Misguided, 10 Myths & Missing the Point

Those of us unlucky enough to be on the breast cancer merry-go-round know all too well that the Media has a strong role to play in raising awareness. It has an equally strong role in conquering a number of misguided, often serious misrepresentations of the truth.

Sadly much of the Press around breast cancer either sexualises or trivialises the disease by portraying it as an “easy” cancer from which we’ll all almost certainly be “cured” and go on to live long, healthy lives. (Myth 1).  A short detour into the land of all things pink and plastic is nothing more than a minor inconvenience for which we receive plenty of help and support (Myth 2).  Post-treatment we’re duty bound to be happy about our good fortune and can celebrate how incredibly lucky we’ve been since developing the “best” kind of cancer (Myth 3).  We’re cured (Myth 4) so can spend plenty of time flaunting freshly reconstructed, completely flawless (Myth 5) new “boobs” that are sure to be the envy of all our friends.

This quick, simple and largely painless path from diagnosis through surgery, neo-adjuvant or adjuvant treatment (Myth 6) and on into the realms of pretty-pink, happily ever after la-la land (Myth 7) is one I’m sure my friends with breast cancer all recognise and are, like me, so very pleased about. Breast cancer is a highly desirable form of cancer and of course we’d wish for it because it’s better by far than other types of cancer. We’re very “lucky” don’t you think? (Myth 8)

No. I’m sorry to disappoint but this is not a disease anyone should ever wish for.

Unfortunately the Media recently helped perpetrate another misguided appeal that misses the point about cancer by a country mile. An advertising campaign for pancreatic cancer helps further the myths that breast cancer, or prostate cancer for all the guys out there since breast cancer is an exclusively female disease (Myth 9), is a “good” kind of cancer.  It’s so good that it’s obvious we’d all chose breast, skin or prostate cancer given chance to select from the smorgasbord of available human cancers running rampage through our world. Those kinds of cancer are so much better for us should we feel the need to acquire some form of the disease (Myth 10).

Having lost a colleague and friend to pancreatic cancer several years ago I understand the stark reality of that particular form of this insidious disease. There’s nothing good about it and survival rates are low because it’s often discovered late, when locally advanced or already metastasized to other areas of the body. When diagnosed early the outlook for pancreatic cancer is often very poor and I fully agree that further research, better diagnostics and improved treatment regimes are all desperately required.

However I also have a long standing, close-up and personal relationship with breast cancer so will offer thoughts for those – including advertising companies and the Media – who might think it’s “easy,” “curable” or presents a “better choice.”  I urge you to consider the following then tell me that you’d wish to have breast cancer (or any other cancer that might be worth wishing for) if you’re given a choice:

  • You BRCA negative but you’ve lost at least five generations of women in your family to breast cancer, all before the age of 50. Each woman lived healthily pre-cancer, went through extensive and life-threatening treatment yet still developed metastasis within a few years of initial diagnosis… Will you choose to invite this disease into your life or the lives of those in your own family?
  • You never met your Grandmother, she died of breast cancer when your Mother was 5 years old. As a teenager you watch your Aunt (in her 30’s) go through surgery, radio and chemotherapy. A couple of years later she’s in palliative care, steadily succumbing to brain and bone metastases that eventually break her hip causing unimaginable pain for the last few weeks of her life… Does this sound like a better option than other forms of cancer?
  • At 23 you see your Mother endure surgery, radio and hormone therapy. She then faces surgery and chemo for secondary liver, ovarian and bowel cancer. You’re sitting at her hospital bedside, she’s encountered yet more side effects and as you talk a treatment induced blood clot drifts into her lungs. Panic ensues and you’re ushered away. Some time later, you’re unsure how long because your head’s spinning and your heart threatens to break through your ribcage, you hear the words “I’m sorry.”  In your final moments with your Mother she’s desperately gasping for breath and has time to realise something’s terribly wrong. Decades later that image, the noise and the violence of her death are indelibly etched on your psyche… Are you going to vote for breast cancer now?
  • You’re 41 have a teenage son and partner to support. You worked your socks off for over 20 years as you’re the only source of income. Despite regular screening you’re diagnosed with aggressive, invasive HER2+ breast cancer. Your life disintegrates in a matter of months, long-term friendships, your livelihood and your son’s mental health all dissolve. You undergo gruelling treatment for 18 months that causes persistent side effects and no guarantee of success. Your family knows this as well as you do…. Can you imagine finding any of this easy?
  • You begin rebuilding knowing you’re at high risk of recurrence in the next 3 years, need to make it past 5 years and even then the spectre of breast cancer can resurface with a vengeance 20+ years later. You avoid looking at your mutilated body, your confidence wanes and though your hair’s back your scars remind you that you’ll always be a cancer patient. The physical scars are ugly, the psychological scars are worse … Answer honestly, are you still going to wish for breast cancer?

