by Sam M., D.O., Anesthesiologist
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month – and it kind of makes me want to scream.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m all about more funding. There are two major cornerstones of my treatment which I consider to have saved me – using a platinum chemotherapy for BRCA+ triple negative breast cancer, and the PARP inhibitor (Lynparza). The platinum chemo research is less than FIVE years old. FIVE years. Lynparza was FDA approved something like 9 months before I was diagnosed. How lucky I am to have had a cancer that gets funded.
There are millions of dollars that exchange hands during this month but there is a disproportionate amount of this money that goes to:
LIKE WHO IS NOT *AWARE* OF BREAST CANCER? WHO DOESN’T KNOW SOMEONE AFFECTED BY BREAST CANCER?
WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN??
You hear breast cancer awareness, I hear we raised a bunch of money by selling wine glasses shaped like boobs and paid a D-list celebrity 10 grand to talk about how strong women are, lit some candles and did fun cheers and basically accomplished nothing of value! Look at these T-shirts! Isn’t mammaries a funny word? Or maybe: here’s a picture of me with no bra! It’s for breast cancer, teehee! What, no, I didn’t actually donate any money. I’m helping raise AWARENESS.
Lemme drop some AWARENESS on you right about now.
Of all breast cancer patients, about 30% are either diagnosed as stage IV, or go on to develop metastatic breast cancer. This means that the cancer has spread outside the breast into other vital organs. At this stage it is considered ‘treatable but not curable’ and the patient will remain on chemotherapy and other terrible shit for the rest of their lives. Most stage IV patients were diagnosed as early stage (I-III), given treatment, went into ‘remission’ and then discovered they were terminal some time, often years later. Your odds of surviving increase the earlier you are diagnosed, sure. But Stage III metastasizes. Stage II metastasizes. Stage I…metastasizes. Stage IV is the only stage that kills anyone, it affects 30% of breast cancer sufferers yet it receives less than 7% of major research funding (MBCN, 2014).
We cannot say that we have made progress on breast cancer until we make progress on stage IV. We don’t even fully understand how cancer cells become metastatic and spread!
What good is early detection, what good is sending a woman into the war a year earlier than she otherwise might have, if she never gets a goddamn gun to fight with?
I know Stage IV is scary. It’s not a happy ending. It’s not a ‘win’ for team pink. But it’s the only stage of breast cancer that matters, because it’s the only stage that kills.
If you donated to breast cancer this month, myself and all of the 1 in 8 women eventually diagnosed with breast cancer thank you sincerely. You can check sites such as charitywatch.org or charitynavigator.org which have access to charities’ tax reporting forms and rates them based on factors like proportion of money that goes to things like overhead and fundraising.
Have you heard of The Breasties?
One thing people forget is how lonely it can feel both during treatment and after – for everyone involved: Survivors, previvors, thrivers and caregivers. Each experience is unique and often draining. Enter: The Breasties. The Breasties is an all-inclusive nonprofit organization with a mission to support and empower the impacted young women through community and friendship. JAANUU has partnered with The Breasties to raise awareness, yes, but more importantly to raise funds to further their mission. If you would like to support their inspiring cause, you can learn more here.
If you are searching for other ways to make a difference, here are some excellent, high-rated charities for breast cancer research:
Breast Cancer Research Foundation
Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation
Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer (yes, the paisley purses Vera Bradley)
And here are some which provide much needed social and financial services to cancer patients and their families, things like transportation to chemotherapy appointments, help with medical bills, and fertility preservation:
The Livestrong Foundation (with or without Lance this charity has taken on a life of its own, and in my personal experience they provided me very expensive IVF medications at no cost)
Furthermore, I know how lucky I am that my disease gets a whole freakin’ month. Even if a lot of this money doesn’t end up where it should, it still generates far more than others. This may seem odd coming from a breast cancer survivor, but next year when Pinktober extends its glittery hand for your wallet, I want you to go home and Google the wackiest, deadliest, weirdest cancer you can find and donate. I’m serious. Waldenstrom’s Macroglobulinemia, synovial sarcoma, adrenocortical carcinoma, mediastinal germ cell tumors…
FUCK CANCER. FUCK YOUR CANCER, FUCK MY CANCER. FUCK ALL CANCER.
aand now on to No-Shave-November!