Tag Archives: breast cancer

All Quiet On The Western Front . . .

31 Jan

Haven’t had much to say lately. There have been a lot of reasons for that . . . being busy with work, being in pain (which I think is probably . . . and hopefully . . . because of an increase in work hours and just simply the fact that I am doing more and more).

Tomorrow I have a breast MRI . . . a bit odd, since I no longer have breasts. But, I do still have some breast tissue (after having reconstructive surgery) and since I have had pains in my chest my oncologist wants me to have the MRI. I have some other tests, that I am not so worried about. So tomorrow will be a medical day (used to have so many of those). I hope that tomorrow’s results will be good.

This is a picture from one of the last road trips I took before the cancer roller coaster began. It is time for a weekend get away . . . soon.

I will be going to the hospital where I had my first breast MRI almost three years ago now. It was the day that I found out that the cancer in my right breast had unfortunately spread to my lymph nodes and was invasive. It was a tough day. It was the kind of day that so many women (and men) have experienced and continue to experience.

My Aunt Ann died of breast cancer in 1994. And, to this day, there is still no cure and very little change in the survival rates. Some make it, some don’t. Some get it some don’t. Some get it a second and third time, some don’t. Not a lot has changed. And anyone who has read my blog, knows all about how I feel about Susan G. Komen’s “Race” (sic) “for the cure” (sic).

Still, Herceptin became available since my Aunt’s passing. I am lucky. I am still here because of the availability of that drug.

And when I think back to almost three years ago, going in for my first breast MRI (back when I had breasts, breasts that were apparently trying to kill me) I already knew that I had breast cancer. I already knew that I had “the bad kind”. I already knew that despite the fact that I felt no lump, and that my doctor’s felt no lump, the cancer consumed most of my right breast. How could that be?

I had dense breast tissue. And, I had a fast growing, aggressive form of breast cancer. On the initial mammogram that detected it, it was like a spider web like appearance, something that was ultimately called “multi-focal” breast cancer (meaning multiple locations and diffuse). From my understanding of it, that is part of why I did not feel anything and why my doctors did not feel anything abnormal.

That is something that still floors me . . . that I never felt a lump, that my doctor’s never felt a lump.

Women need to know whether they have what is called “dense breast tissue”. We need to know this because it a) increases a women’s risk of getting breast cancer and b) it makes detection harder . . . which can mean a later diagnosis.

I also want women to know that there are other signs of breast cancer than simply feeling a lump. I had breast cancer for some time before it was detected. We know this because, looking back, there were symptoms.

What I did feel was exhaustion. I was tired. My body was, after all waging a war, fighting. I also had night sweats. And when I say night sweats, I mean waking up completely soaked, drenched kind of night sweats.

I brought these concerns to my primary care physician and he told me that I was probably going into early menopause. I didn’t really trust this, in my gut, I thought it had to be something else. Still, not in my wildest dreams did I think it was breast cancer. But, about six months later, in a mammogram, I found out the real reason why I was so tired and having night sweats.

I say this here because I want everyone to know what my primary care physician did not know: that night sweats and exhaustion can be signs of breast cancer. My doctor dismissed these symptoms as being attributable to “hormonal changes”. I had Estrogen and Progesterone responsive breast cancer. So there definitely was something hormonal going on. But, my doctor never looked into any other possibility. My oncologist tells me that these were very common signs of estrogen responsive breast cancer.

We trust our doctors, or at least we want to. I knew in my gut that my doctor’s explanation of my night sweats and being tired was wrong. In fact, he told me to take supplements that would have actually increased the estrogen in my body (thinking that my symptoms were from a drop in estrogen). I would imagine a simple blood test could detect hormone levels . . . at least I would think. But, none of that was done. I didn’t take those supplements (fortunately – because increasing estrogen levels would only have fed the cancer I already had at that time). But, I also did not trust my gut enough to seek out another doctor. And I didn’t know I had dense breast tissue, and I didn’t know that night sweats could be a sign of breast cancer. And, unfortunately, my doctor did not know either. (By the way, I have a new primary care physician).

I have spoken to so many women lately who have either put off having a mammogram (have never had one yet and they are years past 40) or that they just haven’t had one in a few years. And, in further talking with these women, not a single one knew whether they had dense breast tissue.

There is legislation being contemplated to make it a requirement that patients are informed as to whether they have dense breast tissue. This would go a long way to better detection, earlier detection and hopefully prevention (if a person knew that they had dense breast tissue, then perhaps extra precautions could be taken to help prevent breast cancer. And, it would be a basis for patients getting better imaging – a breast MRI, for example, rather than relying on a mammogram that may not detect cancer in a patient with dense breast tissue until it has spread farther, become bigger, become more visible).

So, get a mammogram and when you do, ask the radiologist whether you have dense breast tissue or not. And be aware of your body, trust your instincts and if you think your doctor’s explanation of something is not right, then go see another doctor.

Well, it is now already tomorrow (this post has taken me into the next day). So I am hours from spending a chunk of my day back where all of this started. Hopefully all news will be good.

I appreciate your prayers and/or positive thoughts coming my way.

Love and peace,

Lisa

When Pigs Fly: More Thoughts on Komen . . .

24 Jan

This year I could not have been more grateful for the month of October (aka: Pinktober) to end. Next year, my plan for getting through Pinktober (and SGK’s pink peddling and pushing) is to simply do all of my grocery shopping online and at local farmer’s markets. I want to limit my exposure to the sea of pink. And, I don’t want to be asked again at a grocery store checkout stand if I want to donate to Susan G. Komen “Race for the Cure” [sic] (And by the way, I mean “SIC” as a double entendre).

Just one of the many pink products sold all year long: a Komen Pig Note Pad. But, take a closer look below . . .