I think you’re going to say no.

No sentient being wishes for hell on earth and that’s exactly what breast cancer is, creates and leaves behind.

Perceiving one form of cancer as more desirable, easier, curable or survivable is misguided. It completely misses the point because there is still no cure for cancer and that includes breast cancer.  It is not a disease to wish for under any circumstances and the sad fact is that men and women across the globe die of breast cancer every day.  As with most forms of cancer if it’s diagnosed late the prognosis is poor but even when diagnosed early (node negative), breast cancer can creep on via micro-vascular invasion taking hold in the brain, bones, liver, lungs or skin at any point.  Treatment is no less gruelling than for other forms of cancer and contrary to misguided Press stories success isn’t guaranteed. Statistics have improved thanks to increased awareness and earlier diagnosis but far too many lives are cut short, often young women in their 30’s and 40’s.  Irrespective of type, cancer is a complex illness and outcomes depend on a myriad of interdependent factors including age, genetics, chemical and environmental considerations most of which remain poorly understood. Geographical location and cultural norms also have huge implications for diagnosis and survival, something Doctors in many African and Asian countries know only too well.

It’s unlikely people like Claire, Cancer in My Thirties or The Sarcastic Boob would wish for breast cancer given any choice in the matter. My Aunt and Mother are no longer here but I’m 99.99+% certain it wouldn’t have made their wish lists either. Unsurprisingly I did not wish for it (it came anyway) and I would never wish it for anyone else. As a sentient being I know what a god-damned awful disease this is, what it does, its consequences and all the things it ruins, breaks or takes away.

Wishing for one form of cancer over another is sadly misguided, misinformed and missing the point. Happily ever after breast cancer remains a myth in too many cases so please think very carefully. A wish for breast cancer is not the same as a carefree, pain free, cancer free life. The treatments are very challenging and you may still end up with just a few months to live. The seven point truth is this:

  1. Cancer, including breast, skin and prostate, is a killer.
  2. There are significant outcome implications based on where in the world you live.
  3. Incidence rates are rising.
  4. We are all in need of a cure.
  5. Prevention must be our ultimate aim.
  6. Cancer research requires improved funding and continued support.
  7. Many more will die before cure or prevention become global norms.

Snowdrops in Fresh Pastures

Weekly Photo Challenge: Joy

london may13 2013-05-25 011

Glancing at this photo you might wonder how it can possibly conjure a sense of joy. There are flames, black smoke and some heavy-duty ironmongery.  There’s also something that looks rather ominous in the middle together with a shot of someone with a cymbal in front of his face. Look more closely at the bottom right corner and you’ll see those things sticking up are people’s arms. The arms are in the air because everyone is waving, singing, dancing and having a whale of a time watching Muse at the Emirates stadium in London. The guy with the cymbal is Muse drummer Dominic Howard.

