Already Aware

Is there some box we can check when filing our taxes or punching our ballots or mailing in the census? Could we somehow alert the Universe that WE ARE ALREADY AWARE? I dare you to find a single (lucky) person remaining on the planet whose life has been entirely untouched by breast cancer. But apparently there are thousands of people who think something this wretched needs to exist for our benefit.

Look at me! I'm like, sorta bald, you know, just for today. AWARENESS!

Look at me! I’m like, sorta bald, you know, just for today. AWARENESS!

I cannot tell you how badly I want to rip this off of her head. What’s next? Faux colostomy bags for Rectal Cancer?

Your fundraising starter pack includes t-shirt with a detachable Velcro “bag” with realistic, watery poo! Customize your stoma to honor a loved one: “I’m diverting my colon today for Uncle Harry!”

I hope everyone would agree this would be in poor, poor taste by diminishing a very real, and extremely sensitive, upsetting, and necessary aspect of treating a deadly disease. But we’re badgered daily to be “bold” or “brave” enough to show solidarity with the battle-weary cancer-ed by buying crap one might find at Spencer’s. I cannot express strongly enough how un-helpful fake bald head gear is to the people who have neither the luxury of hair, nor the patience for the actually very kind people who think this sort of awareness-raising is helping.

A recent backlash from some of my favorite cancer bloggy ladies shut down an entire marketing scheme and hashtag campaign by AirXpanders after this peddler of pseudo-breasts encouraged us to tweet to #whatsunderhere and wear horrifying slogans like “Looks Great Naked” because,

Boobs are so much more than just “the girls” or “melons.” They’re fabulous.

They sent this message in an email blast to breast cancer survivors. Funny fun fun! I mean, with our reconstructed “melons” we’re totally empowered and “sexy” enough to don a slogan to encourage strangers to ask us about our fake boobs. And then tweet about how amazing and wonderful and desirable and badass we feel flaunting our reorganized parts. Funny fun fun! I’m sure they didn’t mean to be, you know, insensitive or anything to the women who are not candidates for reconstruction, or (gasp!) feel healthy and whole and beautiful without replacements.

The brilliant, kind, and wise Hester Hill Schnipper (whose After Breast Cancer should be a gift to anyone finishing chemotherapy) emailed Bernie and me about these new, horrifying campaigns that seem to begin earlier and earlier each year. She was also concerned about the AirXpanders exploitation of the American Association of Plastic Surgery (ASPS)-sponsored Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day. The unfortunately named BRA day (insert all sorts of puns on “support” for the very gals who—literally– don’t need it) is October 15th this year. The goal of BRA Day is to ensure all women are informed about their breast reconstruction options, and their aim to “close the loop” on breast cancer treatment is to make certain access and education around post-mastectomy breast reconstruction is available to every women who wishes to pursue it. Sadly, companies like AirXpanders want to piggyback onto the day to peddle their products.

Ultimately, the #whatsunderhere and the deplorable Save the Ta Tas, and even the National BRA Day swag begs the question,

Does anyone ever consult an actual breast cancer patient?

Giggle. A pink bra

Giggle. A pink bra “over” my shirt. Guffaw, a guy wearing a bra! Hey, let’s get some of these for the DOGS! Hilarious!

No one I know who unwillingly lost her hair wants to see someone else faking it. I could write another set of paragraphs urging you not to shave your head, either. But for now… just… don’t. Anyone who has been necessarily bald would never, ever begrudge you your hair. Let me be clear, it’s the NICEST THING IN THE WHOLE WORLD TO SHAVE YOUR HEAD FOR SOMEONE. But, nope… buy your cancer-ed love one a cashmere blanket, instead.

Similarly, the pink bra silhouette only calls attention to the very parts I’m trying to forget. Certainly we have more talented graphic designers to fashion a tasteful slogan for Breast Reconstruction Awareness? (I’m looking at you, Nail.) Or we could just wear Angelina Jolie flair. She has quietly, elegantly done more to further this cause than anyone.

To close, here’s my favorite tweet of all time, posted by some hilarious, awesome stranger last year on November 1st. I think all of us are looking forward to it.

Couldn't love this more.

Couldn’t love this more.

Waiting for someone to design me an Already Aware t-shirt. No pink.

37 responses

  1. This…”Faux colostomy bags for Anal Cancer?…I’m diverting my colon today for Uncle Harry!” Oh my freakin’ God, that made me laugh. You are so insightful and brilliantly funny. And I get you – I hate fluff. I hate things/events/campaigns created to make everyone else feel better about themselves. I mean, I get it but … really? I just feel like 99% of it is driven on making a profit for someone, not by any means for the people they claim to be “supporting”.

