October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Not that you could miss it with all the Pepto-bismal pink – hundreds of products in the grocery store have it, NFL players are wearing it. And please don’t misunderstand, breast cancer is serious and impacts the lives of many, many people (women and their families). But when caught early, breast cancer is 98% curable. That is right, 98% CURABLE.
There are reminders for women all over the place to, “check the girls” and to go for their mammograms after turning 40 (and yes Mom, I’m scheduling mine this week). And breast cancer is a diagnosis that makes a women question many things in her life: Am I still beautiful? Should I have reconstruction? Who am I without my breasts? Society is still very materialistic and judges beauty by what is on the outside. The emotional impact of breast cancer can be huge. I really understand that. I know women who are breast cancer survivors. I know women who are in the process of dealing with this diagnosis. And I understand that it isn’t easy.
But pink makes me want to puke. The Komen Foundation has done an excellent job of making sure that we are all aware of breast cancer. The Foundation has taken fundraising to a level never seen before and they should be applauded for their efforts, which have resulted in many successful treatment options for women with breast cancer. And while I don’t have daughters (and yes, men can get breast cancer – but it is not the same issue), I hope, no I pray that my future daughter-in-laws and my future granddaughters (or granddaughter-in-laws) never have to deal with breast cancer.
My problem with pink is that it is focused on one single type of cancer to the exclusion of all others. I understand that for the Komen Foundation to be successful they needed to focus on breast cancer. But that success has escalated to a nauseating level. The money that the Komen Foundation raises is money that is not going to other types of cancer. And breast cancer is not the number 1 cause of cancer deaths. According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 40,000 people in the United States died from breast cancer in the past year. However, nearly 157,000 died from Lung Cancer in the same period, 49,000 people died from colon and rectal cancer, and 38,000 people died from pancreatic cancer (statistics found at http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/content/@epidemiologysurveilance/documents/document/acspc-029819.pdf).
The difference is that there isn’t a Lung Cancer Awareness Month or a Colon and Rectal Cancer Month. The public is unaware of the “colors” representing these cancers (FYI – colon and rectal cancer can be either blue or brown and lung cancer is pearl). There isn’t a huge foundation raising awareness of these cancers and soliciting corporate donations and backing.
This is the question I ask myself over and over again when I see the pink that represents breast cancer. Chris says that it is because, “Lungs aren’t as stylish as boobs.” I’m not sure that I totally disagree. However, I think there are many other contributing factors. Is it because lung cancer is caused by smoking and therefore people who have lung cancer did it to themselves? It is true that many people who have lung cancer smoked. However, if you have a heart attack because you ate high fat foods, do we blame you? Do we blame someone who gets skin cancer because they didn’t use enough sunscreen? No, we don’t. And while we have known that smoking causes a number of diseases, that has only been confirmed in the recent past. How many mothers smoked while they were pregnant and had low-birth weight babies? My mom did. Did she know conclusively that smoking would cause this? No. Did she know that smoking caused cancer? No. So, while I may buy into the feeling that those who smoke should know better, they didn’t know better 40 years ago.
AND, what about the non-smokers who have lung cancer? How can we possibly blame them? They didn’t smoke and they still got lung cancer. And trust me, they are paying for it. Lung cancer isn’t usually found early.
The American Lung Cancer Association has this posted at the top of their home page:
Lung cancer is the second-most commonly diagnosed cancer in both men and women. However it is still the most common cause of cancer death.(http://www.lungusa.org/lung-disease/lung-cancer/)
In 1979, 98,541 people died from lung cancer. That number has been steadily increasing. The 5-year survival rate for lung cancer in 1979 was 12.7%, while it was 75.1% for breast cancer. Now the 5-year survival rate for breast cancer is 90.1% – which is a significant increase. However, the 5-year survival rate for lung cancer is only 16.3% (statistics are from 2005, the latest year I could find reliable statistics for). This is pathetic. After nearly 30 years, the survival rate for those diagnosed with lung cancer has improved less than 4%. (http://www.lungusa.org/finding-cures/our-research/trend-reports/lc-trend-report.pdf)
Why is this ok? It isn’t.
So why isn’t someone doing something about it? I think that the answer to this question is quite complicated. For one thing, the families of people with lung cancer are so busy trying to deal with the cancer and the not-so-good prognosis that they don’t have the time or energy to be national advocates for lung cancer research. I know that I don’t have the time, energy or the resources to fund-raise for lung cancer research. I am too busy trying to pay the medical bills. The other part of the answer, I think, is that there are so few survivors of lung cancer, they would be difficult to mobilize. One reason that I believe that the Komen Foundation has been successful is that they can tap into breast cancer survivors (there are many).
As the spouse of someone who has lung cancer, it is very frustrating. And in the end, results in me wanting to puke whenever I see pink!