Of Ice Buckets and Silent Patients

Barbara Brenner, the first full-time Executive Director of Breast Cancer Action was a 2-time cancer survivor who died of ALS. Even when her voice was silenced by the disease, her writing continued to educate and inspire. She never stopped asking the tough questions, and persisted in her demand for answers. She is missed.

Even as our Facebook feeds rapidly fill with videos of some very cold people (as well as some Three Stooges-grade comedy), the controversy of the ALS Ice Bucket campaign is being challenged.

My take: people have done stranger things for a cause – buying and using carcinogenic products for “the cure” comes to mind. 

Wasting water? Some – yes, absolutely. But I’ve also seen friends stand in a pool and use pool water so that everything but what soaks their clothes is recycled.

Taking away from other charities? That could be. But if you didn’t know before, you probably do now – ALS is devastating. It is like dying from within. While your mind stays sharp, your body parts lose function – use of limbs, voice and even the ability to breathe are inevitable with this disease. I haven’t looked at the numbers in depth, but the ALS Association is well-rated and regardless, the needs of those living with ALS are most certainly worthy.

Are there better fundraising options? Probably. A campaign that will sustain the new funding levels would probably be the ideal option. And that may come. For now, the infusion of over $15.5 million dollars can, if used well, make a meaningful difference.

For me, here’s the biggest issue of all: while practically everyone has heard of Lou Gehrig’s disease, I fear too few of us knew what it was before the Ice Bucket Challenge began. Patients aren’t out and about much, and it’s easy to forget about them. Awareness and education, and helping ALS patients share their voice and their stories matters. It matters a great deal.

You probably know I’m not a huge fan of “awareness” campaigns – I do feel strongly that they need to be tied to action. As a person living with what is often referred to as a “bully disease,” I recognize that there are many levels of awareness. While we are all of breast cancer, inflammatory breast cancer, metaplastic breast cancer and metastatic breast cancer (to name a few), typically remain shrouded, and are not given the attention the severity of these diseases demand.

So, the ice water part is all in fun, but let’s pay careful attention to the heart of the matter: giving voice to patients and supporting an under-funded disease. If you don’t know what it’s like to live with ALS, please watch this video: 

Advertisements

Dear Ms. Robach

An open letter to Good Morning America News Anchor and breast cancer “survivor,” 

Ms. Amy Robach

 

Dear Ms. Robach,

What a journey you have had recently. From what I read in the press, save the persistent chemobrain, you are feeling well. Congratulations! I am quite familiar with the challenges of treatment and surgery, and getting back to everyday life. It looks like nothing can hold you back!

It ends up we have quite a bit in common.

  • Like you, I was diagnosed young and on my first mammogram, when I was 35 years old.
  • Like you, I opted for bilateral mastectomy in hopes that my lobular disease might not occur in the healthy breast also. (You know, of course, that bilateral disease is most common in lobular breast cancer, which is what I have.)
  • Like you I underwent chemotherapy and tamoxifen (5 years was the standard back then).
  • Like you, chemobrain persists.

It seems we have some differences as well. More

When Faith Falters

faithFor as long as I can remember my primary identity has been grounded in Jewish community. From summer camp to youth group, that is where I first felt I belonged. So much so that I went on to minor in Judaic Studies in college and focus on Jewish Communal Service in graduate school. Most of my 25-year career has been spent serving the Jewish people, and I have always felt lucky for the chance.

While Jewish peoplehood and Jewish faith are not the same things, I’ve generally taken my faith for granted. I work in a synagogue, after all.

When I was first diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer I felt the warm embrace of both the Jewish people and the Jewish faith. My community could not have possibly been more supportive and I never bothered to think through the distinctions. My connection to them was synonymous with my connection to God. I was grateful for the many prayer groups across the county who held me close, to the strangers who would never know more than my name, but petitioned God on my behalf anyway. And our faith seemingly prevailed. Despite the unpleasantness of chemo and a long, long surgical recovery, I was “cured” and able to leave breast cancer behind me, stronger for the experience.

Today, as a metastatic patient from whom mortality cannot be hidden, I’m less sure. My faith’s teachings are admittedly vague on the subject on afterlife, favoring a focus on what we can and must do in this life over speculation about the next one. We have this time, it seems to say – make the most of it. Enjoy it, but do good things, too. Not because you’ll get credit for it later, but because it’s the right way to be. So after all these years of serving the Jewish community, of trying to do good things, what’s left? I understand I may not die of breast cancer, but I will unquestionably die with it. And as each treatment fails me, my faith is a bit more compromised.

Are God and heaven and hell just human constructs designed to make us feel better, safer, about the mystery that is dying? Are they real in the absence of evidence, in the same way that we can’t see or capture the wind? Or perhaps they exist only for those who have faith. I don’t believe my faith will heal me, as much as I wish it could. Wonderful, saintly people have died of illness, and evil people have lived long and prospered. It’s impossible for me to believe in an interventionist God in a world like that.

Ultimately I believe, with rare exceptions that range from Hitler to the Dalai Lama (yeah, don’t see those two in the same category very often, do you?), that we mostly try to be good, and we succeed and we fail and we go on. I have friends, mostly Christian, who urge me to have faith. I understand why – from their perspective faith is the key to heaven. From mine, if there is one, it is good deeds. And I guess I believe that actions do speak louder than words…

But it begs the question of faith. As the lives of some many fellow bloggers and twitter friends are prematurely stolen from us, as my own health falters, do I have faith?