    I hope someone does design you that t-shirt! Great post 🙂

  2. Ahhh Britt, I dunno. I figure if the activity raises funds for research then it’s OK. I do know exactly what you mean though. Even the fancy fundraising balls and such – the people there may be wearing $100,000 worth of designer clothes, $100,000 in jewelry and they pat themselves on the back when they raise $10,000 for research. It’s basically a “Look at Me, ain’t I purdy?” get together. But realistically if they raise even $1 for research then that’s one dollar more than there is now. What can I say? True giving is anonymous, but the amount would be much smaller – and that’s kind of shooting yourself in the foot. The best (i.e. most profitable) way to raise funds is to let the givers bask in public glory – the more public the more they give. Be it bra-shirts or pink ribbons or meeting the rich and famous or hanging a fake colostomy bag from their pants – whatever. The louder and more attention grabbing the more they give.

    It’s a sad reality of humanity that we seek attention and admiration and “fame” and recognition. The best way to raise funds is to leverage that. Honestly, universities would only have half as many buildings if they didn’t take donations dependant on facility naming rights.

    I truly do agree with you Britt, the posturing turns my stomache, but I have learned to turn a blind eye as, in this case, the end (saving lives) justifies the means (encouraging posturing).

    • Paul, I get where you’re coming from, man, I was there for the longest time myself, but you’re wrong about “raising even $1” helping mate. Almost exactly 11 months ago my Queen had a mastectomy and elected not to have an immediate reconstruction until post-op pathology results turned up. Turns out she’d dodged the terminal bullet by approx. 2 weeks or so. I was with her through the whole brain-wrecking, soul-destroying agony of trying to make the right call during the previous 6 months. From the time of her diagnosis I decided to set about doing my own research about “cancer research” now that it was in my own back yard so to speak. I’ll save you the tirade but the short story is this: cancer research is without doubt a money making industry these days, with very little money raised ever actually going towards research.

      If you really want to make a financial difference, go to your local teaching hospital and ask them what piece of machinery they need and then go raise the money, buy the machine and have it delivered, I have done exactly this in the past with a few biker mates. Either that, or head to the oncology ward and ask to meet the person who is about to have their treatment cut off because they’ve run out of money/insurance and then go pay their bills. THIS is what “raising awareness” should be about, instead it has become yet another reason for people to look noble without ever having to sacrifice anything to do so. It’s not about what you know, it’s about what you do with what you know.

      • Honestly REDdog I’ve never done any research into where cancer money goes. Is it misused? it wouldn’t surprise me. I had colon cancer a few years ago and do have a colostomy – permanently. That caught my eye about Britt’s article, kind of brought it home.

        • To be blunt Paul, I did not go looking for evidence of misuse so much as a correlation between what came in and what went out. It became an exercise in cynicism as I found wages and overheads took up a lot of space, the higher the profile and the bigger the organisation, the higher the overheads before being able to pass on significant amounts in donations. Also, sometimes the recipients of the money may not always turn out to be what you thought you were donating to in the name of “cancer research”…it seems the term is very broad. It basically caused me to ask myself what I thought a higher awareness profile in the community would achieve in actuality…again, it became an exercise in cynicism. As a survivor, how would you see an awareness campaign effecting your experience? Anyway, rather than poo-poo everything I choose to act on my own accord instead, I find that far more satisfying. Apologies if I came across as anti-research, or a bit heavy handed, no offence intended, I just find sometimes it’s better to overstate it than go softly-softly. Kudos to you, mate.

          • Yeah, overheads are always a bitch. Cancer is so complex that it doesn’t bend itself well to the single brilliant researcher working alone. Each cancer is like a separate disease – and there are thousands – and integrates with the body in a hugely complex manner. just doing the testing of compounds alone requires a huge lab with many employees – most specialists.

            • Oh, those overheads are legit, it’s the overheads that it takes to run a collection foundation that got me off side. I don’t mind giving my hard earned to a lab but I struggle giving it to an organisation that is no more than a middle man. There are ways to go round that, so I do.

              • Good thinking REDdog. Here in Canada a lot of our government services are free on line. Revenue Canada has a website for all charities where anyone can look them up by name or registration number. Everything, and I mean everything, is listed there – including the full financials, what percentage is used in fund raising, what percentage actually goes to research or to the end users. I always check before I donate and it is scary sometimes. Some charities actually only see 3 or 4% of donations going to end users.

