Before you put your pink bow on

October is a big month for our family, it begins with my son’s birthday and ends with my husband’s (which is usually completely overthrown by Halloween). Over the years it’s meant four kids with four costume requirements and some crazy class party baking requests. A couple of years ago a breast cancer diagnosis meant I added chemo to the list of October activities.

Pre my diagnosis I thought chemo came as one package. It doesn’t. There’s many different types of chemo you can have. Some make you lose your hair, some don’t – some make your wee a different colour, others don’t. Some make you violently ill, others are quite manageable. Some women lose an incredible amount of weight, others put it on. There’s no neat package – and definitely no pretty pink bow to tie it up with.

Before my diagnosis I didn’t realize there are many different types of breast cancer. Hormonal, Triple Negative and the most evil of all, metastatic.

Hormonal may mean there’s a series of drugs that you’ll take for the next five to ten years. Yep, all of those people you thought had made it and were “cured”, people who from the outside looked like they’d moved on are actually reminded constantly by way of medication.

If you’re like me and have the triple negative variety there are no pills or medication to keep cancer at bay. Once you’ve had your chemo and radiation you go back out to the big wide world and basically wait to see which statistic you’re going to fall into. Will it come back within the next five years? A statistic you’re told is more likely than your hormonal breast friends – or will you pass the five-year mark giving you a higher rate of recovery? It’s anyone guess – but here’s the thing – every ache in your back after a long day at your desk or the slight headache that’s niggled, or the loss of breath after running up the stairs will leave you wondering if there’s something more sinister. Has it come back? Is it in your bones, your brain, or your lungs? I’m the woman having an MRI on my lower back next week “just to be sure”.

The real conversation stopper is metastatic cancer. That’s the one you don’t recover from. They’re the women who have to deal with well-meaning friends asking “how long are you having chemo for?” who aren’t quite sure how to answer. “Until I die?” or “Until the doctor tells me it’s no longer working?” The average survival for women who are diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer is 18-24 months. Bizarrely metastatic breast cancer has the least amount of funding pushed in its direction – I’ve read it’s as low as 2%.

So what’s my point?

You can help. You can make a difference, but probably not by attending a get together covered in pink bows and sugary cupcakes. Make sure if there’s anything you attend that is breast cancer related that you know and understand where the funds are going. If it’s just about “awareness” it’s probably really about profits. I’ll be the first to acknowledge I’ve done this and I have the bows to prove it. So before you take off on your fun run or head to see that speaker as where the cash is going.

And think about these phrases “you’ve got this”, or “my Aunt had breast cancer 25 years ago and she’s still here!” or “if anyone can beat this I know you can”. If your cancer has metastasized these phrases are redundant. Perhaps choose “I’ve donated to $$ to hoping they can cure this shitty disease”.

And you know how I feel about those red love hearts on Facebook. 🙂

Here’s another link to some other fabulous charities supporting metastatic cancer.

  • Denyse Whelan

    Thank you for this clear explanation. I admit I was totally ignorant about the types of breast cancer and it was probably your diagnosis that made me understand more. I realise too how any sign that seems not quite right within you can raise the hackles of fear “is it back?”. With my cancer inside my mouth affecting only the top gum and part of the upper lip it would appear it has all been removed. But that doesn’t stop me from wondering “what’s this little lump here”. Like everyone I guess, once diagnosed you can’t undo that and it’s something that can be “backgrounded” for a while until a significant date appears, something in the air from the time you had treatment or whatever pain that you feel has just stayed there…and then it’s back. To play the games in your mind. I was ignorant until this week that it is the metastatic breast cancer which kills and I know two women from my on-line connections who are affected. One is a mum to 6 kids. Life sucks for many doesn’t it? Love to you and all good wishes for what is ahead for next week.