When you’ve had breast cancer you have a whole different insight into the world of pink ribbons, pink products, 5ks and three day walks and so on that are all supposed to raise money for a cure and to help women (and men) with breast cancer. I used to think that SGK was using their money to benefit women with breast cancer and to help find a cure. But, I learned quickly, the hard way, that SGK will not be there for you if you need their help. See my earlier post on how SGK abandons breast cancer patients and leaves us in the cold. (I personally called SGK’s advertised phone number that breast cancer patients are invited to call for financial help over 100 times) and not once did I ever reach a live person, not even a voice mail where I could leave a message – in my opinion – what they did – what they did NOT do – while claiming that they would do something – was fraud).

I know many people who love the pink ribbons and love the Susan G. Komen Foundation and their pink rose ceremonies and pink balloons and 5k walks and  – sadly – they think that buying pink will help eliminate breast cancer . . . one day. They think that buying pink will somehow help someone like me.

So why am I talking about this in January now? I was out picking up some office supplies at my local Staples store and did a double take when I saw all of the Christmas displays and seasonal products for the holidays replaced with pink, pink, pink. Seriously? Is it necessary for this to be a 12 month thing now?

I decided to take a stroll throughout the store and take in all of the pink, just curious about whose name is on it and where this pink-breast-cancer-curing-money is really going. Nearly every product I saw at Staples that was pinked was done so in the name of the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Not much of a surprise really.

Maybe when pigs fly we'll have a cure . . . until then, by all means, let's keep "benefitting" SGK!

But, here is what really surprised me . . . they don’t even claim any more to be giving the money to “the cure”. Instead this is what the Susan G. Komen pinked products I found now say: “benefitting” The Susan G. Komen Foundation . . . at least they are being honest about it now . . . where the money from your purchase goes . . . “to benefit The Susan G. Komen Foudation”.

It certainly did not go to benefit me or anyone I know who has had, survived or died of breast cancer. I love this complete lack of accountability (not). I guess it is just par for the course. The sad thing is that people buy this stuff thinking, believing that it will actually lead to a cure . . . yeah, maybe when pigs fly . . .

Santa Monica . . .

19 Dec

Hello all,

I want to thank everyone for their support, kind words, messages, prayers, positive vibes and love.

I saw my oncologist today. It was a quick appointment. I had hoped that I could see the nurse so that I would get more of a physical exam done (the nurse does a more extensive physical exam and I was hoping she would do that and give me some reason to allay my fears a bit, as in, well, I don’t feel anything suspicious). But, I knew that my oncologist would order a breast MRI. It is the only way to tell if there is something going on there. So, my appointment pretty much went as expected.

Menopause Three

Seriously? "Menopause, the Musical"??? (Image by David Jackmanson via Flickr)

I was also chastised for not petitioning my insurance company’s denial of the genetic testing (to determine if I have the Braca gene or not). I will get on that tomorrow. It is so stupid that my insurance company denied it when both my oncologist and the genetic counselor requested it. There is no basis really for my insurance company to deny it. But, they did. Anyway, it is nothing new, battling with insurance companies. But, it is something I decided to take a break from doing (since at one time it was pretty much a full time job – back during chemo – it was a constant battle to get meds approved – the same meds each chemo round would get denied . . . as if I was no longer in need of the medication . . . very odd). I would love to some day make a change in that, I don’t know how someone who is elderly or sicker than I was copes with all of that during treatment. But, I digress.

I need to get off my butt and file the petition and make my insurance company do what they are getting paid handsomely to do.

The other concern my oncologist has is that I am still ovulating (or at least that is what she thinks given I still have pretty regular menstrual cycles despite all the chemo, despite taking Tamoxifen) . . . I know, aren’t you all thrilled to hear that?!! TMI, right?!!

The point is that I am still pre-menopausal, still producing estrogen (the hormone that the cancer I had loves) so that is a concern. Tamoxifen often causes menstrual cycles to stop (as does chemotherapy). When a woman goes into menopause from chemotherapy it is called “chemical menopause”. Some women never come out of that chemical menopause. I had that during chemo. But, as soon as I finished chemo, my ovaries kicked right back in. At the time I thought that was a good thing, thought it was a sign of my body being resilient. And now that I have been on Tamoxifen, but, am still having menstrual cycles well, it is not something my oncologist is very happy about I guess.

I am not really certain about that actually. Except that she keeps asking me “are your ovaries still kicking?” (which kind of bothers me a little bit, sort of, okay, maybe I am being ultra sensitive . . . I LOVE my oncologist, she is so great and I owe her so much, I really believe that I owe her my life. BUT, this whole, why-aren’t-I-in-menopause-yet thing is really getting kind of annoying.

Her concern is well placed . . . the more estrogen the worse my chances of a recurrence since the cancer I had was fueled by estrogen (and by HER2 gene expression – if I am even saying that right, don’t know that I am, so don’t hold me to it, I am too tired to look it up). Premenopausal women with estrogen responsive breast cancers do not get as much of a benefit from Tamoxifen (Tamoxifen is more successful in post-menopausal women as are the alternatives – aromatase inhibitors). Still, Tamoxifen is shown to help reduce the risk of recurrence in pre-menopausal women too, it just isn’t quite as effective.

Anyway, I am rambling. I’m thinking I should wrap this up.

Okay, so the upshot of my appointment was exactly what I expected: get an MRI. Hopefully it will show that everything is fine. The pain I am having can be due to surgeries and the redness can be from the radiation I had to that area (skin changes can occur for many years to the areas that have been radiated). Anyway, that is the latest.

It is unlikely that I will be able to get the MRI before the end of the year . . . which is just fine with me.

So, now it is back to planning Christmas dinner . . . going to repeat the Tapas Christmas dinner I did last year (although different dishes).

No turkey here . . . unless I decide to go for turkey empanadas . . .

I am so over cooking Turkeys, Hams or Crown Roasts . . . don’t think I will ever do that again. We had so much fun last year doing the Tapas dinner that we decided it should be a new Christmas family tradition. So there we are. I plan on thoroughly enjoying the holiday and putting all of this cancer crap out of my mind.

