Every October I Cringe: I’m The Grinch Of Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Pink is my favorite color, and yet every October, pink becomes nauseating.  It’s too much, and it’s everywhere.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  What started off as a public advocacy campaign has turned into nearly every major company, from Ford, to Yoplait yogurt, to the National Football League, going pink and contributing proceeds to the cause.

In truth, this is pretty amazing.  And maybe I’m a little jealous, because rather than going blue (for arthritis) or purple (for lupus), the country has unequivocally decided to go pink.

I subscribe to Oprah magazine, but almost every year, I throw October issue of the magazine away while barely looking at it.  Everything has to do with breast cancer.

There are other diseases that need curing.  And there are other diseases that impact mostly women.

For example, RA patients are 75% female, according to WomensHealthResearch.org.

And for lupus – which is pertinent because I have both RA and lupus – the percentage of patients that are women is 90%, also according to the website WomensHealthResearch.org.

Both illnesses hit women in the prime of their lives.  And yet, we have heard the death knell for breast cancer, but not for lupus, or RA, or the host of other so-called “women’s diseases”.

And to give you an idea that I’m not just biased, there are a whole host of chronic, incurable, autoimmune diseases that primarily affect women. including but not limited to Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, Autoimmune Hepatitis, Grave’s disease, and Multiple Sclerosis.

So why is this important?

To me, one of the defining experiences that sticks with me as a member of the chronic illness online community is that so many of our stories, regardless of illness, are the same.

And I think that this is an important concept that we can, and should, pay forward in our advocacy efforts.

We are all guilty at times of favoring our own illnesses as the most important, the ones to watch and pay attention to.  It’s only natural because that is what we live with on a daily basis.  No one is at fault for this.  We are all human.

So it goes both ways.  While we could pay more attention to breast cancer, breast cancer could also pay more attention to us.

So rather than October solely being known for Breast Cancer Awareness, what if it was also known for the plurality of illnesses that impact mainly women.  What would be the harm in this?

What if we took a little bit of the hype off of breast cancer and put it onto women’s diseases more generally?  What if, instead of the pink-ification, we had a rainbow, a plurality of colors for people to proudly display?

One argument may be – like the rich feel they will lose rights when the poor get more rights – is that breast cancer will lose its primacy.  But the reality is, by stepping aside, it might gain more notoriety than less.

The reality is, women are told to do self-breast exams.  If you have a good gynecologist, they will perform a breast exam at your annual pap smear.  If you are of the age for mammograms, you get a mammogram.

But we aren’t told the signs and symptoms to look for, for lupus and RA.  And if you’re like me, you didn’t even really know what these diseases were until you were diagnosed with them.

What does this tell us?  It tells us that there is a significant gap in the way that women are educated about their bodies and the potentiality for illness.

I will grant that in the general population, the numbers for lupus and RA are 1.5 million people each.  Those who have lived with breast cancer at some point in their lives is about 2.9 million.  So that’s almost double, but it’s the same if you take lupus and RA together.

And I’m not the only one making this clarion call.  There are many, many women, including many of those who have had breast cancer themselves, who feel that Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the medical, industrial complex that surrounds it, has gone too far, and has gotten out of control.  So this tells us something.  If it’s overkill for us, it must totally be overkill for them.

And the fact that resounds with me the most is that most women know what breast cancer is, and they know the medical technologies that can detect it.  They have at least heard of it, if they don’t fully understand the physiology of it all.  But many, many women, including those of us with RA, know nothing of it until it is not in our backyard, but has made a home in our bodies.

And this is unacceptable to me.  I don’t want other young women to end up like me.  Sick, and totally unaware of what illnesses I have and how I came to have them.  Occasionally, life blindsides us.  That’s no secret.  But in this case, it shouldn’t happen.  There needs to be more awareness about these illnesses, what the symptoms are, and how to deal with them if you find yourself in that situation.  The first time you hear what lupus and RA are should not be in your doctor’s office when they are handing you a diagnosis.  It’s not fair and it’s not right.  And something needs to change now.

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