October has been a strange month. Aside from Venus being in retrograde which supposedly invokes all things re — re-connect, re-store, re-juvinate, re-member…. I’ve been feeling more introspective while I laid low on social media, and re-visited a lot of past interests and things. For example, I had the strong urge to organize my jewelry that has been tangled and stored away since I moved to NY. I literally spent 4 hours on the phone with my best friend while I worked to untangle at least 20 chains of shiny gold necklaces. I then purchased a set of plastic containers to finally organize and properly store the pendants, earrings, rings, and other baubles into a tidy dresser drawer. It felt amazing!
This month is also considered Breast Cancer Awareness month, or what I like to call, “Pinktober”. I can’t pass a commercial or scroll through my feed without seeing pink ribbons and advertisements for breast cancer awareness. It may seem counter-intuitive, but majority of us affected by this disease actually despise all this pink-washing. Personally, I feel like so many companies use the guise of breast cancer as a marketing ploy to push more products or buy into people’s good-graces, when in reality they do little to none to actually support those affected by breast cancer or further meaningful research. A quick search for “breast cancer” on Amazon gave me hits like “I’m Just Here For The Boobs T-Shirt Funny Breast Cancer Tee” and “Save Motorboating Funny Breast Cancer Awareness Shirt”. Seriously?? Besides, breast cancer is something we are fighting ALL the time for a LONG time, not just one month out of the year.
That said, I have been feeling a lot of internal struggle when I was tagged in a campaign where a big pharmaceutical company supposedly will make a sizable donation if they get enough people to post a selfie and hashtag a catchy phrase. While the organization they will be donating to is a legitimate breast cancer support group and well-deserving of financial backing, I couldn’t help but think if this is also just a marketing ploy to get more empathy while working to un-vilify the industry: “Look, we truly do care for patients and if our hashtag goes viral then we’ll show you how great we are with this big a$$ donation!”. To which my response would be — why do you need a hashtag and Instagram campaign to do this? Why don’t you just donate, if you truly want to help? I now know of two large pharmas with similar campaigns: shares/hashtag = donation.
The internal struggle comes from the fact that I actually work in pharma. And the big kicker — I used to work for the first company (my first real job out of college) and I currently work for the second company. I know.
Before diagnosis, I actually took great pride in what I do — I help bring life-saving drugs to market. I’ve attended town halls where real patients came and talked about how this drug extended their life or that drug alleviated their symptoms and gave them a better quality of life. I worked with so many clinical trial protocols for a myriad of indications like diabetes, hypertension, psoriasis, and yes, oncology. Back then, I would use terms like subjects, disease progression, survival rate, toxicity, tumor markers and translate them into system requirements without any further consideration on what they truly meant. Now that I am on the other side, each of those terms has true meaning, a lot of weight, and even emotion tied to them. When I first got my pathology report back, I consumed it first and foremost as a patient, dissecting each word with so much thought and concern. Charts, predictions, graphs, numbers — they used to be mere parameters with which I built my systems. Now, I am a plot on the graph, I am a statistic, I am a number.
Being diagnosed forced me to re-assess so much. How did I get sick? Why did I get sick? Is it the environment? Is it the food? The water? Is it the government? Why is breast cancer in young women on a rapid rise in America? Do they want to keep us sick? They make so much money off of cancer treatment that it kind of makes sense. Am I a victim of the evils of capitalism? Am I contributing to a vicious cycle? I now see how conspiracy theories are born.
Irony stepped up even further when I attended an industry conference last week. So much of the talks revolved around putting the patient first, and we even had a two-time cancer survivor speak on how to leverage our technology to get drugs to market faster. I looked around the room and I know there is a sincerity with wanting to do good. We’ve all been touched by terrible diseases such as cancer, and we all just want to contribute however we can.
I wrestled with this idea of conspiracy versus sincerity. Shame versus pride. Guilt versus vindication. Where do I stand as a researcher? Where do I stand as a patient? Where do I stand, period?