This morning I visited a friend of mine who had breast cancer surgery today. This is her second time through breast cancer and it will hopefully be her last. She is strong and beautiful and courageous and I am grateful to know her.

I don't know anyone who can rock a surgical hat like this woman 🙂

I will go see her tomorrow (her surgery was today). I am hoping and praying that the pathology report is good. Some women have what is called a “complete response” to Herceptin and chemo treatments prior to their surgery (meaning that when they get to surgery there is no more active cancer left). I am hoping and praying that she gets good news.

Please keep me and my friends (who are still waiting on results) and my friend who is currently having surgery for breast cancer in your prayers. This cancer stuff seems like an epidemic some times.

Well, all is well for now. I am sitting in a cafe in Santa Monica waiting for the traffic to improve before I make my way back home. I have to say the people watching here is great!

Third Street Promenade . . . one of the things I enjoy about my oncology appointments . . .

Thank you for your continued prayers and support.

I wish you all a wonderful holiday, peace and health!

Love,

Lisa

Birthdays . . .

30 Nov

Yesterday was my birthday. I had lots of things swirling through my head yesterday. Birthdays are kind of weird for me now. Mostly I am just grateful to have had yet another birthday and extremely grateful to have one that is cancerfree.

This same time in 2008 I was sick, but, didn’t know it yet. Well, that isn’t quite true. I knew something was wrong. I just didn’t know that it was cancer. I was tired all of the time. My body ached. I had intense night sweats. I was told by my doctor that these symptoms probably meant that I was going into early menopause. It never occurred to me or to my doctor that it was in fact breast cancer. But, a few months later I would have a mammogram come back with something suspicious and then everything suddenly made sense – I instantly knew why I was so incredibly tired all of the time.

Marahon shoes

Fast forward through a couple of years (wish I could have . . . ha, ha, ha) of cancer treatment and multiple surgeries (months of chemo, followed by a bi-lateral mastectomy, followed by multiple hospitalizations for post-surgery infections, 6 weeks of radiation, a year of Herceptin infusions, months of daily nurse visits to administer IV antibiotics for the post surgery infections, two reconstructive surgeries – still one more of those to go – lots of trips to the ER and probably a few other things I can’t remember) and here I am . . . on the other side of it all. Or so it seems.

So, this is a birthday that I did not know if I would have. Of course we never know what tomorrow will bring. But, having clawed away through most of that first year post diagnosis to be here, it is really quite something to still be here.

Last year on my birthday I was recovering from surgery. The preceding birthday I was going through radiation treatment (had finished chemo and made it through the first surgery a few months earlier) but, still had two more surgeries and half a year of Herceptin infusions ahead. When I look back on the last two birthdays it is amazing to me that I am as well now as I am.

I don’t know how many more I will have, no one knows how many birthdays they will have. But, it is really something to be here in this way today. Last year was tough, the year before was kind of almost not really bearable. In fact, I remember wondering if I would have another Thanksgiving, another Christmas . . . you get my drift.

Since being diagnosed in 2009 I have met and become friends with many cancer patients. I have lost friends to the same disease that I have, at least for now, somehow managed to survive. It doesn’t make any sense. And, I am well aware of the fact that it could come back any day and simply strike me down. That is cancer: it comes, and it it always goes . . . it is just a matter of whether it takes you with it or not (and I mean that both literally and figuratively).

Last February I stood and watched a friend of mine cross the finish line of a half marathon. I remember how difficult it was for me (not even one year ago today) to simply stand there for 20 minutes waiting to see my friend cross the finish line. I was still so tired and weak. I remember hanging onto a chain link fence for support and wondering if I would make it through (kind of the way cancer treatment and recovery is like . . . hanging on and wondering if you will make it through). I promised myself last year that I would be crossing that same finish line myself some day.

So tomorrow I am buying a new pair of running shoes (compliments of my parents – their birthday present to me). I have ten weeks to get myself, and my new shoes, ready for a half marathon. I fully expect to walk a significant part (if not all) of this “run” but, I don’t care. I just want to get through the 13.1 miles and cross that finish line. Wish me luck 🙂

I am very thankful for this birthday. And, I am so incredibly thankful for my family and friends – without whom I would surely not be here in the way that I am.

Love and peace,

Lisa

 

Komen: Please Leave Me Alone

31 Oct

Today I was yet again, hit up for money by the Susan G. Komen Foundation for the Cure. This is what they had to say: “take advantage of these last few hours to show that YOU care and want to a make difference in our community” and “let’s use these last few hours to save as many lives as possible”

Here is my response to them.

Dear Susan G. Komen Foundation for the Cure:

I am a breast cancer survivor.

I was diagnosed in March of 2009. My Aunt died of breast cancer in 1994. At the time of my Aunt’s diagnosis I was in law school and Nancy Brinker came and spoke to the women’s law association at my law school. She was there to promote her foundation in her sister’s honor and to urge us all to get mammograms at age 40 and to do self breast exams. At the time I met Ms. Brinker, I could not help but wonder why it was that my Aunt, who was at that time suffering through chemo (and doing so simply to extend her life long enough to see her first grandchild born) had never had any contact with the Susan G. Komen Foundation for THE CURE. I listened to Nancy speak about her sister and about her pledge to “end breast cancer forever”. And, like many, I believed that she meant well. But, no one from her foundation every helped my Aunt. Still, I thought, well, maybe they are so busy “racing for a cure” that they do not have time or resources to help a dying woman . . . my aunt, suffering through chemo, no cure could come in time for her . . . and, after all, that is what Nancy’s foundation was racing towards . . . a cure.

So my family cared for my Aunt until she died. Her children, her sisters, her husband, friends all showed up. But, nothing from the Komen Foundation. But, then, that wasn’t their job, was it? No, they were busy racing for a cure.

