Eventually, the infighting we do to ourselves within the community fights against the very thing that we are fighting for. We are all fighting to scream the loudest, we are vying for the light to shine on the one voice that makes sense to us, to our individual situations.
If I am a man, male breast cancer needs attention so that other men in the community can learn from what I’ve learned.
If I am a grandmother, young mothers with breast cancer get all the attention, but my life matters too.
If I am early stage, early detection helped me discover my cancer, so I can begin to combat it. Learn from me.
If I am late stage, or metastatic, I am dying from this disease. My time is running out and I need your help now. You need to know what I know.
We are all right. We are all correct. We all have one disease.
Breast cancer awareness month becomes a sea of pink, grinning survivors, running for a cure. Are they raising awareness? Yes, they are…of early stage breast cancer.
To the men who have grown to despise pink and all it represents, they combat the tide of pink with blue. They attend pink events to highlight the plight of the men grappling with this disease. They too are raising awareness…of male breast cancer and the unique challenges they face.
The metastatic community, often portrayed as the angry, intolerant, negative facet of the community, rails against every day of the month. They rally cry against the pink…hear me, hear me, please someone, hear me. They too are raising awareness, but of the thing that no one likes to think about associated with this disease. Death.
One disease that has no cure, has had no significant change in death rate in over thirty years, and has a 30% chance of metastasizing at any time after remission from early stage. Metastatic breast cancer patients, men and women, younger and older, were oftentimes once early stage too. They too believed they had survived this dreadful disease and went on to party in pink. Metastatic patients are the scary, bogeyman in the closet. They are the worst fear of early stage cancer survivors…and they know that.
When they rail against the status quo, they do so not just for themselves but for all of you who do not yet know what they know. They want to be heard, and if you think about it, you should want that too. They are yelling for you too, so hopefully you won’t have to.
Do metastatic patients believe that you shouldn’t have your mammograms? Absolutely not. However, to the number of men and women under the age of 40 with stage IV breast cancer, they think you should start having them earlier.
Do metastatic patients want more money spent on research instead of awareness? Absolutely. When you are dying and know that the next medication sitting in a research lab may be the thing to extend your life, you want that researcher to have that money.
Does that mean awareness is a waste of money? Absolutely not. There is however, a disproportionate amount of money going to awareness that could be critically used for research. A caveat to that is for all the money spent on awareness, not a lot is spent on metastatic awareness which is in fact, the only breast cancer that kills.
The truth is that we have one disease. We are all correct in our fight even though we see it from different angles. Are metastatic patients angry? Some of us are, yes, and rightfully so. As much as we hope no one ever sees the world through these lenses, we know unfortunately that it takes walking in these shoes to fully understand this plight. We do not want that for you. As much as we fight for ourselves, we fight for you as well.
Can you fathom what kind of an impact uniting would bring if we could avoid this tiresome divide?
Come with us at The Underbelly as we try to shine a light on the dark side of breast cancer. All stages, all genders are welcome. We would love to share your stories to show the world that we are all united in this fight. We are in this TOGETHER.
We have created the hashtag #onediseasebc so we can show others (in and out of this community) that we believe in uniting to change the narrative of breast cancer.
Editor in Chief
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