My breast lump is tiny and pokey. It measures 0.6 x 0.3 x 0.2 cm, a circumscribed tumor nodule with a parallel orientation at the 11:00 position, approximately 9 cm from the nipple. Reading over the interim print report, I could only smile about the coincidence of my scheduled 11:00 AM Monday surgery and the position of the nodule. It sounds better to call it a nodule than a tumor.
“Why did this happen to me?” I wondered aloud. What did “doing everything” to prevent cancer really mean? There are days I skipped sun screen. I don’t get enough calcium or exercise as much and as hard as I should. And, oh yeah, I live in a highly polluted urban area of the United States, but I eat healthy and try and keep my stress to a minimum.
Two weeks before I discovered the lump, I read an interesting article in the New York Times Magazine about breast cancer along with the pop culture of advertising it over the last ten years. It began with a disclosure that the author was a breast cancer survivor, so I naturally thought it would be a positive article on the strides in breast cancer that science and the Komen organization has made over the last few years. Not exactly the case. The article talked about the flaws of Komen recommending mammograms as a way to prevent breast cancer. While Komen, along with the American Cancer Society are credited with raising the profile of the disease, encouraging women to speak about their experience and transforming “victims” into “survivors,” the Komen pink-ribbon culture has become less about eradication of breast cancer than self-perpetuation: maintaining the visibility of the disease and keeping the funds rolling in.
For the last ten years, I have felt a certain disgust in seeing how the pink-ribbon culture has narrowed our awareness of what is being done in research to prevent breast cancer: Pink ribbons on high-rise buildings, pink garbage trucks, pink gloves and pink spike shoes on football players, pink stockings, and pink ballet shoes—its relentless marketing has made the pink ribbon one of the most recognized logos of our time. It has come to symbolize both fear of the disease and the hope it can be defeated.
One hundred and eight American women die of breast cancer each day. Some can live for a decade or more with metastatic disease, the median life span is 26 months. I don’t want to be part of the statistics.
On the Friday before my scheduled surgery, I walked over to the breast center to request the radiologist report. I wanted to study it over the weekend, find a weak link in it, a mistake, something that might lead me to discover some inconsistency in the results. I opened the door to find six ladies with large pink ribbons in their hair. They stood around a table set for a party: a cake as the center piece with bright pink frosting, cupcakes with pink and white sprinkles, pink plastic forks and pink napkins, and purple punch with a pink ribbon painted on the glass pitcher.
“What’s going on here?” I asked.
“We are having a mammogram party,” a lady told me in between bites of cake.
After signing the release consent, the receptionist handed me my ultra sound report. I said goodbye to the giggling women just as one of them was called into an exam room. I wished them luck and left.
I didn’t quite understand the concept of the party. It was a sort of celebration before the mammogram study. I couldn’t believe they were resorting to “parties” at the breast center, but then again I had nothing to celebrate yet.