So, after my Aunt succumbed to breast cancer (after she spent her last days unable to handle medical costs or afford basic comforts) I ran in Susan G. Komen’s Orange County Race for the Cure in her honor. I truly believed that my doing so would somehow make a difference. After all, Nancy’s goal was to “end breast cancer forever” and I was certainly behind that.

Fast forward to March of 2009 and through a routine mammogram I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer.

I again showed up to your Orange County Race for the Cure. I was going through treatment, going through surgeries, battling infections, battling my insurance company, trying to survive without an income . . . I sought help from your organization. I sought help from you because you claimed – on your very own website – to provide financial assistance to women going through treatment. I desperately needed your help.

I called day after day after day the number that was provided on your website to apply for financial assistance. I called multiple times a day over a period of months. Each time I called there was an outgoing message saying that “no one was available at this time, please call back later”. There was NO way to leave a message. I searched your website repeatedly looking for an email address or some way of contacting the person who handles the financial assistance that your organization claimed to provide. There was nothing, no email, no point of contact, no way to leave a voice mail message. Instead, just a teaser (and a bragging statement about how you help women with the costs of their treatment).

I finally called the Orange County chapter. I explained that the New York Chapter that is the ONLY chapter that apparently has the authority to provide financial assistance to women going through treatment, did not ever answer their phone. I was transferred (after multiple calls and complaints to the OC Chapter) finally, to the director of the Orange County Chapter. I explained to her that I had not been able to reach anyone for months, that no one answers the phone in New York, that there is no way to leave a voice mail message. The OC Director immediately said, and I quote: “Yes, I know, they don’t answer their phone. Have you tried calling the Salvation Army? They can help you with your utility bills. Have you tried calling the American Cancer Society? They can help you get information on clinical trials. Have you called the Lance Armstrong Foundation? They can help you get emotional support and match you up with a survivor who has had the same kind of cancer as you.”

I was so dismayed, disappointed, crushed, heartbroken, devastated.

Meanwhile, I was undergoing Herceptin treatments and radiation and recovering from surgeries. I was unable to work. I was broke. I was lead to believe – through Komen’s own web page – that if I was in financial need that some of the nearly 400 million dollars that was raised that year could be used to help me while I was in need.

I am not one to be looking for handouts. I raised money for Komen. I have raised money for other cancer organizations. I was under the mistaken belief (as was everyone I know, all of my friends) that Komen actually helped out women who were in my position.

Not true. At least, not in my experience. And, clearly, from the OC director’s response, it is typical that no one answers the phone in the New York office – THE chapter charged with the responsibility of helping cancer patients with their treatment costs, and financial assistance. No other chapter at that time had the ability to provide financial assistance. All requests had to go through their chapter. I am certain that I made over 100 calls to that chapter – calling the number that was listed on your site for financial assistance. After the 30th call or so, it simply became a game, a “let’s see how many times I can call and not get a live person and not be able to leave a message” game. It was unbelievable.

I have shared this story with many . . . many who in the past donated to your organization who now will no longer donate to your organization because like me, they feel your organization is a fraud.

I was mislead. My family and friends were urged to donate to your organization believing that you would donate most of their donation towards either research or paying for someone’s treatment. Neither of those are true.

You say you want to “end breast cancer forever” yet, you spend about 19% of the money that you TAKE from good hearted people towards research.

We are all very aware of breast cancer. If you still think creating awareness is a necessary goal, then make it clear that the money you raise is going to awareness. But, instead, you trademark the language “for the cure”. Instead, you state that your mission is to “end breast cancer forever”. How can that be when you only spend 19% on actual research.

How can you claim to be helping women with breast cancer when the phone number that you dangled out there on your website to call for financial assistance has no one, EVER, at the other end.

I have found out through my own personal experience how little you actually do towards racing “for a cure”. My cure, if I have one at all is in spite of you. My survival, if I survive, is in spite of you. My ability to survive financially, to navigate the difficult insurance and medical bill waters, is in spite of you.

I will spend every last day of my life (however long that will be – by the way, I expect it to survive a very long time) making everyone I know aware of what you have not done. I want to believe that your organization stemmed from a desire to make positive change, to help those in need and to work towards a cure for breast cancer. But, my experience – up close and personal – has told a different story. I have received no help from your organization. When I have actually spoken to a live person at Komen, they have referred me back to the American Cancer Society, to the Salvation Army, to social workers that my hospital “might have on staff who could help me find financial resources”.

So, while I expect nothing from you, I do have this one request: STOP, please STOP asking me to donate money to you. Please stop asking me, a breast cancer patient who you ignored, who you mislead, for money. Stop asking me to buy your nearly hundred dollar bracelet every year. Stop asking me to purchase your toxic chemical containing perfume. PLEASE, please, please, just leave me alone.

Pinktober Blues . . .

29 Oct
Cover of "Promise Me: How a Sister's Love...

So Nancy is calling this a "global movement" to "end breast cancer"? I don't think 19% to research is going to do it. I have no problem with money going to education or even to awareness, but, stop claiming you are "ending breast cancer", stop claiming you are "racing for a cure" because at your snail pace of 19% you are NOT.

This month has been rough in many ways. Partly it is because it is Pinktober. And partly it is because I just have not felt well. I have had a headache for 6 weeks now. That is nothing compared to what some of my friends have to endure. So, I feel weird even mentioning it. But, with those headaches I have the ever present fear of a recurrence. That is the lot for those of us who are lucky enough to be NED (no evidence of disease) . . . aches and pains take on a whole new possibility.

My headaches are getting under control a bit and I have actually had some breaks from it as well as just a lower intensity. So that is definitely an improvement.

I wonder though if my headaches are from Pinktober. I am serious. I really think it is . . . if not Pinktober, then Komen.

