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Behind the Pink

Two women diagnosed with breast cancer- different ages, different types, same mission- discuss what Breast Cancer Awareness Month has done to bring change.


What has changed this month in Breast Cancer Awareness month?

Lisa Frost, diagnosed in 2011 with Stage 3C lobular breast cancer, never had a lump.

Has it changed? I am not sure. I still see all kinds of crazy pink products out there that don’t make any sense and don’t seem to have any clear information connected to actual donations or charities. Just the other night my daughter’s cheer team had their “theme night”. They all dressed up in pink attire. I had a talk with her afterward about what it actually meant and sadly it meant nothing. There was no education, no fundraising, no talks of breast cancer at all. It was “just fun and pink.” Everyone knows that October is breast cancer awareness month and everyone knows that it is associated with the color pink, but unfortunately a lot of the time it doesn’t have any significant meaning.

On a positive note, the announcement by VP Joe Biden on the Cancer Moonshot, coincidentally or not, gave this month’s awareness a boost I believe. At least in the breast cancer community. They are working on speeding up the federal drug approval process and making it easier for patients to take part in clinical trials. Metavivor, the non-profit organization that gives 100% of their donations to metastatic breast cancer research ‘commits to funding $1 million in metastasis research grants in 2017 and double that in 2018.’ That is great news for the metastatic community considering only 7% of all research goes to metastatic cancer (all cancers). It was actually nice that this news came out this month. It also came out right after the metastatic community made their march on the nation’s Capitol for more funding as well. So all in all this was probably a better October than most of them. Hopefully, it is a trend and not just a one-time thing.

AnnMarie, diagnosed in 2012 with Stage 1 breast cancer after finding a lump herself.

Lisa, I agree with you about the pink. I loved pink before I realized what a marketing scheme it is. I see pink everywhere yet it is going to nothing. At the same time, I think it would be great to use this to discuss what some serious issues are. So many of us are suffering from post-mastectomy pain, lymphedema, post-traumatic stress syndrome and anxiety about our cancer coming back that it is time to discuss this part. Breast cancer is not tied in a pretty pink bow; it has some hard reality issues for so many. (Even divorce and bankruptcy but we never talk about that.) You mostly see “survivors” smiling and embracing this part of their life when the truth is far from that.

On the other hand, when Met Up organized the rally to capitol hill there seemed to be a shift. Not just Joe Biden and the Moonshot but more real talk about our Stage 4 friends. It took Mira Sorvino with Champagne Joy marching the steps of Congress for a newspaper to pick it up. While I was thrilled and excited that the Washington Post picked up the story and posted it, it drove me crazy that it took a celebrity to make a headline. What about all my friends who have died why didn’t they make the news? Why doesn’t my friend who is dying get a story without celebrity status? Nonetheless, progress is progress and now that we have their attention where do we go from here?

What would an incredible “Breast Cancer Awareness Month” be?

AM- You know I am a little devil right? So my thought is to use the pink crap to talk! Just like you did with your daughter we all should be educating people on what the money is and is NOT doing. We can use that pink to talk about PTSD and get those living through it really help with resources that care. How about highlighting local non for profits that may not be researching but really helping their community with co-pays, gas to appointments, mortgage payments and more. And most importantly how about stopping the deaths. That is the research we need, stop those with stage 4 from dying. When we do that we could research how their cancer spread, what is working and maybe find a cure by making metastatic cancer a chronic illness?

I do not stage 4, I was an early stager. But the reality is that 30% of those diagnosed with breast cancer become metastatic. I cannot ignore that 30% because that could be me but more importantly, it is my friends.

Lisa- I actually think that is a great idea. There are many needs where breast cancer is concerned. Without a doubt, metastatic patients need more. The only breast cancer that kills, it goes without saying that they need more research, but there are other needs with breast cancer as well. There are all stages that have financial strains, survivors living with horrible side effects from chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. There are women/men with young children and families that need child care, meal preparation, housekeeping, etc. Not everyone has a great support system. The list of needs can be long starting from diagnosis to treatment and afterward. We may not always be able to get funding for research, but we might get local organizations and non-profits to donate or offer services to patients.

Together Lisa and AnnMarie give their thoughts on the future

I think that the one thing we can do right away, something that will plant seeds for the future of breast cancer awareness, is to talk to our children. I have 4 girls and you have 4 boys. We have started in our own homes talking about the realities of breast cancer and all that we have learned from our own experiences. Even though we do not carry the “known genes” for breast cancer that doesn’t mean our children are not at risk. We don’t know what genes will eventually be identified in the years to come. With my boys, I want them aware and educated on their chances of getting breast cancer. I want them to feel comfortable talking to their doctors. Regardless of the genetic factor, there is always important awareness. I talk to my daughters about checking for lumps and early mammograms, but also that cancer is not always a lump and cancer is not always detected on mammograms. This information is so important to know. In the last several years I know that both of us have been teaching our children what the “Pink” really means. They need to know how important it is to take their health into their owns hands and be their own advocates for themselves and their future families. Not all doctors ask the right questions. Our children will have to ask them.

Knowledge is power when it comes to our health.

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