Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Let There Be Cheerleaders

For the past few days, I've been trying to write a post about Sunday, but it's October and I'm distracted.  Everywhere I turn I'm overwhelmed with pinkertising while not even looking for it.  But, there it is.  In my mailbox, in my supermarket (chicken sausage, anyone?), at my gym and even in the dentist's chair adorning the paper bib used to soak up spit.  I was informed by the hygienist, these bibs were specially purchased to help raise awareness.

Oh, it's working.  I'm totally aware.

My brother asked if I'm anti-pink.  Not exactly.  Like so many these days, I'm against what "pink" has come to represent. The happy-go-lucky, early stage, still having fun, never sick, all is right in the world, let's get coffee with perfect hair and makeup, cancer survivor.  My skin prickles at this unrealistic vision created by major marketing machines.

All is not well in the land of breast cancer.  For if it were, there would be no need for last Sunday.

It's been nearly thirty years since Nancy Brinker founded the Susan G. Komen organization and began work to end breast cancer.  In those years, Komen and other cancer organizations succeeded in shining a light on what was once a shameful, embarrassing, deadly disease.  A disease, no one dared speak of louder than a whisper.

How far they've come.  I can't step outside my door, or power up my computer without being assaulted by a litany of companies all promising to aid in the fight.  All promising their donated dollars will put a stop to it.

The thing is, it hasn't worked.  Thirty years, no cure and more questions than answers.  The promise most of us grew up with, has yet to come true.  We're still being told we have breast cancer.  It's that failure in finding a cure which inspired thousands of people on Sunday to turn out for a small organization, named Support Connection.

The crowd didn't show to raise money for research.

They weren't walking for education and awareness.

It wasn't about the cure.

Their purpose was to acknowledge the remnants of unfulfilled promises -- The people left in cancer's wake. Those of us actually living with breast or ovarian cancer.  The day was simply a way of ensuring this organization would continue to provide its free support, information, counseling and hope through stories and experiences of women who had lived it.

That kind of help is sadly, still desperately in need.

All these years without answers created the urgency for such a place.  As the reign of breast cancer lingers, Support Connection exists for the approximate 200,000 women who annually find themselves newly diagnosed.  It exists for those with advanced stages of breast cancer, which continues to occur since no one has discovered how to stop Stage I from becoming Stage IV.

Without a cure, we are left to fend for ourselves, but if we're lucky, we'll find the support needed to heal...needed to just face our day.

It was a beautiful Sunday.  Many participants walked together as teams.  Many brought dogs. Cheerleading squads and local high school bands performed along the path and at first, I couldn't understand why they were cheering.

This wasn't a race.  No one was awarded a prize for finishing first.  We were here for each other.  That's why they were cheering.  For the thousands of us, everywhere, directly affected by society's failure to eradicate this disease.  We're still dealing with cancer, everyday.  We live with it, die with it and carry each other along the way.

Many walkers wore signs claiming "In honor of" or "In memory of" some loved one.  Many were walking to commemorate their own triumphs.  I didn't pin on any signs in the name of those I've lost.  I also didn't walk for myself.  I walked for all the ladies and men I've never met who will one day hear the words, "You have cancer" and need a  place to turn. Support Connection provides that and with the generosity of donors, will continue to freely give services until they are no longer needed.  When the promises of all the pink finally, hopefully, one day come to fruition and breast cancer becomes a thing of the past.

Sorry, Support Connection, your doors will have to close.  Fundraising walks will go by the wayside and your toll-free hotline will quietly shut down, but those cheerleaders... They'll really have something to yell about.  What a welcome sight that will be.




8 comments:

  1. Thanks, Stacey, for a beautiful post. And BELIEVE me.... no one hopes more than us that Support Connection will one day become obsolete. We will be cheering louder than anyone!