Cue, Venus. Time to re-think, re-assess. Perhaps I don’t have to fall completely on one side. Maybe I don’t have to vilify my company or my industry as a whole. After all, me, my colleagues, my husband, so many relatives are all part of the healthcare and research system that has contributed to treatments that ultimately do good. Perhaps I don’t have to quit my job after all. While I continue to have questions and be very vigilant with whom I offer my support, I do acknowledge that donations to organizations like Living Beyond Breast Cancer, Young Survival Coalition, and Metavivor ARE life-changing. They provide invaluable support and resources for those of us battling this disease, now. So putting aside my theories and reservations, I am proud to participate in these campaigns, and even prouder to have a hand in the research that I hope will ultimately lead to a cure, or at the very least downgrade breast cancer from a terminal illness to just a chronic illness.
That said, I bring to you some facts around breast cancer. My hope is that you, as a friend, family member, reader, have a better understanding of the disease and invoke the kind of awareness that leads to tangible action.
- Just because active treatment (chemotherapy, radiation) is over, it doesn’t mean we’re done and out of the woods. As a young survivor, there are further treatments like hormone suppressants that put us into menopause, hormone-blocking pills that we need to take every day for 10 years, some may even have maintenance chemo or infusions that are done every few months. And sometimes, even after doing all this, the cancer may still return, and sometimes as Stage 4.
- Metastatic Breast Cancer is Stage 4 cancer, which is the last (aka terminal) stage. This is defined by cancer that has spread beyond the breast and into any other part of the body. And while it is treatable, it is often considered incurable. In other words, this is the only breast cancer that kills.
- Less than 7% of breast cancer research is spent on metastatic breast cancer. The main reason for this is lack of funding.
- 1 in 3 early stage survivors will eventually become metastatic.
These facts can be daunting, which is why so many of us survivors go through an immense amount of emotional and mental anguish well after active treatment. It’s like walking along a cliff, trying not to look down, trying not to panic, while being aware that life could very well mean a slip or tumble away. And yet in spite of all that, there is the choice to keep walking, to keep living. I guess this is what it means to thrive.
I would like to highlight some of the organizations that have personally helped me thrive throughout my active treatment and beyond:
You Can Thrive – they are a local organization based in NYC that provides free and low-cost holistic self-care for those diagnosed with cancer, and affordable holistic services for the community at large. They facilitate a Mind/Body/Spirit focus to take the whole person “from surviving to thriving”. I was able to get things like reiki, sound bath healing, yoga, shiatsu massages, etc, which were invaluable to my healing.
Young Survival Coalition – probably the biggest and most well-known organization for young breast cancer survivors. They provide resources, connections and outreach so women feel supported, empowered and hopeful. My first interaction with a “support group” was an online Facebook group where I was able to ask questions and get support openly with no judgement. Seeing posts of women years beyond their initial diagnosis living healthy and happily was a game-changer.
Credo Beauty – it’s basically the Sephora for clean beauty. With so many chemicals and carcinogenic ingredients flooding makeup and beauty products, I turned to this store to re-vamp my whole collection with wholesome, safe, and clean products. A couple months into chemo, I attended their event where I was able to get a free facial and speak to brand owners. It turns out, one of the brand owners was herself a BC survivor, and seeing her so passionate about doing the work she does was truly an inspiration. The store’s employees are also so warm and accommodating, that I felt so supported and comforted as I shopped for items that made me look “normal”, which in turn made me feel “normal”. Not to mention 1% of every purchase is donated to Lipstick Angels, which provides supportive in-hospital beauty services to seriously ill patients using Credo’s natural makeup and skin care brands.
There are so many other organizations and retailers that do make real impact, but the point is that how and where we spend our dollars do make a difference. I encourage us all to be mindful that breast cancer deserves not just our awareness but our action not just one month out of the year, but on an ongoing consistent basis.
If you or anyone you know are going through a similar diagnosis or any hardship, I dedicate this “Pinktober” to you, and know that I send you so much healing light and peace and love. ❤