You see, it is difficult to be surrounded in a sea of pink, to be constantly asked if you want to make a donation “to breast cancer” whenever you are in a check out stand at a grocery store. It is difficult when you know that all of this pink hoopla results in very little of the purchase price going towards research, towards a cure. And, sometimes none of it goes to research, sometimes it simply goes to “awareness”. Well, that means it goes towards pink packaging.

I AM truly suffering from pink fatigue. I have been angry and depressed about it.

Please understand that if I thought any of this sea of pink would improve survival rates for breast cancer I would feel very differently about it. But, in all the years that Komen has been taking money in the name of “racing for a cure” the survival rates for breast cancer are largely unchanged. Those of us who are diagnosed with aggressive forms of breast cancer (even when detected early) do not have a great prognosis of long term survival. Overall survival rates are pretty much the same as twenty years ago. Early detection is NOT a cure.

So I am angry. I am angry that Komen, an organization whose mission is to “end breast cancer forever” only spends about 19% of the nearly 400 million they raise each year on research.

And, this year Komen has sunk to a new low with “Promise Me”, a perfume commissioned by Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Komen’s Promise Me contains chemicals not listed in the ingredients that are regulated as toxic and hazardous. But, because the FDA does not regulate perfume, there is no requirement to list these chemicals on the label. And, of the approximately $60 purchase price, only $1.31 goes to research . . . this after subjecting anyone who wears it to chemicals that are known to cause disease. Pretty sick, right?

So, when I stand in line at the grocery store and the clerk innocently asks me if I want to donate “for the cure” I literally feel queasy. For some reason I see myself lying on a table going through the surgery I had to remove both of my breasts . . . I actually picture that in my head. I donated those parts of my body for breast cancer, for survival, so that I could have the chance to still be here today. That is what I think about when I am asked to donate for “the cure”.

I am grateful to be alive. I am grateful for the RESEARCH that lead to Herceptin . . . without that drug I would surely be dead. I am so, incredibly grateful.

But, we can have more than Herceptin, we could have a cure. So, while I am grateful I am also very angry. Angry that an organization like Komen who raises the lion’s share of money in the name of a cure only donates 19% of that money to research.

I am angry that good people, with the best of intentions are taken advantage of, are lead to believe that they are really making a difference when they buy something that has a Komen ribbon on it.

I am angry.

I am sad that I have friends who will not survive cancer because we are wasting our time with pink hoopla instead of real money for real cures. And I fear that I too will succumb one day to this disease . . . that there will not be a cure in time.

Some of you know that I play standup bass and sing. I am in a small blues band. Tonight I was asked to fill in for a bass player in another band because that bass player’s mother passed away today . . . from cancer.

I immediately agreed to fill in. I’ve never sat in with this band before, but, hopefully I will be able to keep up with them.

I wonder if some day someone will be calling for a bass player to fill in for me . . .

Dear Susan G. Komen . . .

27 Sep

Breast Cancer Action has written a letter to Susan G. Komen requesting that SGK agree not to “pinkwash” and to recall their “Promise Me” perfume. Here, they ask you to join them I did. I hope you will too.

Here is what all the stink is about.

Susan G. Komen launched their “Promise Me” perfume (which shares the same name as Nancy Brinker’s latest book . . . talk about branding) in the name of breast cancer. “Promise Me” perfume sells for $59.00 with less than two dollars of the sale price going to breast cancer research.

Not So Sweet Smelling After All

But, here is where it really gets smelly:

After conducting an independent laboratory study, it was determined that “this perfume contains chemicals that are a) categorized as toxic and hazardous, b) have not been adequately evaluated for human safety, and c) have demonstrated negative health effects. Source: Breast Cancer Action.

Here are the chemicals that are of most concern that are contained in Komen’s “Promise Me” perfume:

  • Galaxolide, a synthetic musk that works as a hormone disruptor and is detected in blood, breast milk, and even newborns.*
  • Toluene, a potent neurotoxicant known widely as one of the toxic trio, has demonstrated a variety of negative health effects and is banned by the International Fragrance Association (IFRA).*

*Source: Breast Cancer Action

Breast Cancer Action coined the term “Pink Washing” to describe the pinkification of products that are actually known to increase the risk of breast cancer or are thought to be linked to an increase in breast cancer. Now it seems that Komen has produced their own pinkwashed product: their “Promise Me” perfume.

I have long thought that pink bottles of Mike’s Hard Lemonade and other alcoholic beverages that go pink for a cure to be hypocritcal at best. Alcohol consumption is known to increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer. But, when ever I have complained about these pink bottles, many take issue with why I would care where the money comes from . . . after all, isn’t it just a good thing to raise money for breast cancer research?

But, do people know how few of their dollars spent on these pinked products actually go to research? Probably not. And, you would think that a product commissioned by Komen would actually serve up more money “for the cure” . . . but, out of the $59.00 purchase price for “Promise Me” less than two dollars goes to research. (For more on where the money DOESN’T go see Cancer Culture Chronicles: “Komen By The Numbers: 2010 And Still No Answers” and Uneasy Pink’s: “Quick Math” and for some more of my own snarkiness: “Pinktober Comes Early”

Breast cancer action is taking Komen on. They have asked Komen to join them in a promise not to engage in pinkwashing and to recall their “Promise Me” perfume.

“We are genuinely shocked to see a breast cancer organization marketing a product containing multiple chemicals categorized as toxic or hazardous” (Breast Cancer Action)

I hope you will join Breast Cancer Action, go to their link and you can use their letter, in asking SGK to do better, to honor their promise. It only takes a moment to do.

Here is my letter . . .

Dear SGK:

I am disgusted with what I believe began with the best of intentions and has now become a giant pink money maker. I am NOT alone in my feelings. There is a movement, a group of women who are educated, strong and angry. We know you hear our voices, but, you have yet to respond. We are waiting, we will not let up.