      • Exactly! This is exactly what I have been preaching to whomever may hear me!! Go to your State’s University Medical Research Department and donate directly to them! My breast surgeon gave up her practice, I was one of her last patients, so she could return to the University and Head its breast cancer research department. That is where dollars will do the most good!

    • First of all, I’m so happy you and REDdog are over here to add to the conversation. Paul, it’s possible you carry a kinder, sweeter heart in your chest. And I fully admit that sometimes when I write from that smug place of “cancer veteran” I can sound like an asshole. Like Red, I did a little digging and found that the percentage of money donated from *some* of these schemes is only a pittance. I like Red’s approach: to make a concrete difference. I also like Red’s approach because it involves BIKERS buying hospital equipment which is beyond badass and awesome. When people ask me how to help, I usually direct them to credible sites doing research for metastatic breast cancer (like the one on Lisa Boncheck Adams page) because that’s the beast that kills us.

      The uncomfortable part of writing something like this is the possibility that I might hurt the feelings of some very very wonderful people who don’t see this as cynically as I do. And I’m torn, too. What if wearing these horrifying bald caps and marching into the world and raising money truly helps the people who are participating– in a we’re a community here/closure about a passed relative kind of way. Well, I’m an asshole, indeed. But maybe it’s OK to tell them it’s a bit insensitive, in a really nice voice, and then we can trade paragraphs all nicely about how we feel about it.

      Thanks for the discussion. xoxo

  3. Great blog Britt. I’m still cringe-ing at the tone deafness and abject stupidity of the Bozo marketing radishes who thought they were dead on and just cleaver as hell. At first I thought “well, this clearly was done by sophomoric 16 year old guys who convinced their entrepreneur Mom that this was really cool and the right way to go” – after taking a high school creative writing class junior year. But, it’s pretty clear that stupid and tone deafness have a reach well beyond pimply faced creative wan a bees. These were people who should know better. People where one would expect to find intuition, empathy, sensitivity, compassion…and maybe even appropriateness. And the “miss” is stunning. While your blog is spot on.

    • I thought the same thing! Who wrote, and who approved, the copy for a campaign like that? The power of social media was truly incredible, and in two days the whole hashtag campaign was kaput. And why why why does no one ever think to call Aunt Mable, or Jenny down the street who was bald last year, or any one of the 3 million cancer survivors currently cruising around our country?

  4. Britt, you would love/cringe at my pre-packaged lecture these people get if they ever bother me for a donation…as the old saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

  5. I have a friend who shaved her head to raise money for a cancer charity and donated her hair to a company that makes wigs for kids who were having chemo – I just wondered what your feelings were on that sort of thing? I completely agree with you about the inane “awareness raising” stunts; a bit like the ALS ice bucket challenge. I have seen thousands of mentions of it, and still don’t actually know any more about ALS.

    • Hi, May. I will restate, LOUDLY, that it is the nicest thing in the world to shave your head for someone. It was just so traumatic for *me* to be bald, that I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. And I think the ALS challenge did a bang up job. That is a very rare disease, and now the entire world knows it exists and needs money for research. Whether or not we understand the pathophysiology of the disease is unimportant… the collective dumping of water on heads made us feel (at least temporarily) like One Community.

      Your friend is a GODDESS, a hero, a wonderful person.

      • Ah, I see – I think I misunderstood what you were saying. My friend is indeed a fabulous person, and she looked great with a shaved head (she also looks great with hair too). I guess I’m a big cynical about any “raise awareness” thing but at least the ALS challenge included a donation to the charity.

        Sorry for being a bit grouchy on your post! Your friend Drew’s comment is excellent.

    • This what my amazing friend Drew wrote (over on Facebook)… and pretty much sums up how great your friend is:

      “Frankly I get shaving your head. It’s a mild personal sacrifice to show solidarity. If it made a difference to someone so be it. If you had asked (you wouldn’t) I would be the first in line with the clippers. If it made a difference to you, that would be reason enough for me. At least it’s actually doing something that will remain for some time rather than buying a trinket that gets tossed at the end of an event when everyone toasts their rosè to each other about how much they’ve done to help but have to get up early for their spin class and damn, school is just a half day tomorrow and wow, amazon is really fucking up with their 2 day prime shipping…”

      Isn’t he the best? So is your friend.

  6. As a fellow breast cancer survivor, I applaud you. You have very eloquently spoken my mind for me…again. I am so sick and tired of the endless “gifts” from well meaning friends and family that are some pink gimmick or another. I know they mean well but, seriously, I am a lot more than just a breast cancer survivor. I have cupboards full of pink crap! I really want to say things like, “I don’t like pink. I have never worn pink. Why would I wear now?”. At Christmas I received a bottle of branded “pink” wine…pink bottle…pink ribbon and a pink shoe to hold it. I can tell you, no member of my family and not one friend has ever seen me drink wine. I do not like wine but apparently if it is in a pink bottle I have to have it. I seriously just wanted a nice glass of scotch when I saw it.
    My Mom passed from breast cancer and one of my sisters is also a survivor. My sister started a team for the “Run For The Cure” we have here in Canada. We all participated for many years. It was the only time I voluntarily wore pink. Two years ago they changed some of their handling of the money and our team, along with countless others dropped out.
    All of this so that I can thank you for speaking out on these things. I know we are supposed to just shut up and be grateful that anybody cares but really, are they doing it to help or just make themselves feel better?

    • Thank you for sharing this. I think participation in these gimmicks gets confusing for those on the sidelines, and this post makes it clearer why Pink Stuff can annoy. I bristle at anything sort of cutesy because I think it diminishes the pain of it all. And how frustrating? maddening? sad? that people who *know* you would choose a gift to celebrate your disease rather than YOU. I get it.

      A completely different example is this: my sons have a football teammate that loves to wear his Pepto-pink breast cancer socks. I’m not sure why he loves them… or at age 11 if he’s even thinking about “awareness.” But he’s one of the best players on the team and he’s cool. I wonder about the subtle impact of this small detail on my two little guys… if they notice… if it somehow registers that this kid supports stuff that keeps their mom alive. Who knows? But it’s the sweetest, least obnoxious, understated bit of awareness I’ve experienced. Maybe I need to go write 5 paragraphs about people who do the awareness thing with oblivious, effective aplomb.

  7. You hit the nail on the f~*king head!!! I am not only going to re-blog you, but, point all of my facebook friends who are still thinking in the dark ages about “pinktober” that they are in fact being stupid and insensitive! Bravo for this!! Bravo for you!

      • I am flattered! All of the women whom I’ve befriended, via my blog, who have any association with breast cancer are passionate and powerful in whatever their view/s may be and it isn’t all about breast cancer – as you know, life doesn’t take a break during breast cancer nor after treatment.
        You will find many, many wonderful people here! I’m so glad I found you! 😀

  8. Britt…. I loved your practical, matter of fact way of telling it like it is. I have not personally had cancer of any kind, but I have been directly affected by it and lost more than one loved one to the dreaded disease. I also believe that all the “pink ribbons” and bald caps, t-shirts etc are not really making people more “aware” I think it is simply a marketing ploy to make money that “cancer research” will never see. I love Paul’s idea of doing something directly to make a difference like helping to buy equipment or help someone financially who can’t pay for treatment. If you REALLY want to help, then by all means…. help someone or something specific. Volunteer for hospice, go to the Pediatric ward at a hospital and hold a parents hand. Or call the American Cancer Society and find out what you can do. But don’t show me your stupid T-shirt and tell me you are helping others be more “aware”. You’re not helping….. *steps off soapbox*

    • Thank you, Courtney. I was also struck by the personal activism initiated by these kind readers above. The Be Bold Be Brave people have kindly asked me (and other dissenters) to stop posting this soapbox-y view on their Facebook page. But if the conversation is respectful, I think it helps. Next year, maybe an “awareness” campaign about how annoying “awareness” is!

  9. Excellent post, Britt! Before I start ranting, I love Hester and her book! A must-read! Now for the rant — yes, we are already aware ad nauseum. I’m sick and tired of these awareness campaigns, like what’s up with those “bald” swim caps? I just wrote about how these awareness campaigns start way before October and that awareness is not education.

    • Beth! What a beautifully written, informative, smartypants essay! And isn’t Hester just sort of life saving? I was lucky to have her support through my treatment… and now even luckier to call her a friend. And aside from her obvious talents stemming from a sharp mind and kind soul, Hester is so helpful because she’s been through this. Twice. Every one of these campaigns should be vetted by her. Thanks for stopping by… I’m following you now!! xoxo

  10. Pingback: Backlash: musings on Pink and high society and not being a jerkface | Blooms and Bubbles

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