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  2. Great post! Echoes so many of my thoughts. Sign me up for some cheerleading! ;-)

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  3. Stacey, You're right about Komen and the other organizations who've shined a light on breast cancer, and you're right about how far we have to go.

    We, in the breast cancer community have spoken out about our frustrations on everything from too much pink to where's the cure. We've been very vocal, & Komen knows our issues and why we feel the way we do. What if as a next step we remember our common ground, a cure, and work together to find more effective ways to change the existing pink system?

    To that end, I've invited Leslie Aun, National Director of Marketing & Communication for Komen to address some of the breast cancer communities' anger and frustrations this coming week, Oct 9th, on my blog. Perhaps I'm naive, but I'm hoping we can both let go of defending our positions long enough to brainstorm a more transparent and accountable fundraising and search for the cure mechanism. We want the same thing! Let's stop being critics, rechannel our anger and see if we can't bring about a more constructive system.

    No one has ever invited Komen to the table to talk about our differences. Let's come together this week on BRENDA'S BLOG and "dip our collective toes in the water." I'm hoping this will lead to further in-depth conversations. This could be a unique opportunity for the breast cancer community as a whole. We have nothing to lose except the cure. I hope you'll help me spread the word.

    Thank you,
    Brenda

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  4. Stacey,
    I enjoyed reading this post so much and I took special notice of your new word, "pinkertising!"

    Support Connect sounds like a wonderful organization existing, as you said, just to help those with cancer face the day and as so many of us know, sometimes that is a very daunting task.

    Good for you for participating in such a meaningful event. "We were just here for each other," that says it all doesn't it? I wonder if the day will come when we don't need such an organization. I hope so, and you're so right, that WOULD be something to cheer about wouldn't it?

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  5. I struggle with the feelings you, Nancy, and a bazillion others feel re: pinkstrocity... Problem is, I guess I feel a little different, which, I know with you guys, is okay. Maybe I'm just not well-enough informed, or maybe I see the world through pink-colored glasses. I suppose I've never really expected to see a cure for cancer in my lifetime, and frankly, am not sure there is such a thing. Maybe I'm in denial; I'm not sure. I did, today, sign up to be a volunteer at our local cancer support house (ironically, covered in pink). I guess I feel all the pink equates support and awareness with research thrown in on the side.... I guess I really need to educate myself.

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  6. Thanks Barbara! I so hope we can see that day. Not that I want you guys to lose your jobs or anything. :-)

    Hi Renn, thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts!

    Brenda, I think you're amazing. You're putting our vocal concerns into action by reaching out to Komen and you're absolutely right about a common ground. If we could only work together... imagine what might be. I'll absolutely help spread the word. I can't wait to see how it plays out. Thank you.

    Hi Nancy, oh no, the teacher in you picked up on "pinkertising." I couldn't help it, seemed to fit. Anyway, yes, Support Connection is amazing. I'm lucky to have found it. There's just something about being with other women that just "get it." So few words are needed. It's nice!

    Hi Lisa! Thank you so much for your comment. I see a lot of positives in pink. It certainly brought the disease out of the closet and for that, I'm happy. I think my issue is thinking "pink" has gotten off track somewhere along the line. Almost as if the real goal of either discovering a cure or learning true prevention has been lost in all the feel-good advertising out there. To me, "pink" is about raising as much money as possible, in fun ways (which is fine), but in the end, most of the money is not going to research and that's really the only way we'll ever figure this out. Not by printing anymore posters about looking good during chemo or misleading the public with statements about mammograms preventing breast cancer. It's stuff like that, that drives me crazy. I think volunteering at a support house is awesome! Nothing compares to sharing experiences with others who understand. That's why I love Support Connection so much, but I would be thrilled if one day soon (or ever!) we didn't have a need for it.

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  7. What an amazing experience! Now that's what I call support. :)

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  8. Words without action can be a lot of hot air.

    Congratulations, Stacey. I think this is a wonderful organization. Thanks for a great post,

    Jody

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