We feel as though you are profiting over breast cancer. We feel that you really are not racing, or even slowly walking, towards a cure. I went to your OC race this past weekend and I saw the same thing that I have been inundated with ever since my diagnosis – you sell this idea that you are raising money to “CURE” breast cancer and yet you preach early detection as the solution instead. You have even trademarked the words so that no one else can use it and then waste valuable time and resources to sue anyone who uses your “for the cure” language. This makes it seem like you are more concerned about protecting profit motives than actually racing after a cure.

The reality is that even with early detection, women (and men) DIE of breast cancer. You wrap up poster women – take credit for their survival – all in a pink bow and sell this idea that it will all be okay if we just get screened early. Early detection is NOT a cure. Wake up. We have and we are NOT going away.

Facebook is credited to helping Egyptians take to the streets and to revolt.

There is an online movement, a revolution of sorts. I am one of many who are spreading the word. We are all already aware of breast cancer. The NEW AWARENESS that we need is how little money goes to actual research. (I hear that only 19% of the $389 million dollars that Komen raised in 2010 went to research). 19% is NOT enough!

Stop pinkwashing. Promise me this: stop knowingly contributing to the proliferation of products that not only increase the risk of breast cancer, but, also increase the risk of all cancers. We know you can do better. I, personally, will not rest until you do.

Pinktober comes early . . . ugh

13 Sep

This past weekend while I was reading the paper I decided to take a look through the Sunday paper’s coupons. (By the way, there is almost never anything that isn’t processed, full of chemicals or full of high fructose corn syrup in the coupon items).

Anyway, to my delight (NOT) I found this (see below) the first of the Pinktober ads that we will soon be inundated with, everywhere, during breast cancer awareness month or what used to be known as OCTOBER.

I already feel more hopeful . . .

Wee! Apparently, just like Christmas, retailers make sure it starts earlier and earlier each year. So now Pinktober – the month of breast cancer “awareness” hell – apparently begins a month early. Why should I be surprised. Costco is already selling Christmas items. And why not let them get a leg up on Pinktober? After all, they are curing cancer right? Oh, wait, I meant to say they are “re-branding” . . . isn’t that what Susan G. Komen calls it when they solicit corporations to pay to be pink?

We have all seen it: Pink buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken, pink Hamburger Helper, pink cosmetics (that often include carcinogenic chemicals), pink, pink, pink. So where does your money go when you “go pink”? Well, here is where it goes if it is going to Susan G. Komen (only 19% of it goes towards breast cancer research, this from a “non-profit” that sues little non-profits for the use of its trademarked slogan: “For the Cure” (TM)). See chart below:

The above pie chart was created by Cancer Culture Chronicles. Her post “Komen By The Numbers: 2010 And Still No Answers” is a major eye opener on Komen, their expenditures and just how it is that Komen has a “four star rating”. And for a breakdown of the math behind where your money goes, see these two posts by Uneasy Pink: here, where she points out that only “two percent of all research dollars go to metastatic cancer research” Uneasy Pink goes on to remind us that metastatic breast cancer is the kind of breast cancer that kills. So what are we racing for anyway? Certainly not a cure. Certainly not if only 2% of the money goes to research for metastatic breast cancer. And check out some more math from Uneasy Pink in this post where she calculates that out of the $59.00 purchase price for a bottle of Komen’s “Promise Me” perfume only a stinking $1.51 of the proceeds go to research. PUHleez!

Perhaps one of the most outrageous (to me) pink for profit items I have seen are the pink alcoholic beverages.

Their Campaign: "Good On So Many Levels" See? We can all feel good when we buy these products even it is a known fact that alcohol consumption increases a woman's risk of breast cancer . . .but, whatever, right?

To be fair, these companies do make contributions to breast cancer research organizations. But, don’t think that it doesn’t increase their sales – there is real profit in going pink. And if you don’t believe the power of pink in selling a product, here is what one customer of Mike’s Hard Lemonade had to say:

“I went to pick up some of the Mike’s Hard Berry, I was told it was temporarily replaced for Pink Lemonade, due to Breast Cancer Awareness . . . I noticed the proceeds were also going to Breast Cancer Awareness Research, so I went out and bought a whole case.” (Emphasis added). For more on Mike’s Pink Hard Lemonade’s “Good On So Many Levels” (blech) campaign, and more customer comments where they claim they are purchasing more because of the good it is doing, click  here:  (By the way, what is “breast cancer awareness research“? I think the buyer may have meant breast cancer research . . . who knows . . . who cares – it sells).

I do not like Pinktober. So what is my problem with breast cancer awareness month? Why does it bother me, you might ask? Isn’t it good to increase awareness? Isn’t it good to raise money for research? Sure, but, when so little actually goes to a cure and when so many products in the pink bandwagon are actually dangerous and increase the risk of breast cancer and other cancers, I feel it is at best disingenuous.

But most of all, I do not look forward to being asked to donate a dollar “for the cure” every time I go into a grocery store checkout (when I know that only pennies of that dollar ever go to research and far less goes to research for metastatic breast cancer – remember – the kind that kills). I do not look forward to the wall of pink crap food at the entrance of and through every aisle every grocery store (I have yet to find a remotely healthy product that has gone pink . . . maybe this year I will find one).

I do not look forward to the false hope that pink sells.

Komen's "Promise Me" Perfume (or what I like to call "Fleur de Fraud"). Cost of this perfume: $59.00. Actual amount of purchase price that goes towards cancer research: $1.51 (Thank you to Uneasy Pink for doing the math).

And I especially I do not look forward to my disease, my suffering, my Aunt’s suffering and her ultimate death from breast cancer, and the suffering of so many other women and men being hijacked for profit.

I do not look forward to my friends and loved ones – who often have felt so helpless in the face of my illness – manipulated into purchasing items that are pink, tricked into believing it is doing me some good or that it will help some woman out there, when in fact these pink purchases often deliver very little to research. And some, deliver none – their promise in exchange for your money? To increase awareness. We need to move past awareness and sink our dollars (not just pennies of our dollars) into research.

