20 May 2010

The United Colors of Cancer

Until I was diagnosed with cancer, I'd always associated color pink with cancer. There was a time of year when pink surfaced everywhere, it seemed. Yoplait would start its pink cup covers drive and I diligently collected my Yoplait tops and sent them in so that donations may be made for cancer. Little pink tents would pop up at stores everywhere asking for donations to cancer. I contributed to several girlfriends' efforts for the Avon Walk and the Race for the Cure, all that while thinking "[the color] pink = cancer." It is a credit to those who have worked so hard to further breast cancer awareness and research that pink has generally become the trigger color for cancer awareness for most people who are uneducated about it. Breast cancer awareness has opened eyes and hearts everywhere to the awful existence and effects of cancer. And it is absolutely impressive, the breadth that breast cancer awareness has reached. I never would have thought I'd see the day when big, manly NFL players would wear something pink on game day to raise breast cancer awareness. Such a manly gesture for a feminine problem. In my humble opinion, our common psyche has equated the color pink to cancer awareness.

Last week, while my my daughter and I were watching TV a new Kentucky Fried Chicken commercial came on. It featured several people holding pink buckets of chicken. One woman said, "I'm doing it for my sister;" a man declared "I'm doing it for my wife;" and a little boy ended the commercial saying "I'm doing it for my mom." Afterwards, the male announcer declared that KFC was donating a portion of their chicken sales to the Susan G. Komen Foundation. The commercial ended with an announcement that the fried chicken purveyor was donating a portion of it's chicken sales to the Susan G. Comen Foundation. At which time, my daugher turned to me and said "Well, I'm going to get a bucket and wrap it in teal and say 'I'm doing this for my mom.'" It took a few seconds for that to register. So much so that my daughter saw the puzzled look on my face. To which she addressed "Mom! Teal is the color for ovarian cancer!" Duh! But of course! How could I have missed that? Easy! To this day, I still equate cancer awareness with the color pink. So, I wasn't I wasn't thinking teal chicken buckets at all, even though I've been dubbed a "teal warrior" for having survived ovarian cancer.

But, because I am now an ovarian cancer survivor, should I shed pink for teal and put my efforts toward ovarian cancer research instead of my tiny donations and efforts towards breast cancer awareness and research? Do I owe that to my "tribe" now? It seems as though there's a prevailing sense that one should be loyal to one's "tribe" and advance research and awareness for their sort of cancer. And rightfully so! I wouldn't want to inflict ovarian cancer on anyone. So yes! I want a cure for it and am keenly aware that my efforts and donations will help that cause. But, ideally, what I really want and wish for is equal funding for all types of cancer and not just ovarian cancer (just because that's the cancer from which I'm in remission). I want everyone to have a fair shake at cancer research and awareness, no matter how obscure the cancer.

I wish there were a United Nations for cancer -- each cancer represented, but a united front to eradicate the disease altogether. While I understand and appreciate that each cancer behaves differently, I am also aware that financial backing or publicity and coverage for certain cancer research is not as abundant as that breast cancer or prostate cancer, for example. I just wish that each of the other cancers represented by the ribbons above had the same backing and support -- the same resources like Susan G. Comen Foundation for breast cancer research and awareness. If everyone pooled resources together and cross-referenced each other's work, then I believe there's strength in numbers and unity of purpose. -- much like that of Stand Up To Cancer's mission statement:

". . .to accelerate groundbreaking cancer research that will get new therapies to patients quickly and save lives. SU2C's goal is to bring together the best and the brightest in the cancer community, encouraging collaboration instead of competition. By galvanizing the entertainment industry, SU2C creates awareness and builds broad public support for this effort. This is where the end of cancer begins."

Kudos to organizations like this and the American Cancer Society! There is strength in numbers, certainly. And I believe in that. I do stand in steadfast support for my sisters who have been affected by breast cancer and ovarian cancer. But, I am equally hopeful and supportive for all my brethren who have been affected by cancer -- whatever kind or color it is. It may sound naive, but in this case, cancer is cancer and together, we must eradicate it -- all of it.

