Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Fuck pink

These words, posted 5 years ago, started as a visceral response to a friend who coined
 "The One-Boobed Systyrs of the Apocalypse."
She's still fighting dead.

I remember the first breast I saw no longer attached to the body it once helped define. I had seen body parts in various forms before, but this one was fresh. A flap of sallow skin with a wizened nipple defining it, a long trail of fibrous fatty tissue trailing off the slab.

The pathologist, smoking as he dictated, handled the breast like a butcher handles meat about to be weighed, though not as kindly.

The breast had been part of a man who probably did not survive his bout with breast cancer. Most people back then did not fare well, and men fared worse than women.

Incidences of breast cancer change in populations as people migrate from one area of the world to another, suggesting that environmental factors contribute to this disease. There is a continuing effort at the NIEHS to identify these environmental factors and the role that exposures to specific chemicals could play in this disease.

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, NIH

I shaved my mother's head when the cancer recurred--bony metastases in her skull made the shaving more difficult. She walked like a marionette with tangled strings the weeks before she died. In a radiology reading room, we'd call them "goobers." Goobers on the brain.

Unless it was one of our mothers, our sisters, our daughters--then they were metastases.
Since 1985, Zeneca Pharmaceuticals has been the sole funder of October's National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM). Zeneca has promoted a blame-the-victim strategy to explain away escalating breast cancer rates, which ignores the role of avoidable carcinogens. Zeneca's parent company, Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), is one of the world's largest manufacturers of petrochemical and chlorinated [organic] products -- including the plastic ingredient, vinyl chloride -- which has been directly linked to breast cancer, and the pesticide Acetochlor.

In addition, Zeneca is the sole manufacturer of Tamoxifen, the world's top-selling cancer drug used for breast cancer. In return for funding the "awareness" campaign, ICI/Zeneca has control and veto power over every poster, pamphlet and commercial produced by NBCAM.

" A decade-old multi-million dollar deal between National Breast Cancer Awareness Month sponsors and Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) has produced reckless misinformation on breast cancer," said Dr. Epstein.

The media focuses on the strength of cancer survivors, and I have seen tremendously strong women live and die graciously through months and years of chemotherapy and radiation and surgery. The magazines will show glossy pictures of proud women, and these things matter, of course. Avon will sell "Kiss Goodbye to Breast Cancer Lipsticks," Mars, Inc., will sell you pink and white M&M's, and General Electric will sell you a Senographe 2000D mammographer.

They do not show a mother cowering in her bathroom, her bald head bare, blood all over the toilet from a nosebleed that will not stop, her teen-age son standing awkwardly, bravely holding her head.

They do not show the vomiting, the pain, the fear. They do not show a mother with her arm in a machine trying to squish out the fluid building up from lymphedema.

They do not show the bony protuberances on a skull, the smell of dying cells.

They do not show a child wiping her mother clean because she is too proud to use a bedpan and too weak to use a toilet.
polychlorinated biphenyls
polychlorinated dibenzodioxins

In 1991, these were the 6 most common carcinogens found in breast milk. The news has gotten worse since then. We are at the top of the food chain--toxins accumulate.

It has been known that breastfeeding reduces your chance of getting breast cancer. The longer you breastfeed your babies, the lower the risk. This has been attributed to hormonal changes related to breastfeeding--breastfeeding women cycle less, and had less exposure to estrogen.

There has been speculation (and it is only speculation), that breastfeeding may help reduce the chemical pollutant load on the mother. Guess who gets the chemicals.
The lifetime risk of a woman developing breast cancer was just less than 10% in the 1970's, or 1 in 10; it is now 13.4%, or almost 1 in 7 (NCI, 2005). In the 1940's, the risk was 1 in 22. Breast cancer is the leading cause of death in women 34 to 54 years of age.

Until recently, the incidence of breast cancer had gone up about a percentage point every year since 1940.
Janet Jackson flashes a breast, and our Federal Government now rushes to redefine obscene. Certain words and phrases will cost lots of money; Howard Stern has opted to put his voice into orbit.

