(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.