October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. I did my part by getting a colonoscopy.
Whaaat? That’s for colon cancer, right?
Right. And that is my point. There are other types of cancers that are more deadly than breast cancer. Yet the American Cancer Society (ACS) deems breast cancer as the body part most worthy of an entire month. In fact, it is the only type of cancer that gets 31 days for promotion and fundraising, specifically sponsored by the ACS. See their link here.
I became acutely aware of this apparent bias a couple of years ago when shuttling a friend to her radiation treatment appointment. Although my friend’s lung cancer appeared to be in remission, a tumor had been discovered in her brain. She was unable to drive herself to the appointment so I took her in my car and assisted her into the waiting area.
I had been through this scenario before with family, so I was prepared for the usual routine of waiting in semi-comfortable chairs. What I wasn’t prepared for was the décor: Numerous displays of headless mannequins wearing brightly decorated bras that were used as fundraising items to support the fight against breast cancer. On one table I noticed a painted, plaster-of-Paris type piece of art: Another colorful bra that, I suppose was meant to encourage those with breast cancer.
But my friend wasn’t there for breast cancer.
I kept my emotions in check as I approached the woman at the check-in counter. My friend with the brain tumor had already been led away to the radiation chamber and I used this opportunity to ask a few questions of the receptionist. Mainly, I wanted to know if ALL kinds of cancer were treated at this large cancer center.
“Oh, yes,” she said in a friendly yet professional manner. I then asked about the “bra” décor that covered every nook and cranny. Yes, these were for the breast cancer fundraiser. She looked quite pleased.
“But,” I calmly but earnestly asked her, “does this not make it seem like the ONLY cancer you treat here is breast cancer? Would this perhaps make others—victims of prostate, colon, brain cancer—feel like theirs was not as important?”
Pointing to a small plastic holder with 8 x 11 size papers in it, she assured me that there were groups that met to support each kind of cancer group. She seemed satisfied…but I was not.
“But my friend is here for brain cancer.” She basically brushed off my concerns.
And no wonder. Because in the last ten years, aside from an annual card in the mail to say the American Cancer Society was doing a fundraiser, the only obvious efforts to raise money to fight malignancies that I have seen are for cancer of the breast.
Most of us can name at least one (probably more) organizations that specifically gears its efforts to raise money for and, awareness of, breast cancer. There are Facebook groups, community businesses efforts, and athletic events all geared towards fighting this particular form of malignancy.
As a woman, I am grateful that so many are concerned about that particular part of my anatomy. As a daughter who has lost her father to colon cancer, as a niece who has lost a beloved uncle to lung cancer, and—most painful of all—as a mother who has lost a daughter to brain cancer, I am frankly sick of this focus on the mammary glands.
This nation is breast-obsessed.
Let me share a few statistics, courtesy of the National Cancer Institute. They have estimates for the numbers of cases of each type of cancer expected to have occurred in 2014, along with the numbers of deaths that are expected. I have also listed the survival rate after 5 years:
Diagnosed cases Deaths expected 5-Year Survival
Breast 232,670 40,000 89.2%
Colon and Rectal 136,830 50,310 64.7%
Lungs and Bronchi 224,210 159,260 16.8%
If you noticed the alarmingly high numbers of cases and subsequent deaths from lung cancer, don’t assume it’s because all the victims smoked. Although most cases of this disease are due to smoking, it is often second-hand smoke that leads to lung cancer. Asbestos as well. There is a test for finding early stage lung cancer, called a low-dose spiral CT scan. I’m sure it’s expensive. But then again, so are mammograms.
Colon cancer has more fatalities percentage wise compared to breast cancer yet it is one of the most preventable cancers when colonoscopies are utilized. These are quite expensive. So are mammograms.
Do I think that funds raised for research and support for breast cancer are a bad thing? Heavens, no. My mom had breast cancer (and survived it) and I’ve had friends with the same. I am grateful for the screenings and the drugs.
But in this month of October—the same month during which I saw my daughter die of brain cancer eleven years ago, and my father die of colon cancer 25 years ago—I say, let’s support ALL cancer research.
Cancer is an equal-opportunity attacker. It doesn’t care where in the body the alien cells begin to grow and take over—so why should we?
I guess some cancers are just not sexy enough to promote. But in truth, there is NOTHING sexy about cancer.