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Friday, October 4, 2013

Doing the unthinkable: questioning Breast Cancer "Awareness" Month

Right now, as I type this, a college friend is going through what we can only guess are the final throes of brain cancer. It has been a horrible downward spiral to watch, dragged out over the course of several years, that - like most cancers seem to - started out as a battle initially won and then proved to be much, much worse.

Why is that? Have you ever noticed that "survivors" often end up getting cancer a second time, this time much more aggressive than the first? I am so sick of "pink ribbons" I could scream: namely because it seems few people really understand the truth behind them, or the often subversive, misleading marketing behind it. But how dare you ask? How dare you question it?

It's a reality that many of us probably think about, dread, pray will never come knocking at our door. It seems every time you turn around, someone you know or a friend of a friend has it. And it also seems that while advancements have been made, the medical community knows just as little about it as they always have.

Years ago when I was writing for a newspaper, I interviewed a top cancer surgeon at a nationally esteemed cancer facility. He told me that around the turn of the century, there was little they could do for cancer patients, and death from it was often brutal. You were basically just left to die, he said.

I was thinking today of my friend and wondered, if in some ways, that's not still true. Treatment options might work - or at least appear to - and then wham, a recurrence hits you like a ten ton truck several years later. This seems especially true with breast cancer, everyone's favorite 'pet project.'

And I just realized - it's October! Hey, Breast Cancer "awareness" month. Yeah, you're aware of it. But do you really know anything about it? What your risk factors are? How much money is poured into research that is inconclusive, misguided or redundant? The financial toll is one thing; the human toll is unspeakable.

Take a moment to consider:

• A company can merely slap a pink ribbon on a product that makes you think they're "doing something" for cancer research, when in fact they may not be donating anything at all
Products that contain known carcinogens (like personal care products) are often touting that cancer awareness ribbon

The documentary "Pink Ribbons" alludes to the fact that many studies are irrelevant and seemingly poorly organized. In one such study, a commenter responds that while an effort was made to do studies on breast cancer among black women, all the subjects were white. (Seriously?!) How is that making the best use of the millions of dollars funneled into "research" every year? If that's the best they can do, should we be more inclined to just hope for the best and take our chances?

Sometimes the treatment sounds scarier than the disease itself, and yet even if you're questioning traditional medicine at this point you're almost too scared not to seek it, even if it won't be successful. The last I knew, our friend has been reluctant to admit this might be the end, and I'm not sure who is worse - her tenacious (but completely understandable) struggle for survival or the doctors who keep pumping her full of this that and the other, doing surgery after surgery, instead of just addressing the truth head on. The same thing happened with another friend of ours who succumbed to brain cancer nearly 18 months ago. Literally days before he died, there was a medication switch, as if in some last-ditch effort to save him from one of the deadliest brain cancers there is. Why? To practice on him like some kind of guinea pig?

We've been so hopelessly exposed to chemicals in food, pesticides, plastics and who knows what else that of course, there's no surefire paper trail of where it comes from so all we can say for now is "Who knows?" and move on. It doesn't explain why some people get sick and some don't. I personally think the effects are cumulative, no doubt starting with our parents, grandparents, maybe even great-grandparents. Slowly, generationally, we are a nation of sick people - with everything from ADD to cancer, obesity, hypothyroidism, diabetes and a host of other things that seem to crop up in larger and larger numbers. When a company can produce products that cause cancer and then fund cancer research, it should make you seriously question where priorities lie, both in ourselves and in the industry that fuels this paradox. And why won't they tell you when they've got too many fingers in one pie, or conflicted interests that show you your health is really not their top priority?

Our age of quick fixes and 'feel as little pain as possible' living has far removed us from the idea that, really, there are no guarantees in life.

More reading:
Flawed research appalls cancer patient
Medical research studies: Are too many using flawed designs?
Conflicts of interest often under-reported in clinical trials
Clinical trials flawed by biased reporting


Stevie Rae said...

Finally, someone who gets it! Why should the CEO of the Susan Komen foundation be a millionaire?! Thank you for this post. I apologize in advance for the shitstorm people are going to send your way. You are educated and wonderful. Thank you.

The Deranged Housewife said...

Aww, thanks for the compliment. :) I have done similar posts in the past - you can come at it from so many different angles, really. :/ In the documentary I mentioned, author Barbara Ehrenreich (herself a cancer survivor) makes the point that if you do anything less than cheer people on as if they WILL survive, you're considered a monster, practically. Even though there are types of breast cancer that have far less optimistic outlooks. They make it sound like *everyone* has a 100 percent chance of survival (they even say that) if it's caught early enough. Ugh.

Trbobitch said...

YES YES YES! Here, stick your boob in this radiation machine every year so we can catch the cancer it causes as soon as it happens and stick you on some carcinogenic drugs to "treat" it. If you live for another 5 years, we will brand you a "survivor" even if you get a nastier form of cancer from all of our "treatments". Disgusting.

G. Edward Griffin - A World Without Cancer

Dr. Burzynski

Intravenous B17


The Deranged Housewife said...

Funny that you mention Dr. Burzynski - our friend with brain cancer was scheduled to meet with him but was not able to because of some FDA clinical trials garbage, and while she was there had a serious relapse and ended up in the hospital for some time. She's been in and out since then, which has been several months, at least. :/ Her husband told us about the Netflix documentary on him and we started watching it, but I just couldn't. It was so depressing. It's such a gamble, and really - it's your life! If you want to forego treatment, or do something different, it should be your choice to make. They can't prove he's anymore successful or a failure than the standard failure rates for traditional treatment, which are strangely hard to come by, it seems. It's all dependent on a number of factors, but no one really wants to address it!