I’m a Survivor, but Breast Cancer Awareness Month Stresses Me Out

Right around this time seven years ago, my life took a daunting turn. By the end of October 2010, I had doubts that I’d be around to see 2017. But here I am.

Seven years ago this month — Breast Cancer Awareness Month — I discovered a rather large lump on my breast. What I assumed would be an infection or blocked duct or some other annoyance I’d never heard of turned out to be triple-negative breast cancer. Stage 2. Grade 3.

This post isn’t about statistics or prevention or treatment, but I mention those details for a reason. Since it is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I’d like to at least point out this fact: Breast cancer is not a single disease, but a group of diseases. There are different types of breast cancer, some more aggressive than others, and they require different approaches. That’s an important point of awareness.

So, this is it. I’m past the five-year mark. What does it mean? This is the year when my risk of recurrence is significantly lowered. The year I transition from six-month oncology visits to once-a-year visits. More importantly, I’m stronger, and perhaps even healthier than I was before. Inexplicably, since that cancerous tumor made the scene, my multiple sclerosis (MS) has been tamed. Lucky, lucky me.

To say I’m grateful to be alive and feeling as good as I do would be an understatement.

But here’s the thing: Breast Cancer Awareness Month stresses me out.

I love October. It’s my birth month, a month when mother nature is in her full autumn glory. Every time it rolls around it means I’ve survived another year. And I like pink. It complements my complexion — but I avoid wearing it during October. I can’t really explain why, I just do.

I’m thankful for pioneers like Betty Rollin and Betty Ford who took breast cancer out of the shadows and into the light of day. It needed to happen. But every year I’m more uncomfortable with all the hoopla surrounding this month. At times it feels like a garish form of entertainment focusing on breasts, “boobies,” “ta-tas,” “the twins,” and “the girls,” all on display and begging to be saved.

Pink, pink, everywhere. So much so, that it’s losing its pop.

Gimmicks like #NoBraDay make me cringe.

On #NoBraDay, you’re encouraged to post photos of your braless self to “raise awareness.”

I have only one breast. Most days I give it no thought because I’m okay with that. My bra has a pocket for my prosthetic breast. Some breast cancer survivors have no breasts. Some endure multiple painful surgeries to rebuild breasts. Some are in the throes of it all right now.

Wear your bra or don’t wear your bra; it’s a choice you’re free to make every day. But I don’t see how posting braless selfies online helps any of us who’ve had cancer or anyone who may get it down the road. When I posted my reservations about this campaign, Jim Tipping provided this insightful comment:

“The whole thing is strangely insensitive, and I speak as a man who lost a testicle to cancer. I’m just guessing that #CommandoKiltDay will never happen…”

Indeed. I don’t see #CommandoKiltDay becoming a thing.

A porn site wants you to know that “while you’re enjoying the boobs, you’ll also be helping to Save the Boobs!” And some police officers are using pink handcuffs to “arrest” breast cancer.

Then there’s all the pink shopping. Buy pink this and buy pink that and a few pennies will go toward the “cause.” Sometimes it’s hard to figure out how much money goes where and for what.

You don’t have to buy pink products or wear pink ribbons or fly your pink bra up a flagpole.

There are plenty of worthy organizations who do good work. Cut out the middle man and donate directly.

I wish with every fiber of my being that people would stop making it all about breasts. It’s about lives. Breast cancer is no sexier than any other kind of cancer.

I don’t pretend to speak on behalf of all breast cancer survivors because we’re a diverse group. And I certainly won’t fault anyone who is genuinely trying to do something good, but perhaps it’s time to take it in a different direction.

Enough with the sexualization and trivialization of a cancer that kills.

Even when it doesn’t kill, it leaves deeps scars in its wake. Not just physical scars, but emotional scars. It leads to other health concerns and medical bills and employment issues and lingering family stress and survivor’s guilt. Nothing about breast cancer is sexy or trivial.

Read my Living with Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Series on Care2 Healthy Living and Care2 Causes. I hope this is the final installment of my personal breast cancer story. I’d be honored if you’d check out my book, Catch That Look: Living, Laughing & Loving Despite Triple-Negative Breast Cancer.

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Photo: roboriginal/iStock/Thinkstock


Sophie M
Sophie M3 days ago

thank you

Olivia H
Olivia H19 days ago


Anna R
Anna Rabout a month ago

thanks for this

Danuta W
Danuta W1 months ago

Thanks for sharing

Louise A
Louise A1 months ago

Thank you

Ruth S
Ruth S1 months ago


heather g
heather g1 months ago

I haven't had any cancer in my family but have been living in a country where everyone seems to be a victim of one thing or another.

Veronica D
Veronica D1 months ago

Thank you so very much.

Veronica D
Veronica D1 months ago

Thank you so very much.

Veronica D
Veronica D1 months ago

Thank you so very much.