Kate is hair and clothes flowing, delicate voice, searching through bags filled with tissues, snacks, books, water, pens. She is ethereal, not quite of this world. She is reading poetry, surprising me with her voice. She is in my line of vision as I look up from my music, her face glowing under stage lights, as the final Amen of Handel’s Messiah rises.
Next to her, I am earth-bound and solid. I am laughing as we talk about Beowulf and the art (and science) of linguistics. I am spellbound by her voice reading poetry. I am thrilled beyond measure when she introduces me to a group of poets, “not a poet, but a beautifully poetic writer of prose.” I am heartbroken and in disbelief that she could no longer exist in this world.
This was what I posted on FB last week upon hearing of Kate’s death from breast cancer. And to that, I add other names from the last days and weeks.
Madonna, the beautiful Madonna. She was quiet grace, always gentle, always moving forward as we climbed Kilimanjaro. She was sharing a beer with her husband, tired but satisfied, smiling in my pictures. That is how I think of her, smiling. Next to her, I am coarse. I wish I had known her better, or at least longer. Madonna died of breast cancer three weeks ago.
Jody is light and strength. She is precise, she is articulate. She is advocate, she is leader. Jody is one of the founders of #BCSM – an online breast cancer community – tirelessly working to create something of value, and she has. She has just entered hospice care.
And so, I will launch into one of my periodic rants (rages). Here’s the thing about breast cancer, it can happen to anyone, it can kill anyone, and there is no cure, there is no “getting over” it.
Early detection is great, but it is not a cure. Estimates are that around 30% of people with breast cancer, no matter what stage, will develop metastatic breast cancer (MBC) – cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, where it kills.
Breast cancer can, and does return, no matter the stage at diagnosis. It can return 3, 4, 5, 12, 27 years later.
Positive thinking and a “will to live” are not a cure. It may help people feel better and enjoy their lives more, but it will not cure cancer. I guarantee that every person who has died of cancer really, really wanted to live.
Funny, or touching, or clever social media MEMEs do not cure cancer. Pink ribbons sure as hell don’t cure cancer. Nor do any of the feel good cancer campaigns.
What might? Research. Plain old, boring, slow-as-molasses research. That’s what might help. Targeted treatments for some types of cancer, which can seem practically miraculous to those of us who have been around a while, were developed out of years of painstaking research. But a useful treatment for one type of cancer does not necessarily mean it will help another. There is no one thing as cancer, so there will never be one “cure.” Each and every advance comes out of research. So if you want to do something useful, donate $$ to research – RESEARCH.
Don’t mindlessly give money to any organization without checking how they spend it – and this is true for any cancer! Is the money going toward research? Or is all the money going to make little ribbons?
“Awareness” campaigns don’t do anything to find effective treatments. And at least for breast cancer, are probably fairly unnecessary at this point – unless they’re targeted for underserved populations. A recent study pointed out continuing racial biases in pain management, and earlier studies show disparities in cancer diagnosis and treatment. There is also still little awareness of male breast cancer. Programs targeted populations which can still use some awareness are one thing, but really, middle-class white suburban women probably don’t need any more “awareness.” This is pointed mostly to breast cancer, but this does apply to other cancers. And that gets back to my previous point: if you want to do something useful in your grief, donate money to research.
Or go for a walk. Really. The American Cancer Society (in their 2012 Cancer Facts & Figures) estimates that a third of all cancer diagnoses in the U.S. are directly attributable to lack of moderate exercise and poor nutrition habits. And if you know someone who has or had cancer, take them for a walk. Based on various studies, breast cancer patients who exercised moderately had improved survival rates of 35-65%, depending on the study, the exact populations, and how is was measured. But benefits are not just for breast cancer, other cancers (colon, lung, prostate) have shown improvements also. But the results for these cancers are so strong that the AACR (American Association of Cancer Research) recommended that all cancer doctors should talk to all their patients about exercise, no matter what type of cancer.
Of course, exercise is no guarantee. I’m a perfect example – very physically active, and developed breast cancer in my 30s. And all of my friends listed above: Kate did yoga, Madonna walked/ran/climbed Kili(!), and Jody loved to walk and cycle. But statistically, we’re the outliers. Statistically, you improve your health, and your friend’s, if you go for a walk regularly (or cycle, or dance, or swim, or skip).
So go for a walk. And support research. Because I’m so damn tired of writing memories.
And enjoy your friends while you can, because that’s so much more satisfying than writing remembrances.