I remember when my mother in law was diagnosed with mesothelioma. In the months before she died we would have long conversations of faith. She had, once, believed in life after death, and had a notion of it being good. As her death approached however, just when she probably needed it most, her faith was gone, or at least well masked. She came to believe in nothing. I’ve always hoped in her final days, when she no longer had the strength to talk on the phone, that she found what she needed.

Which has me wondering what I need. Would this path be easier if I were a true, unquestioning believer? Would I find comfort in “knowing” what to expect after I die? Perhaps, if I could ever really move from thinking to knowing, a move the skeptic in me is likely to never make. In the end, it always takes me back to the very beginning. Within hours of being diagnosed the first time my anger at what this would mean for my loved ones burst forth. Never mind me, I’ve done bad things in my life. We all have. But to make my loved ones suffer for my actions, the unanswerable question always remained: what could Zach, at the tender age of three, have done to deserve this. That, in the end, confounds my faith; I have not found a way to put my trust in an unjust God.

I figure I have lots of time yet to work this one out…

OUTRAGE!

Image

In 2012 METAvivor launched it’s “Elephant in the Pink Room” campaign to highlight that despite pervasive awareness of breast cancer thanks to both legitimate awareness campaigns and “Pinktober” marketing, what we still try to ignore is the reality of getting, living with and dying from metastatic breast cancer.

This morning I discovered that the campaign was essentially stolen by Kohl’s Department Stores to “fundraise” for Susan G. Komen and I am truly outraged! (Find the Kohl’s Cares campaign here.) First and foremost, it is disgusting that Kohl’s would impinge on a small non-profit organization’s pre-existing campaign in such a blatant and unethical manner, and do so to sell more products (like their “pink elephant” necklace) and direct “charitable” dollars to another, behemoth of an organization.

More

#BCNext

We are constantly confronted by “breast cancer marketing,” the barrage of pink, from funding free mammograms and research, to supporting individuals with cancer, some of whom can’t even afford child care and transportation to treatment. We range from those with strong family histories, whether BRCA positive or not, to those enduring treatment, to long-time survivors with metastatic breast cancer, to those we have loved and lost. We are each the face of breast cancer.

In America, and I presume elsewhere, there is a great divide between those of us on the ground, living with and dying from cancer – and the other side of breast cancer, those who make funding decisions and allocations of both donated and allocated dollars, private, public and NGO.

If you could have their ear for a moment, if you could tell them what YOU think, what YOU see, what YOUR breast cancer priority is? What if your voice, combined with others like you, like me, could help influence our future?

Comment below or tweet to #BCNext to join the dialogue and spread the word! Let your voice ring out!

Beating a Dead Horse

For most of us the days of being told how to live our cancer journey fell away when our treatments were over. Gone are the frustrating moments when well-meaning friends and strangers at Starbucks offer remedies, alternative therapies, and all manner of unsolicited advice.

But when you have mets, those opportunities keep on giving, until – well, until the treatment ends, and we all know when that is. Never.

So you can imagine my frustration by the wave of Good Samaritans, breast cancer survivors all, who seem to think that because they once had early stage breast cancer they are in a position to advise me about mine.

More

LIVESTRONG

I mentioned in my last post that there are two things I find particularly upsetting about the Lance Armstrong affair. The first is what it means for my son to have deal with a  fallen hero. The other has to do with LIVESTRONG, an ironic name for an organization founded by a man who, in the end, lived weak.

Eight years ago my mother-in-law died of mesothelioma. She was buried with a LIVESTRONG bracelet. LIVESTRONG has been a favored charity of ours as well. Neither she nor I ever benefited directly from their services, but we believed in the work of the organization.

I do not personally believe that Armstrong’s actions reflect on the organization he founded, most especially since he has put distance between the two, presumably in hopes that his good works can overcome his exceedingly poor judgement. I believe we can only condem LIVESTRONG based on its own actions, even as I believe it would be wise for LIVESTRONG to continue to grow the distance between itself and Armstrong.

Here’s my issue: I, along with many others in the breast cancer blogosphere, have called a number of cancer non-profits to task. Komen, NBCC and others have been reviewed critically. As they should be.

But it occurs to me that I’ve not heard much in that regard when it comes to LIVESTRONG, which begs the question: has LIVESTRONG been exempt from scrutiny because of their affiliation with an American hero?

I honestly don’t know, but I speculate that all the “feel good” around both the man and the organization may have clouded our vision. That’s not to say LIVESTRONG‘s reputation is unworthy, or that it is anything short of the wonderful organization it purports to be. Only that a close look is in order. If they are clear in their mission, true in their leadership and  appropriate in their spending, I imagine a careful look would serve them well.

NaBloPoMo 2: A New Low in Pink

I know, it’s supposed to be over. But anyone living with, or loving someone with, breast cancer knows it’s never over. Pink-tober may be more offensive than the other 11 months of the year, but breast cancer is always around, whether it’s front and center, or lurking in the dark.

November is always a relief for me. I am happy to hand the pink spotlight over to the Movember crowd and just crawl into a hole for a while. But on the VERY last day of October, THIS was brought to my attention. (You have to see it to believe it!) Pink Lemonade Spot

More

%d bloggers like this: