Aside from writing this blog, I go days without thinking about cancer. I make an effort not to dwell on it. However, travelling by subway during a recent trip to Manhattan, I noticed that next to a 10-foot-high advertisement promoting Lady Gaga's next tour there is an equally unavoidable floor-to-ceiling billboard-sized poster about the importance of early detection of breast cancer.
Actually, there are four of them, strategically placed on the walls under Grand Central.
Inside a subway car, there is space above the windows for advertisements, and amidst the ads for lawyers who speak Spanish, night classes for college credit, and Lady Gaga's tour (of course), there is an ad, repeated over and over, promoting a hospital that considers itself first in the treatment of breast cancer.
Out on the street, a woman jogged by wearing an Avon breast cancer walk T-shirt, and an overly tanned bag lady crouched on the sidewalk with a few dozen empty beer and soda cans in a canvas bag with the ubiquitous pink ribbon logo.
I wanted to scream, but I was with my friend Carolyn, and she probably didn't even notice the posters and the ads and the bag lady's carry-all. And who was I screaming at anyway? I would just become one of New York City's crazies who wander the streets talking to themselves or Mayor Bloomberg. Or God.
Who put together a minion to decide that the whole world should know everything about my left breast? Is there nothing sacred?
Why not anal cancer? Farrah Fawcett did her level best (rest her beautiful soul) to promote awareness of a considerably less sexy, but easily as deadly, cancer; but do you see any chipper slogans about anal cancer on T-shirts and bumper stickers? I searched the internet for anal cancer T-shirts and none of them was witty, believe me. Not one made me laugh.
Why not prostate cancer? Get the guys involved. Strike fear into their hearts like it has permeated ours. We all know that one in every eight women will probably get breast cancer. One out of those 35 will die. Some will lose a breast; some will lose two. We are reminded of our vulnerability, our mortality, the possibility that an essential part of what makes us female, part of what makes us sexy, will be torn from our bodies.
So why not prostate cancer, the second leading killer of men after lung cancer? More than 230,000 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year; at least 30,000 will die. But more frightening is that the treatment, which may save their lives, can make them impotent. The T-shirts and slogans I found on-line were dead serious – and not funny. Not funny at all.
CANCER CREEPS INTO UNEXPECTED PLACES
I had a dear old friend who had part of his jaw removed because of cancer. Afterwards, he talked like a wizened old chain-smoking Marine sergeant with half a chin, but he never lost his curmudgeonly sense of humor.
My friend Sean had a little slice of his nose removed years ago and still fears the cancer will come back and he will spend the rest of his life as a freak without a nose.
It's not that I don't appreciate the support: the Pink Glove Dance, the cheerleaders with their pink wigs and pom-poms, random sponsors who put the logo on their shopping bags, and celebrities who took time out of their schedules to sing or dance or speak out about breast cancer awareness. I totally appreciate all of that.
It's amazing how far we've come. Fifty years ago, we whispered about cancer, never saying its name — we called it the Big C. Fifty years ago, we girls made sure our bra straps didn't show through our blouses and we crossed our arms over our chests when we spoke to boys. Fifty years ago, we didn't know about breast cancer.
I just feel like we women with breast cancer are getting more attention than we deserve. It's not all about us.
Let's remember that the next time there is an enormous pink field day in Central Park there are thousands of unsung cancer victims that could use a little support.
How about a T-shirt that says something like: "The only thing worse than being part of a crowd of cancer survivors is getting cancer and feeling like you are all alone."
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