Here's an obscene phrase that won't cost anything--in fact, in past Octobers you have might hear it dozens of times:

Early Detection is the Best Protection.

This makes no sense--once detected, you already have it. The best protection is prevention which, admittedly, would require massive, radical changes in the way we live. The NBCAM folks got wise--they now say "Early Detection Saves Lives"--if you go to their website, they pretend that this is what they have always said.

So it must be true.

I wrote this several years 8 or 9 ago for a friend,who was still fighting at the time, and my mother, who "lost."


Anonymous said...


doyle said...

Dear Anonymous,

Are you my Aunt Rae?

Mead Lover said...

Thank you, Michael for a very inspiring, yet sobering entry. I suppose one of the reasons why the country and women in particular, have embraced the Think Pink campaign is because the disease is so scary. All of our lives the importance of our body’s appearance and how it “should” look has been drummed into us. Sure there are women out there who don't think like this but there are so many who do. Not every woman has grown up with a strong role model who can convince her that there are plenty of other attributes that can make any woman into a great woman. There are women who are convinced that a certain type of appearance is paramount to happiness and are so afraid of losing an integral part of their body, especially the part that defines our womanhood perhaps more than any other part. The prospect of this loss is so terrifying that they may ignore the possibility of contracting the disease.

Pink is such a lighthearted color reminiscent of cotton candy, frilly dresses, and corvettes driven by blonde beauties that it seems to take some of the ominous nature away from the disease and the harsh and biting reality of treating it, surviving it, or dying from it. Buying a pink pen with a ribbon and wearing pink socks may seem too little too late but if the ubiquitous reminder spurs just one woman on to see what's what and get treated if necessary, that might be the reason why many women participate. Unfortunately, the facts you present regarding rising occurrences make the situation even more frightening. I have known so many women who have it. Some are survivors and current warriors but way too many lost the battle. The suspected causes of the rise not only affect women in the form of breast cancer. Like any environmentalist, ecologist or well informed Joe will tell you, unless we stop producing, using, storing and improperly disposing harmful chemicals, the planet and all life aboard are pretty much fucked.

doyle said...

Dear Mead Lover,

First, thanks for your thoughtful and comprehensive reply.

I understand why the campaign is successful, and I understand the comfort we get when we can share our experiences and fears when approached by an incomprehensibly awful disease.

I just wish we looked behind the comfort of an incredibly successful propaganda campaign sponsored by the very folks whose actions lead to higher cancer rates.

Awareness matters, at so many levels.

Mary Ann Reilly said...

I have read and reread this post, Michael. Tried to gather some words. Not sure if you have ever read Richard Powers novel, Gain. But would recommend it.

Fuck Pink, says it so well, so completely.

I don't wear pink in October. A silent protest. I've lost too many people who matter the most to cancer and I can't help but think if we worked differently, stopped the wholesale rape of the land, water, and air we might be different people.

doyle said...

Dear Mary Ann,

Thanks for the words and the recommendation--book already ordered.

Rayanne Pirozzi said...

Thank you. I lost my mother to breast cancer. In reading your words I find some clarity in my thinking about the propaganda that gets trotted out every October. My mother died at 40 and I was told as a young woman that I was very likely to have breast cancer because of my genetics. Yesterday was my 46th birthday. Every year on my birthday I think, Fuck Pink., I am still here. And I didn't need pink to get me here. I needed my own innate sense of questioning, doubting and thinking. We have to question more, we can not buy the feel good messages created by big business. It is a matter of survival. I teach 2nd graders and every day I challenge them to question. Most especially I teach them to question when anyone is trying to sell them something. We had an assembly at school this week to teach the kids about healthy eating and exercise. After the assembly one of the sponsors provided the kids with a snack of orange slices and chocolate milk. One of my little girls who is a rule follower to a T asked, Ms. Pirozzi if they want us to eat healthy why did they give us chocolate milk? Good question I replied. I was wondering the same thing.

doyle said...

Dear Rayanne,

Thank you for your powerful response--it's good to know that at least a few young'uns are in very capable hands.

And Happy Birthday--we do what we can as well as we can. It's good to know we're not alone.