#MetsTuesday, Cancer Doesn’t Discriminate

Every so often I skip a Monday of posting for #MetsMonday to prove the point that cancer doesn’t discriminate — it is an everyday struggle that many people are battling. It’s not about the ribbons or the pink t-shirts at Target, it’s about the people who spend hours at chemo, days in bed, months fighting to live.sugarcoat

Cancer is a very real thing, and it takes a break for no one. Someone at this very minute is receiving a cancer diagnosis with a date informing them that’s how long they have to live. Someone is throwing up on the floor as chemo rages through their system. Someone is in hospice care, telling their loved ones everything will be okay.

It’s not all negative, of course. Someone is also finding out, for the first time, they are NED. Someone is starting a blog about their cancer journey that will help millions of people around the world cope. Someone is proving their doctor wrong and outliving their two-year life expectancy date.

What I’m asking is that you open your eyes to the reality of it. Don’t sugarcoat it. Don’t block it from your Facebook news feed. Don’t let the media paint a pretty picture for you — because it’s not pretty. It’s messy and real. So please, educate yourself, know your body, do self-exams, give support to those who need it, stay strong, stay positive, beat cancer.

Hello. Let’s talk about breast cancer.

Having always been observant, even from a young age, I realized early on that society likes to sugarcoat topics of the utmost importance. And by society I mean the media.

A major topic today, for example, is breast cancer. It was just this past October, when “The TODAY Show,” in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, asked women who had undergone treatment to come to Rockefeller Plaza in New York to be featured on the show. Breast cancer warrior Jennifer Campisano was excited at this prospect. That is, until she received this email from “The TODAY Show”:

“Thank you so much for your response. We are specifically looking for women who can be bold and bald on the plaza for an empowering movement to support breast cancer.”

Excuse me?

Although Jennifer didn’t fit the ridiculous requirement — and awful stereotype — to be bald to be featured on “The TODAY Show,” she is, today, still suffering from metastatic breast cancer, which means the cancer has spread beyond the breasts and into other organs in the body, particularly the bones, lungs, liver and brains. This type of cancer is considered Stage IV Breast Cancer and cannot be cured. An estimated 155,000 Americans are currently living with metastatic breast cancer, and metastatic breast cancer accounts for approximately 40,000 deaths annually in the U.S.

Metastatic Breast Cancer Infographic; source: businesswire.com

Metastatic Breast Cancer Infographic; source: businesswire.com

Metastatic breast cancer is NO JOKE, and the most severe form of breast cancer, considering treatment is lifelong.

Here’s Jennifer’s response to “The TODAY Show’s” email, which was published on The Huffington Post:

My heart sank. I’d been bald twice. That wasn’t enough? Had I not been through enough shit to merit the ‘bold’ stamp of approval from TODAY? I wasn’t welcome because I wasn’t BALD? What. The. Everloving. F*ck. I was saddened and livid and frustrated and then humiliated that I’d gotten my hopes up. I checked the message boards for the online support groups I belong to, and I wasn’t the only one.

You see, many, many people with metastatic breast cancer do not lose their hair. For many patients, especially if their tumors are fueled by hormones (which is the majority of breast cancer patients), broad spectrum chemo is a last resort used only after bone-strengthening treatments, anti-hormonal agents, and other targeted treatments stop working. None of those other treatments cause hair loss. Neither do newer, targeted chemotherapies like the one I’m on. A lot of us with Stage 4 have our hair.

That doesn’t mean we won’t die from this disease unless researchers come up with something better soon. We face our mortality every day, live with side effects that range from mildly annoying to debilitating, and an estimated 40,000 people will die of MBC in the U.S. this year, and yet, metastatic breast cancer gets less than FIVE PERCENT of breast cancer research dollars.

I tried to look at it from a producer’s point of view. A sea of bald heads would surely make a far greater impact on television than a group of people wearing pink. And of course, this seemed to be more about ratings than actual support or empowerment or — God forbid — education. That didn’t make me less upset about it.

And this is where Jennifer and I find ourselves on the same page: We must sift through the bullshit to find the facts, and strive to actually help — and educate — people rather than increase our ratings for the sake of appearance. There are always going to be those who love you and those who hate you in this world, but only a handful of people make a difference. Even if only one person reads my blog I will have at least achieved my goal to share knowledge about the truths of this messy world we live in, and maybe even change a life for the better through education, enlightenment and honesty.

Here’s to a year of being up in your grill, stealing your candy and shedding the light.

Alyssa LaFaro