October 30th – nearly the end of Pinktober, thank goodness. All month, I’ve been thinking about whether to write, what to write, when to write about Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
I have conflicting feelings about BCAM and so I’d almost decided not to write anything at all. Then yesterday I heard some very sad news about someone and that changed my mind.
Surely, everyone is aware of breast cancer by now. Most people know that they should check their breasts at the same time every month, and those that are old enough understand that they should go to their mammogram appointment. Still, 55,000 people are diagnosed with breast cancer every year in the UK and around 11,000 die from the disease annually. 30% of those diagnosed with primary breast cancer will develop incurable secondary breast cancer.
It seems to me that prevention and early diagnosis are the areas at which BCAM is principally aimed. But what about awareness of secondary or metastatic breast cancer? This is when primary breast cancer has spread to the bones or other organs in the body and is incurable. Are primary breast cancer patients aware of secondary breast cancer? Are they told about it by their oncologists? Do they know the signs or what to look for? Shouldn’t BCAM be raising awareness of these points too?
Check your breasts
Everybody, women and men should be checking their breasts, neck and armpits every month without fail. Not just in October when they’re reminded day after day, but every month of every year. If, like me, you don’t have breasts, then check along your scars. I’ve posted this before and I think that this graphic illustrates what you are looking and feeling for.
If you find something unusual for you, then don’t be scared, but do visit your GP as soon as you can. Early diagnosis is way better than the alternative.
Go to your mammogram appointment
OK, no one wants voluntarily to go and get their breasts squeezed between two large plates. It’s uncomfortable and some women find it really painful. Believe me when I say that it’s a lot less painful than having a mastectomy and much less uncomfortable than going through chemotherapy. Do I have to say anything more? If you want to read more, I’ve written a post about screening
Secondary, metastatic or advanced breast cancer
I am a primary breast cancer survivor; one of the lucky ones. I don’t take this status for granted. I know that the cancer could recur. I want to know what the signs of secondary cancer are and what I should be aware of. That word, aware, again. What are the red flags? There are five main areas where secondary breast cancer can appear – brain, liver, lungs, bones, lymph nodes. This infographic from Jo Taylor at ABC Diagnosis is a fabulous tool that illustrates this.
Many primary breast cancer patients are not made aware of this and are not even told that their cancer could come back. I think that this should be a much bigger part of BCAM as it’s clear to me and many of those working in the secondary breast cancer arena that awareness is lacking on the signs and symptoms of recurrence.
Secondary Breast Cancer Awareness Day was on 13th October this year; one day set aside in the whole month, despite the fact that 30% of those diagnosed with primary breast cancer will go on to develop secondary tumours. I can’t speak for those living with secondary breast cancer, but looking at Twitter, it seems to me that they feel ignored and marginalised in favour of prevention and early diagnosis.
Much more research is needed to find a cure for secondary breast cancer. There are a lot of campaigning hashtags being used this month to highlight secondary breast cancer. To get a feel of the conversation have a look at #stageivneedsmore #busylivingwithmets #secondarynotsecondrate #researchnotribbons #pinkisnotacure
That last hashtag brings me to the colour pink and pink products. There are so many pink products on sale, all supporting breast cancer charities and all competing for your money. Do you really need a pair of pink hair straighteners or pinkified face cream and, if you do, do you know how much of the purchase price will be going to charity and how much kept by the company?
Why not bypass the pink products next October and just donate directly to the breast cancer charity of your choice? There are many breast cancer charities and they each focus on different areas, from patient support to research. Sara Liyanage of Ticking off Breast Cancer has researched a very useful directory of breast cancer charities to help you decide which one you’d like to donate to.
Men get breast cancer too. I wonder what they think about the pink washing of breast cancer awareness. Does it encourage them to check their breasts? After my discussion on flatness on BBC Radio 5 Live, one man who had been diagnosed with breast cancer called in to say that he felt isolated and alienated by breast cancer’s pinkness. I’m pretty sure that he’s not the only man who feels like that.
Guess what…breast cancer really is not pink and fluffy. It’s ugly, disfiguring and painful. The only pink part of breast cancer for me is my mastectomy scars. The reality of breast cancer goes beyond the pink of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Tickingoffbreastcancer worked with Breast Cancer Care to produce three short films featuring real women and men and showing this reality. The links are below so why not make yourself a cup of tea and watch these films. This is truly breast cancer awareness.