Last June, a dear childhood friend was diagnosed with breast cancer. My heart hurt for her. I wanted to hug her neck and be there for her. I wanted to make her meals and sit by her side while she went through chemo. I wanted to help her out with her kids. But I couldn’t… she lives in Florida and I live in Maine. So I did what I could do – I wrote about her and I ran for her.
I was a champion last year for all things related to Breast Cancer research and awareness. I had a great sparkly pink shirt to wear. I bought a pink armband to hold my iPhone when I ran. I did fundraising. I changed my Facebook profile pink to raise awareness.
I did things. Because you do things when you can’t do anything else to help.
I don’t regret a thing that I have done and I wouldn’t go back and do it any differently. But going forward, my mindset has shifted a bit. Let me explain.
Since last year, I have lost friends to cancer. I have had friends lose their children to cancer. Cancer. Not just breast cancer. Different forms of cancer.
Cancer is a beast – no matter the form.
It shatters lives. It is not selective. There isn’t a soul alive that hasn’t been affected by it in some way.
Let’s fast-forward to this Fall.
I was able to attend my 20th high school class reunion with my dear friend April. This night was about fun and celebration. I was proud to stand by her side and hug her neck and dance all night and see her smile. She looks amazing but is not without the scars (inside and out) left in the wake of her diagnosis last year and is certainly not without the fear of what could be ahead for her.
My aunt was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. She has had surgery and begun her treatment plan. She has kept her diagnosis and experience very close and has remained very private about it.
A friend from college lost her battle against the disease this past weekend and her life was celebrated Tuesday. In the words of her family, “she may have had breast cancer, but breast cancer never had her”. Her strong faith has touched thousands of people.
Another friend was in ICU this week with complications related to the disease that has invaded her body. Her upbeat personality, strong faith, and sense of humor have amazed and encouraged many as she continues to fight for her life.
So this October I very emotionally and intentionally changed my Facebook profile pink to raise awareness for Breast Cancer. I did it in honor of April, Christi, Angela, Melanie, Laura, Grammy, Grandmother, Misty, Beth, and Marsha.
I posted about the mammogram that I would have this month.
But yesterday I stumbled on a blog that has changed my perspective a bit. A blog written by Ann. Ann has metastatic breast cancer – as in stage IV terminal cancer. Cancer that Ann knows that she will die from.
If you’re a Pinktober gal like me, take a moment to read what Ann has to say. It is not easy to read and you won’t be without tears when you do.
I don’t know Ann, but her story has changed me.
I’ll probably still wear pink. I like pink.
I’ll still remind folks to do their self exams and have mammograms – that’s how a number of my friends have found their lump.
But now I am aware of how some of the marketing and messaging is taking away from what really needs to happen with breast cancer. And I’m aware of how the overly pink-ness affects those with terminal breast cancer.
Why does breast cancer get a month of pink and all the products and packages and merchandise and hundreds of groups dedicated to raising money for it when there are so many other forms of cancer?
Because it is a moneymaker.
All of that money isn’t necessarily going to funding research. And that money isn’t always going to meet the true needs of a cancer patient.
Does my purchase of a pink water bottle really help people like my friend April?
From now on I am going to fully vet any organization that I give funds to.
If the money raised isn’t primarily going DIRECTLY to research or meeting the needs of a person with the disease, I’m not giving or fundraising a penny. And I will work to keep the money local.
There are so many foundations and organizations and groups just popping up out of greed. There are many well-intentioned companies that jump on the pink bandwagon to tie their product in with what is happening all around them in October.
I’m probably going to offend someone with this post and that is not my intent. But cancer is something that affects everyone in some way and is intensely personal.
I just wish I had done a few things differently when I found out my friend had breast cancer.
I would have raised money for research, not marketing.
I would have done things of a practical nature to help out. Sent gas cards. Money for meals for her family. Picked up the phone and talked to her more.
Where to give
There are a number of local groups that do amazing things for cancer patients and fund cancer research:
- In Maine, the Maine Cancer Foundation funds research, prevention, early detection and access to care, with 100% of funds staying in Maine.
- Each year in August, the Eastern Maine Medical Center holds the Champion the Cure Challenge. This event has raised thousands of dollars and 100% of the funds raised stay in eastern Maine to support local cancer research and help EMMC’s fight against cancer.
- In your local community there are probably grassroots groups that reach out and help people with cancer. These groups don’t fund research. They give gas cards and give meals for cancer patients. They help keep the grass mowed and cars running while families take their loved ones to doctor appointments and chemo. Your real donations help real people. People that you probably see at church or in the grocery store.
If you get nothing else from my rant here today, please take this advice:
If you are moved to raise funds or support an organization, please do your homework. Make sure that the money that is raised will benefit those that truly need it. That is how you will help save lives and meet the needs of your friends and family. That is how what you do will make a difference.