Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I don't want to offend, just inform

Cancer is a horrible, very bad, disease. It’s robbed this world of some of our best and brightest. My first “real” experience with cancer was the loss of Terry Fox, back when I was in high school. Like every Canadian at the time, I followed his journey, amazed at what someone with such a disability could do, to raise awareness, to raise money. I thought he was so freaking brave, so principled, and so strong. I cried when he died, sad that someone so strong could be strangled by this disease.

Cancer had never touched our family, until I lost my sister in law to ovarian cancer a few years ago. She was like my sister; she was a part of my family since I was little. She loved my brother and gave us a beautiful, smart, wonderful niece (who’s had her own troubles with thyroid cancer). Then, about a year or so ago, my brother in law was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. (I don’t know a whole lot about pancreatic cancer. I tell people that he has the “Steve Jobs” , not the “Patrick Swayze” kind. So, right now, he’s getting treatment and feeling good, able to work and play and be with his family. I have a close friend, who’s now lost both breasts to cancer. I hate this disease, I hate what it does to people, and I wish that there was a way to kill it, this “Emperor of all Maladies”.

What I’ve begun to dread now, is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I hate the pink appliances; I hate the “I heart boobies” rubber bracelets. I hate the “thingamaboob” and I hate the T shirts that tell you to “fight like a girl”. I especially despise the pink toilet paper. (Weren’t we told years ago that the dye in coloured toilet paper wasn’t good for our lady parts?)

I hate all of those things for a number of reasons. First of all, I think that Kitchenaid™ is making a whole lot more money from those appliances than they’re donating to cancer research/treatment/prevention. Also, there’s not a whole lot of evidence that all of this “awareness raising” is doing a whole lot. Katherine Russel Rich says it a whole lot better than I do, in this article.

I believe that the whole ‘cancer industry’ is making a whole lot more money than they’d care to tell you. When I’m at my most paranoid, it’s my feeling that drug companies would be loathe to fund research that would end up in a cure for cancer. Think of the profits they’d lose.

There’s also not a whole lot of evidence that indicates all of this awareness is working. That article in talks about the information in Gale Sulik’s book, Pink Ribbon Blues.:
The risk of dying from the disease, upon diagnosis, decreased just 0.05 percent from 1990 to 2005. A woman with invasive breast cancer today will be bombarded with many more treatments and spend a lot more than her grandmother might have on care, but she'll have about the same chance of dying from the illness as women did 50 years ago.

"Survivors and supporters walk, run, and purchase for a cure as incidence rates rise, and the cancer industry thrives," Sulik writes. She points out that "cancer drugs are the fastest growing and best selling class of drugs" in the prescription drug market, which totals more than $200 billion and is ever growing. Given the profits, Sulik questions whether any amount of pink-ribbon volunteering can alter the medical establishment's investment in the current treatments. Who needs a cure if you can make so much money without one?

Also in that Slate article, this information about where all our money goes, and suggestions about what could be done.

The CEO of the Komen Foundation, who earns $459,406 a year (more than 5,000 race entry fees), could try living on the wages of your average oncologist—$250,000 a year—and top up the fund with that extra $200,000 or so.
This way, we'd have ample resources to help directly. We could provide cab service for the woman with brain metastasis forced to drive 40 minutes each way for a scan. We could pay for a counselor—couples' or otherwise—for the women whose husbands turn mean after their diagnoses. "He tells me he's waiting for me to die," one posts on Breast Cancer Insight. Women could get housekeeping services during the molasses days of chemotherapy, child care for scan days, money for a lawyer if their jobs are suddenly declared "redundant" upon diagnosis. If we can't yet abolish breast cancer, then let's at least tackle the social ills that come with the disease. We wouldn't even be diverting the majority of Komen funds from science. Only 23.5 percent goes to research, anyway.

And what about all those other cancers, the one’s that aren’t so sexy? Why don’t we have a brown toaster to promote awareness for colon cancer? Why don’t we have panties that tell us to check out our nether regions?

What I’m suggesting is, if you really want to make a difference in the fight against cancer, one that we’re clearly not winning, don’t go out and buy a pink coffee maker to put on your counter that shows your friends that you really care.

Give a friend a ride to chemotherapy.
Look after her kids.
Volunteer at a hospital.
Crochet a beanie to cover up a bald head.
Knit an afghan to give warmth in a cold hospital.
Pay for a tank of gas to offset the costs of traveling
Sit and listen.
Do something that matters to someone, not something that impresses someone.