And what about the walks and races to raise money for breast cancer? These are often incredibly uplifting events, providing a great deal of support and hope to both cancer patients, survivors and their families and friends. So clearly their IS some value beyond the irritatingly low 19% that goes towards research. Still, in my opinion, not enough. So many show up at these races to do good. I have walked in the past. My friends have walked on my behalf and their doing so has made me feel stronger. Chemobabe wrote a great post about this and dealt with the question of how we can be critical of an organization that makes these experiences (their walks) possible.

And for more reading about Komen try Komenwatch and read here, a blog post by one of my online friends Nancy of Nancy’s Point where she asks SGK for an apology. I agree with you Nancy, I think we all deserve one.

Okay, so you get it by now, Lisa (that’d be me) is not a fan of pink. And now, hopefully, you will have an understanding of why. I am hopeful that SGK (and others who are taking money in the name of breast cancer research) will find the surge of criticism on the web to be constructive and will prove to us all that they can do better than 19%, will do better and will honor their mission (albeit trademarked) to race for a cure (Registered Trademark, Susan G. Komen).

And, just so you know, I have worn my share of pink . . . I wore a pink t-shirt to many chemo and Herceptin rounds. But, I wore that shirt because it had, in very bold, large, black letters the word “FIERCE”.

My Mom bought me this "fierce" t-shirt, it was my "F" word for cancer treatment.

I loved that shirt. It is faded now, having been through the wash many times and worn many times . . . to chemo, to the gym and sometimes to bed. It was as if wearing that word across my chest (and for a good part of the year . . . across no chest) could influence the battle beneath. Fierce. I could make myself fierce even if I did not feel that way, I could make my cells within my body wage the war I needed waged and conquer the cancer.

So, I wore that shirt in spite of it being pink. But, that pink shirt didn’t save me. Research saved me – if I am even saved (I am thankfully, gratefully NED: “no evidence of disease”). Research that lead to the development of Herceptin made it possible for me to still be here. Women who gave their last days of an aggressive cancer to participate in early trials of Herceptin, they saved my life or at the very least, prolonged it.

Awareness did not prevent my cancer. Awareness is not a cure. And, we still, after so many years of pink branding, really do need to race towards research to cure all cancers.

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Leaving Las Vegas

8 Aug
Vector image of the Las Vegas sign.

Three years ago I was on a road trip to, of all places, Las Vegas. I say “of all places” because I am not a gambler nor much of a drinker and the thought of spending a weekend in smoke-filled casinos has about as much appeal as getting a root canal. I have always been extremely allergic to cigarette smoke. And with cancer on both sides of my family, the smell of smoke has always made me anxious.

My girlfriends were persistent. “It will be fun, a girls weekend”.  They showed me pictures of the suite that we would share. It was beautiful (think of the movie “The Hangover”, cut the suite in half and get rid of the tiger and you have a pretty good picture of what we had for the weekend).

I had been feeling incredibly tired for months (I did not yet know I had cancer, but, my extreme tiredness was one of the unnoticed signs of the battle my body was waging against the cancer within). Suddenly the idea of hanging out for three days in a luxury suite while my girlfriends gambled and went to shows (or whatever it is that people do in Vegas) started to have some appeal. I just wanted to rest. I remember how tired I felt then and how much I just wanted to do absolutely nothing. Which, by the way, is so NOT me.

At the last-minute, one of my girlfriend’s sisters (MJ – a breast cancer survivor) was able to join us. We had never met. I drove. MJ sat in the front with me and my two girl friends sat in the back and slept most of the trip to Vegas. The drive gave me and MJ an opportunity to get to know each other.

A little distance into our trip, she began to share her breast cancer experience with me. There were details of how she was diagnosed, of chemotherapy, and a bi-lateral mastectomy. But in particular (probably because it was something she was currently dealing with) she discussed her breast reconstruction surgeries in quite a bit of detail. I remember thinking, wow, I could never go through that. I was amazed at all she had endured.

She told me how the surgeries went. She described how she was about to get “new nipples”, how tattooing would be used to create a new areola and skin from her groin area taken to create the nipples. It was a bit more than I was comfortable hearing. It was so personal, so detailed and we were complete strangers. At one point, she raised up her top to show me what had been done to date.

MJ’s story had quite an impact on me that day. Little did I know, the very drug that saved her life back in 2005 (Herceptin) would, in a matter of months, be coursing through my veins to do the same (I hope) magic.

Not since that road trip have I heard much in the way of truly frank discussions of breast reconstruction. It simply is not an easy topic. Although, MJ had no problem sharing her story with me, perhaps it was because we did not know each other. It becomes a different matter, I think, when it is our friends, our families our colleagues.

Chemobabe has recently taken on this topic in her blog. And another favorite blog of mine, Nancy’s Point. addresses wholeness after breast cancer (with or without reconstruction). And a few years ago, this post (by a blogger who is actually a high school classmate of mine) addresses sexuality after breast cancer reconstruction surgery in her blog: “Breast Cancer the Second Time Around”

So why is it so difficult to discuss?

Breast cancer has provided me a very interesting window into our society. I know sex sells. I know breasts sell, I know, I know, I KNOW! (And, there is a lot written about groups that use sexy names to sell awareness of the disease and to raise funds for research – something that is a whole other topic).

But, until you have had your breasts removed, and until you have been forced to deal with the pressures that be (everyone else’s expectations of what you should or should not do) you really can’t fully understand how much having breasts and being perceived as a woman are so deeply linked. And it goes way beyond sex. And perhaps it is why groups with names like “Save the Ta-tas” and “Feel Your Boobies” are sometimes seen as offensive to those of us that no longer have ta-tas to save or feel.

Initially I was not sure what I wanted to do reconstruction wise. I simply wanted to survive. The last thing I wanted to worry about was breast reconstruction while I was battling an aggressive form of breast cancer.