(Does this make me a cancer socialist?)

09 May 2010

Sheep in Wolf's Clothing (aka Never Judge a Book By It's Cover)

Confession: Sometimes, I can be such an elitist snob! See, I have this thing about "mass thinking." It turns me off. I'm not fashionable or hip. I just know what I like and that's that. Pop radio lost its luster for me decades ago. And it's rare that I would run to the theaters to check out a blockbuster. And, based on what I'd heard, read and seen about it, Eat, Pray, Love had suffered snotty my judgment, thereby being relegated to the "Seemingly Spiritual-But-Actually Self-indulgent-Psychic dump-Oprah Book Club-Feel Good Lite-Chick-Lit" category. No, mam! I wasn't going to succumb to mass female hysteria surrounding this New York Times best-seller. I dismissed it.
Years after the celebrity of the book subsided, it somehow, found its way to my bookshelf. After my friend, Lisa, found out was sick, she gifted me with said book. Her note said "I hope it brings you as much joy as it did me." I thanked her kindly and promptly shelved it -- there to gather dust for a few months. I forgot about it.

Little did I know that this unfairly pre-judged book, I had taken for granted was going to play a major role in my life last year. Somehow, as I approached the end of my chemotherapy treatment, a heavy weight of sadness and loneliness had gripped me. I wrestled with feelings of helplessness, desperation, and hopelessness and all sorts of resources through different cancer resource organizations. I joined chat boards, read literature, and talked to some folks about it. Nothing helped. Nothing, until the eve of my last chemo. I was sleepless and sad. I wanted someone to talk to, but it was too late in the evening. After tossing and turning in bed and exhausting all the possibilities on cable TV, I started perusing my bookshelf for anything that would jump out at me. Anything! And there she was, lying face at eye level in my bookshelf. "Pasta, prayer beads, and flower petals. Hmmmm.." So, I started reading. What did I have to lose? And that was the night, Elizabeth Gilbert's book rescued me from my seemingly endless wheel of loneliness. Eat, Pray, Love had kept kept me company for the next few weeks, giving me reason to read, feel, eat, pray, love and move on. Liz Gilbert was like the best friend I needed at the time. What a god-send!

But, what could a sucessful 30-year-old author, going through a divorce and travelling to find the divine (courtesy of a $200,000 advance she got from her publisher to write Eat, Pray, Love) have anything to say to me? We couldn't be any more differently situated! I'd sorted through my divorce years ago. I've never felt the absence of the divine in my life, no matter what I'd gone through. And I certainly did not have the $200,000, to spend on a year travelling to exotic places to "find the balance between pleasure and the divine." Why then was I so enamoured of this woman and her journey to find herself through food in Italy, the divine in India, and love in Bali?

The answer was embarassingly simple. She spoke my language and she spoke to my heart. The pain and loneliness that I couldn't articulate properly to anyone else was salved by her book. It didn't matter much that our individual situations couldn't be any further apart. At a certain juncture, I think that struggle is universal -- whatever form it takes. And, better yet, redemption and triumph are equally as universal. And as I struggled through my own crisis, Elizabeth Gilbert was a comforting "friend" to have. What an invaluable treasure her book was to me! (And to think, I had dismissed her and her book based on my own literary prejudices.) Eat, Pray, Love gave me comfort, laughter, tears, wisdom and kinship. For as long as I read the book, I did not feel so alone, even though the "conversation" was only one way. That was exactly what I needed. Yes. No I felt that no one could understand my struggle then. BUT, I understood hers. And that was what I needed!

Who knew, eh? Something (and someone) I had dismissed because of my snobby prejudices ended up soothing my soul and saving my sanity. Humble pie eaten in generous proportions, thank you very much!

And so, to Ms. Elizabeth Gilbert, my gratitude for being a brilliant, inspiring, and encouraging "friend" albeit only for a few weeks. Thank you for Eat(ing), Pray(ing) and Love(ing) and nurturing my soul.