I haven’t come very far

(October 23: I wrote this on October 6 but didn’t publish it for some reason. Rather than rewriting it to change time frames and then publishing it on this day, I’ve decided to publish it on the day I’d intended to publish it.)

Each year since her first breast cancer diagnosis over eight years ago, my mother took part in the Run for the Cure. She was proud to be a survivor and loved to get her pink survivor’s t-shirt at the start of each run.

I decided this year to volunteer for the local Run for the Cure, in her memory. It was to be a way to be a part of something that meant a lot to her. My father and my brother and his family were taking part in the Halifax one, just as they always have.

The volunteer meeting was seven weeks to the day after my mother’s death. (Yes, I’m still counting. Yesterday was two months.) They played an inspirational video showcasing personal stories (happy and sad), and it was all too much for me. I sat there in the semi-darkness of the high school library with tears running down my cheeks until the video presentation was over. I thought at one point I was going to have to leave because I could feel hysterical sobs lurking just below the surface. But I stuck around. (The Universe decided to treat me after that to 25 minutes sitting in the rain waiting for a bus whose driver neglected to mention when we’d reached Lees. So my 20 minute trip home turned into a very cold and wet 2 hours. But I digress…)

I’ve been overly emotional ever since. If I’m not actually crying, the tears are nearby. I ended up backing out of volunteering in part because I just didn’t think I could bear to be around people in this state. Some of the feelings I’m having surprise me, though I suppose that grief is an intensely individual thing. The word “cancer” invariably triggers the barely-restrained tears. It doesn’t matter what kind or in what context. And I find I’m a little bit resentful of the publicity surrounding breast cancer. I know, it’s irrational and unkind, but it is what it is. My mother didn’t die of breast cancer, she survived it. The ovarian cancer that killed her doesn’t get nearly the attention that breast cancer does, and that’s what I resent.

The Ovarian Cancer Canada Walk of Hope, for example, brought in over $2.3 million this year. The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation Run for the Cure, on the other hand, brought in $33 million. Both runs/walks occur within a month of each other, the Walk for Hope in September and the Run for the Cure in October, but you hear very little about the Walk for Hope. Perhaps that can be put down to the guerrilla marketing techniques employed by the CBCF and other breast cancer awareness organizations, keeping pink and the concept of breast cancer high in the public’s thoughts. How many people who don’t have or know someone who has know that ovarian cancer awareness is teal? I guarantee you it’s a lot fewer than know that pink is for breast cancer awareness.

Perhaps that’s a failing of the PR/marketing side of Ovarian Cancer Canada.

Perhaps it’s just natural that people focus more on a cancer with steadily improving odds of survival than a cancer that you don’t normally know you have until it’s too late to really do anything but die badly, though perhaps the steadily improving odds of breast cancer can be put down to the larger amount of funding they bring in for research.

Or perhaps the fact that breast cancer is much more common than ovarian cancer keeps it in the forefront, though the mortality rate is much lower for breast cancer than for ovarian cancer. (Three times as many women die from breast cancer each year than from ovarian cancer, but breast cancer is also ten times more common than ovarian cancer, making the survival rate for breast cancer a fair bit higher than for ovarian cancer.)

I know it sounds like I’m arguing for the support of one cancer over another, but I’m not. I’m arguing for the support of both highly-related cancers. The next time you’re thinking about making a donation to support breast cancer research, consider making one to support ovarian cancer research as well.


3 thoughts on “I haven’t come very far

  1. Louise

    Breast cancer should not kill women/men but it still does and that floors me.

    My mother passed away Oct 9 2009 from breast cancer which we all thought she had beaten in 2007. We had a good 2008 celebrating her hair growth, debating whether she should go back to coloring her hair blond or keeping the beautiful grey curls. She was only 69 and decided to go back to her blond. This didn’t last a year as her cancer returned with a vengeance, attacking her lungs and bones in January 2009. It was probably always lurking and the pain she felt in her joints wasn’t from the meds to keep cancer away but it was the cancer. Mom did it all right…she didn’t smoke, ate very well and worked out. She started running in her 50’s and won gold in her age categuory. She still died from breast cancer and it makes me angry.
    So yes, breast cancer gets more publicity and doesn’t seem to matter. I do know that ovarian is faster and deadlier and women should not be dying from this either.

  2. I’m so sorry to hear about your loss.

    I don’t know why people are still dying from breast cancer. Until I really started to read up on it while I was writing (and in the months since I wrote) this post, I’d had this really weird thought that breast cancer hardly killed anyone at all these days. I was surprised at — and saddened by — the actual numbers.

    Though my mother died of ovarian cancer, in all likelihood the ovarian cancer is very much related to the last bout of breast cancer she had in 2008 as she started to get some of the now-easy-to-see symptoms of ovarian cancer very shortly after she appeared to “beat” breast cancer. In hindsight, the spreading could have been there all along — they really hadn’t looked for cancer anywhere but in her breasts and colon in years. And if that’s the case, then the breast cancer was very much complicit in her ultimate death.

  3. Louise

    thank you, our loss is shared by so many and it really needs to stop. Please keep running the run, as I and my two sisters will . It has to help.

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