But, there were other issues I had to consider too. (As a business owner and an employer I felt the need to minimize my time out, time off from work would have broad implications. And, there were other concerns: how long would I have to sit out from playing music, and insurance issues). It was not an easy decision at all. But after a great deal of thought, I decided to have “immediate” breast reconstruction surgery (knowing full well there was nothing immediate about it).

I admit, I felt pressured to begin reconstruction “immediately”. I realize now that this was not perhaps the best route to go (multiple surgeries while going through immune suppressing treatment is not the safest route it turns out). I spent months on IV antibiotics due to infections at the surgical sites (daily nurse visits to my home, an IV pole in my living room . . . okay, I know you get it . . . cancer is not much fun). But, my point is that had I waited on the surgery (which was never presented to me as a real option) I probably would have avoided the multiple infections and loss of skin that occurred (sorry if that is too much information, but, that is what can happen: “morbidity” of your skin, especially radiated skin).

So, I could have waited. But, it is what it is and I prefer not to look backwards. But, there is no reason why someone else can’t perhaps make a better informed decision by hearing of my experience.

Incidentally, I had what is called a lat flap procedure. This was the only option for me. Oddly, I got a lot of grief over my decision to do the lat flap from women at a breast cancer support group. I believe they meant well, I know they did, but, I found it a little upsetting.

I had, after all, consulted with many surgeons, I did research, I am not stupid (at least I didn’t think of myself that way). So, since it was not the kind of support I needed at the time I simply stopped going to the group. I knew for me it was the best decision I could make at the time. Those of us faced with these kinds of choices do not go about it without a lot of thought. As a result, when we are questioned about our decisions – our very hard to make choices – it is frustrating and I suppose, a little insulting.

My wish is that for newly diagnosed women, facing a mastectomy or other breast altering surgery, lumpectomy etc, is that they are presented with all options (not having reconstruction, having it “immediately” and having reconstruction at a later date). And my second wish is for those facing these choices that they be given the time, un-pressured time, to make their decision. And above all, as Chemobabe points out, once the decision has been made . . . it would be nice to have it trusted, not challenged or questioned.

There simply is not a one-size-fits-all approach to reconstructive surgery (whether to have it all, when to have it or type) any more than there is a one-size-fits-all bra.

There is light at the end of the tunnel . . .

25 Jul
Crowded summertime beach in Avalon, Santa Cata...

Avalon

It is funny how sometimes when you are forced (or force yourself) to do something difficult, it becomes easier.

I have to study for an upcoming professional exam. I don’t mind studying, I actually have always enjoyed it. But, since cancer my body is not the same. Things that were once quite easy can sometimes be very difficult. One of those things is sitting in the same position for a long time . . . something you kind of need to be able to do to study (at least I need to do it that way). Well, I started studying in short time frames and built up to longer time frames and now, while I can’t say I am back to my normal study stamina, I am definitely in a far better position than I was even just a few weeks ago.

So, I have been forcing myself to sit and study for as long as I can without taking a break. Then, when I absolutely have to, I take a break and return to it. My body hurts, my legs and arms go numb and it is uncomfortable and irritating. But, it is what it is. AND, I am quite happy to report that what I can do today is vastly more than what I could accomplish even just a few weeks ago. It really has in its own way (my studying) been a type of physical therapy.

I can only imagine how much better I will be after a few more weeks and then a few more weeks and so on.

The most challenging thing for me post cancer has been the feeling of losing my old self. I don’t mean losing my breasts and having my old breasts replaced with scarred up “reconstructed” breasts. Nope. I chose a bilateral mastectomy. I had cancer in one breast and chose to have both breasts removed. That choice made me feel empowered, not depressed, strong, not weak . . . and in some small way in control.

My point is that I am not so bothered by the scars on my body. It is the physical limitations (pain, exhaustion, lack of energy) that bother me the most. And it is those things that make me feel less like myself. (And, a little pissed).

Nowadays, post cancer, I often find myself having to choose which things to do in a given day, a given week, etc. simply because I don’t have enough energy or pain free time to do what I normally would do. And, I have found that very frustrating.

For example, recently I spent the day with friends on Catalina Island. It was a wonderful day. The weather was perfect and the company even better. But, knowing that I had this day trip planned meant to me that I had to figure out how much I could or could not do the preceding day and week because if I did too much, I would then be too tired for Catalina. It is like having a bank account without enough funds to meet your expenditures. I am in the red physically.

So it goes . . . my post cancer existence. And just so I am clear – I don’t mean not partying until 2:00 am the night before (that isn’t really my thing anyway). I mean not “over-extending myself” the day before – which can simply mean – letting the laundry go another day, and simply taking it really easy. On this occasion, it meant turning down a last minute dinner invitation. I couldn’t just say, “hey, I would love to come, but, I have a big day tomorrow and doing both will be too much for me” . . . or . . . could I? Instead I said, “I would love to, but, I already have plans” (yeah, plans to lie in bed for the rest of the night . . . argh).

It is a balancing act and I am getting better at it . . . better at knowing my limits and better at pushing my limits too.

This studying has been a wonderful thing because it has definitely improved my physical stamina for concentrated work (something that makes me very, very happy).

Prior to cancer I was working on a new book. I had to drop work on it during chemo because my brain was, well, fried. And looking back now on some of the blog posts I wrote during those days, I am certain that it was a wise choice to postpone finishing the book (chemobrain is real, at least it was for me).

But, after the past several weeks of studying, I know that now I could sit down and write for hours in a day. And that, my friends, is a huge, huge deal because it means that I am that much closer to getting my life back.

I know I will still have to make choices between which things I can do in a given day or week. But, the feeling I have had of being sidetracked by this disease is beginning to fade. I am dismissing it every day that I force myself to sit through the discomfort and study. It is a good feeling. Oh, and a day trip to Catalina Island with great friends is a pretty good way to leave some of the leftover pains from cancer behind me too.