Normally I might choose a nature photo or a holiday scene to symbolise joy but there are a number of very special things about the picture I’ve included here. The Muse show was one of only two at the Emirates and the tickets were part of my son’s surprise birthday present which included spending four days in London.  It was an action-packed four days which included a river cruise to Greenwich, seeing a musical in the West End, watching the England football team play the Republic of Ireland at Wembley, wandering around Chinatown, watching the entertainers in Covent Garden and a trip to Abbey Road. Muse were the icing on the cake and we spent a balmy May evening singing, dancing and generally having fun which was a vast improvement on the previous summer. It was good to know I wasn’t too old or too post-chemo bald (!) to be a concert companion. Although our blood relationship is mother-son, its brilliant that we are such good friends and have been for the last 20 years – love and friendship are the true meaning of joy 🙂

Inhumanity: when a “cause” spawns horrific consequences

Two wrongs do not make a right.

Two wrongs do not make a right.

When I woke up this morning I was preoccupied by thoughts of my 9am hospital visit. My preoccupation lasted approximately three minutes because I quickly discovered that a young soldier was brutally hacked to death on the streets of London yesterday. He was ambushed in broad daylight not far from the largest military barracks in the capital and pictures of the perpetrators soaked in their victim’s blood are now all over the press. Various reports suggest the two attackers viciously stabbed the young man and decapitated him all the while encouraging members of the public to take photographs or film of this sickening event.

Whilst officials were desperately trying to play down the motives for this act of barbarism eye-witness statements and footage of the culprits ‘explaining’ themselves are crystal clear.  One witness said “They grabbed the guy towards the wall then stabbed him – stabbed him, stabbed him, cut his neck, and then dragged him into the middle of the road.  They dragged the poor guy – he was obviously dead, there was no way a human could take what they did to him.”

The poor guy was Drummer Lee Rigby,  a 25 year-old from the Royal Fusiliers. Tonight his two-year-old son no longer has a father.

No doubt when Drummer Rigby joined-up he realised becoming a soldier meant operating in war-zones and placing himself in situations fraught with danger.  No doubt his loved ones also realised the significant level of personal risk that went along with his career choice.  I suspect neither Drummer Rigby nor his family and friends expected he would be ambushed and hacked to death in London all in the name of a “cause.” 

Irrespective of your position on Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, the Falklands, Uganda, the Niger Delta or any other troubled place on our very troubled planet, two wrongs never make a right.  Irrespective of your beliefs or religion, Christian, Muslim, Judaism, Buddhist, Sikhism, Hinduism, Agnostic, Atheist, Pagan or Wiccan, two wrongs never make a right.  Irrespective of your ethnicity, culture, class, origin or status, two wrongs never make a right.  We of all faiths, colours, religions, countries and castes would do well to make this our mantra.  We should ensure our children – let’s not forget the men who committed this crime are someone’s children – respect the sanctity of life, all life, even if it happens to be different to our own.

When a “cause” becomes so all-consuming that it permits one man to murder another, to boast about that wrongdoing and encourage others to do likewise we have slipped from humanity into inhumanity. As a mother and a peaceable citizen living in a country that is supposed to be “safe” I can only echo the words of the person who left these flowers for Drummer Rigby. I hope your suffering was brief and that you are at peace now.  I am disgusted that my child is growing up in a world so full of corruption and unnecessary violence. I am ashamed to call myself human when this kind of depravity exists in our world.

 

It may linger…

Horror is a feeling that cannot last long; human nature is incapable of supporting it. Sadness, whether it be from bereavement, or disappointment, or misfortune of any kind may linger on through life.” James De Mille.

self portrait of sadness

self portrait of sadness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today one of my cats, the ginger one, caught and ate something before I could rescue it.  I think it was probably a young rat.  I’m not a huge fan of rats (because there are so many of them and they are very destructive) but I prefer it if the cats don’t eat them. Cats are skilled hunters and although they’ve been domesticated over many eons their underlying instincts remain unchanged. They are hard-wired to catch and eat small creatures and my contrary wishes don’t always get taken into account.   No-one here in the countryside is unhappy that the cats hunt down a few vermin; they’re glad the rodent hordes aren’t over-running their outhouses, stables or wheat fields.   Sometimes people accuse cats of being cruel but this is a human label and is best applied to human behaviour. Cats simply rely on their instincts to ensure their survival.

