Sunday, October 3, 2010

Pink, by any other name

On Friday my school colleagues and I rallied to launch Breast Cancer Awareness month by wearing pink. This month is dedicated to being sure that every social opportunity sends out the message; BREAST CANCER IS STILL THERE. The Empire State Building even donned a pink hue.

Yet despite all the miles walked, monies collected and reported gains, Americans have jumped from having one in 15 women diagnosed with the disease in 1975 to one in seven women diagnosed with the disease in 2008.

One in Seven.

That is a LOT.

You can look around almost any venue you are in at any time and count seven women and say to yourself, " of us will get breast cancer." That's what I did after I was diagnosed; on the train, the bus, in school, shopping, "...5, 6, 7, yup, don't worry, it's me..." Of course, this was all silent - it was during that weird period of time after diagnosis when I would look at everyone's boobs and wonder; have you got it ? Did you have it ? Will you get it ?

Don't worry, I got it - you're okay...

What became more strange is the number of women I met who HAD had it - they were everywhere - all ages, all ethnicities, all sizes, shapes, all income levels, activity levels, education levels, and treatment levels.

Breast cancer has made some strides in the past ten years, but, there is still a significant amount of work to be done. There are many different types of breast cancer, therefore many treatment options. One of the most significant is the FTCP: Functional Tumor Cell Profiling, formerly referred to as the CSRA; Chemotherapy Sensitivity Resistance Assay. Simply put, this test takes your live tumor, any tumor for any cancer, after the margins for pathology are removed to assure that the surrounding tissue is clear. Then the lab tech chops the remains of it up into little bits. These wee bits are put into petri dishes and different chemotherapies are tried on each one to see which kills it best. The results are "in vitro," meaning - not tried in the body, but the results are based on YOUR individual tumor. What can be better than that ? When I heard the explanation of this assay, I had no doubt this was the way to go. In fact, I cancelled the bi-lateral mastectomy I had planned for both breasts and went with lumpectomies, and with the chemo recommendations from the assay and radiation, I have never questioned or looked back. I do pray from time to time I never see cancer again but I do not wonder about the science of my choice.

I don't do the marathons to raise money for The Cure and The Cause. I don't swathe myself in pink. I respect the people that DO walk and that DO donate funds. The generosity of the American people towards this disease is amazing. I respect that cancer is a formidable foe, but I don't fear it.

What I do is teach about the FTCP; I talk to women and men who are recently diagnosed with cancer and I empower them to have this assay done during their first tumor surgery; that is the caveat; it is only usable with live tissue, you cannot go back and test the sample that is put on a wax block in storage in a lab.

It's a hard sell. Women and men who have been diagnosed with cancer, find that their doctors are dismissive of the assay because it is not on their protocol; the results dictate what is the best choice, not the pharmaceutical company. Other than my own team of oncologists & radiation therapists, I am a team of one. But I continue to do it because I know it's right. I just know it is.

So on Friday when I found I didn't have a pink t-shirt I realized, "so WHAT ?" Cancer has as many shades of pathology as there are shades of pink. So I wore raspberry colored pants, a fuscia hip wrap, two pink flowers in my hair, a beaded Survivor bracelet, and a traditional pink awareness pin on a charm necklace that also showed hope, love and peace. I looked at myself and was pleased with this ensemble. It reflected the reality of breast cancer; each woman's cancer is a little different; and her survivor story is as special and individual as she is.

And THANK YOU to those who walk, run, wear pink and show your beautiful bald heads to the world to proclaim I SURVIVE !