Humans do not need to be cruel to one another but wherever you look you can find evidence that such behaviour runs rife through our societies. Whether it’s the school bully, the autocratic boss, the abusive partner, the over-critical parent or the warmongering militia, human cruelty can be found in so many places.  It operates at all levels, physical, emotional and psychological and whilst the horror of those situations may not last for long, the pain and sadness have the power to linger throughout life.  However it happens, when one human hurts another sadness remains long after the horror of the situation has subsided.

I remember my Mum telling me that for as long as she could remember her step-mother branded her stupid and clumsy. (She had a step-mother from the age of five or six).  Growing-up unsupported and demeaned meant my Mother had little self-confidence. She truly believed she was both of these things and thought she had little to offer the rest of society.  It was only when she met my Father and became part of his family that she realised some parents are different; some are kind, loving, compassionate and encouraging.  My Mum blossomed as a person in the company of my Father and his family, she had the most wonderful life with my Dad (who also happens to be a kind, compassionate, intelligent man who puts other people first).  In spite of this change in circumstances I know for a long time my Mum still struggled with thoughts of being unintelligent and awkward.  The saddest thing about it is that she was bright, intuitive, graceful and amiable.  For a long time she thought she was of little value but all those who knew her valued her greatly.  Her step-mother was undoubtedly a cruel woman who caused so much distress. I chose not to maintain contact with her as soon as I was old enough to make my own decisions.

Someone very dear to me is in the midst of the sadness that comes from acts of human cruelty.  Not physical mistreatment but acts of abuse none the less.  It has suffocated their joie de vivre, stolen their dreams and crushed their confidence.  I would like more than anything to remove the pain, eliminate the sadness and create a space where chi might flourish again. I fear I am not that skilled. I can splint broken bones and alleviate the symptoms of a multitude of minor ailments but I know no easy way to mend broken hearts or relieve lingering sadness from a tired soul.  My inability to recover and restore what has been lost disappoints me greatly.  Sometimes I need to work miracles and it saddens me that I cannot.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Escape

Escape

This week’s photo challenge is ‘Escape.’ Its very apt right now so here’s a recent photo that conjures up escape for me.  I love the sea, its wild, ever-changing nature. It is irrepressible, able to escape it’s confines and break over land or into the air as this shot taken in Barmouth, Wales, manages to capture.

Rehab

One of the (many) surprising things about being a cancer patient is the lack emotional or psychological support that’s available to deal with the non-physical impacts of the disease and its treatment.  It may be this is just the case in my locality because my Healthcare Trust is over-budget and the Government refuses to offer an extended loan. I’d be interested to hear whether other people have a similar experience?   In this area it seems unless you’re on the verge of complete breakdown or pose a threat  you’re expected to take care of yourself.  I imagine this must be very difficult for people who are on their own or prevented from maintaining social contact due to treatment or it’s side-effects.

To aid with my self-managed physical and psychological rehabilitation process I’ve thrown myself into growing things.  I enjoy being outdoors creating aesthetically pleasing flower beds and patio containers, mainly because I’ve always loved nature. The greater variety of plants and flowers in the garden, the more wildlife comes to visit. Back in the early 1990’s I used to grow vegetables as well as flowers and I’ve decided to re-establish this practice in earnest now I have the opportunity to do it.

I’m tired of my post-chemo, herceptin-inflated body and I suspect its tired of me as well.  I want to disperse the gallons of extra fluid I’m retaining.  I also want to regain my physical strength and overall fitness levels both of which have been seriously depleted during the course of the last 9 months.  My target is to lose 3.5 stone taking me back to the weight I was as a teenager at which point I should be lean enough to enter the Bristol 10k next year.  According to popular weight loss calculators a steady 2lb per week will see me hit my target weight in 25 weeks time – 1st November.  The manual labour involved in gardening will help rebuild strength and tone, time on the cross-trainer and bike will help with stamina and cardio-vascular performance.  With luck this will take care of the physical side of things.

Psychologically being outside in the natural world is the most healing activity I can think of so a combination of gardening, walking, tai-chi and yoga will hopefully restore my somewhat frazzled nerves; the past year has been incredibly stressful. The present continues to be traumatic and since I don’t want to turn into an axe murderer to help secure support from my local Healthcare Trust I intend to create some mental down-time without the use of drugs or alcohol.

I planned on spending an hour in the garden today but didn’t bother checking my watch.  I spent six hours out there without a break.  In reality it was probably three hours work but the 2013 version of me operates at a much slower pace than the 2011 version. In particular I have to avoid standing up too fast from kneeling or bending as I also get faint far too easily these days and passing out when there’s no-one else around isn’t a good idea.

I was pleased with the results of my efforts.  Although it doesn’t look like much at the moment the flowers in the border will fill out over time to bring some colour and perfume throughout the summer.  There are snapdragons, hollyhocks, foxgloves, grannies bonnets, rock roses, aubretia, various kinds of daisy, violas, primulas, campanula and cornflowers.  On the organic homegrown vegetable front there are tomatoes (cherry, plum and beefsteak), onions, garlic, parsnips, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, peas, beans, peppers, rhubarb, lambs lettuce, rocket, thyme, rosemary and oregano.  I’ve also planted strawberries, blueberries and loganberries.

Although it’s officially Spring, we’re forecast to have some very bad weather tomorrow with heavy rain, temperatures down to 5 degrees C and a risk of snow! Fortunately the flowering plants have already been acclimatised and the vegetables are in the greenhouse so they stand a chance of growing into something tasty in a few months time.

Stuck in a moment

This song by U2 has been playing in my head for days now.

Songs often come to me when there’s a lot on my mind.    It’s funny that our brains can drag things out from the depths of our memories at times when the messages within them might have special meaning. It’s especially funny how my little brain still manages to process melodies and the accompanying lyrics from a multitude of songs when many of my cognitive functions have been hammered into non-existence over the past 9 months all courtesy of you know what.

The sun is attempting to make an appearance today and in spite of my malfunctioning joints I’m going out into the garden to plant some flowers.  I love flowers especially old-fashioned varieties like forget-me-nots, red-hot pokers, bluebells, grannies bonnets and foxgloves.

In a few weeks the flowers will hopefully attract butterflies and bees so there’ll be plenty of colour, life and beauty in my garden following a long, cold and particularly gloomy winter.

I’ll be singing along with U2 while I’m out there messing about in the mud for a few hours.  If you’d like to sing along with me here are the lyrics…

 

I’m not afraid of anything in this world
There’s nothing you can throw at me that I haven’t already heard
I’m just trying to find a decent melody
A song that I can sing in my own company

I never thought you were a fool
But darling, look at you
You gotta stand up straight, carry your own weight
These tears are going nowhere, baby

You’ve got to get yourself together
You’ve got stuck in a moment and now you can’t get out of it
Don’t say that later will be better now you’re stuck in a moment
And you can’t get out of it

I will not forsake, the colours that you bring
But the nights you filled with fireworks
They left you with nothing
I am still enchanted by the light you brought to me
I still listen through your ears, and through your eyes I can see

And you are such a fool
To worry like you do
I know it’s tough, and you can never get enough
Of what you don’t really need now… my oh my

You’ve got to get yourself together
You’ve got stuck in a moment and now you can’t get out of it
Oh love look at you now
You’ve got yourself stuck in a moment and now you can’t get out of it

I was unconscious, half asleep
The water is warm till you discover how deep…
I wasn’t jumping… for me it was a fall
It’s a long way down to nothing at all

You’ve got to get yourself together
You’ve got stuck in a moment and now you can’t get out of it
Don’t say that later will be better now
You’re stuck in a moment and you can’t get out of it

And if the night runs over
And if the day won’t last
And if our way should falter
Along the stony pass

And if the night runs over
And if the day won’t last
And if your way should falter
Along the stony pass
It’s just a moment
This time will pass