How to Prepare for the Challenges of Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Oh October, you’re supposed to be filled with spooky activities and fall spices. But for many of us in the breast cancer (BC) community, it feels like the pink ribbon floods every store, every commercial and everywhere in between. As much as we appreciate the spotlight and love, the “check yourself” reminders and awareness campaigns, we have to be prepared for it. We live with cancer day in and day out, October or not. Some days we want to blend in and not be reminded of our diagnosis, but during BC awareness month it can feel impossible to hide. Below I’ve shared share some of the ways I’ve prepared myself and how I’ve educated others on how this month can really affect those of us living with BC.
Find what works for you
Learning what works best for you when this time of year rolls around is vital. Are you ok with the abundance of pink ribbons? Are you able to tune it out? Do you need breaks from the outside world to recoup your mental health? I find myself not as open to people during this time, whereas normally I won’t shut up about my BC journey. I lean way more into Halloween than BC activities to distract myself. I find that stores with fewer gimmicks and more of an authentic connection to charities make our community feel more validated.
Fight the pink washing through knowledge
PINK WASHING … did I have any idea what that was before I was diagnosed? Not at all. Neither did my family and friends. They all thought they were doing the right thing by buying me everything with pink ribbons on it. They bought anything they thought I could relate to without really knowing whether the companies were doing actual good with the money. A tough lesson to learn, but one we learned quickly – thanks to the other fighters who brought these issues to my attention.
As soon as this month rolls around, every lighter, yogurt and trinket has the pink ribbon slapped on it. It’s easy for cancer “muggles” to buy into these advertisements, wanting to support their loved ones in every way possible. It took gentle conversations with the people in my life for them to start doing research before wasting their money. One thing that really helped: I started finding small businesses owned by other breast cancer fighters or that showed proof of their donations. I would share this information with everyone, letting them know if they feel gifts are the best way to show their love and support, to please purchase from these companies or individuals instead. It makes the gifts and acts of kindness even more worth it when we can support other BC members, people or companies wanting to make a difference. It’s a daunting task, but something I feel is worth it, knowing my own money and my support systems’ money is being maximized and put to good use.
Keep in mind - you have every right to ask for proof of donations, ask what charity a business donates proceeds to, and confirm with the charity before purchasing. Don’t feel like you can’t ask those questions. If they are genuine, then there’s nothing to hide. What affects me most is the thought that companies or people are profiting off my/our trauma without actually giving a single penny to any valid research or foundations. It makes me angry and disappointed. I feel objectified and like pawn in their sick money-hungry game. No matter your feelings during this month, they are all valid and justified. Finding and setting boundaries to make sure you stay strong is the most important thing you can do for yourself and others.
Do what you need to do for your own well being
Speaking of setting boundaries… that is one challenging task to realize and make happen. I set no boundaries in the beginning of my journey. I wanted to be fully transparent and open with everyone. Man, did that come back to bite me, hard. I had no idea how opinionated people could be about my cancer journey. When I started to realize those opinions were hurting my strength and mental health and brought it up to others, I was met with negativity. People I spoke with sometimes felt disrespected that I didn’t appreciate their opinions or advice.
When it came to breast cancer awareness month, I felt looked down upon for not being submerged in everything BC related. For not wanting to talk more, post more or be more open. I started feeling overwhelmed; everywhere I looked - BAM, a huge pink ribbon, BC statistics and everything in between. People didn’t understand how overwhelming it was that I live this every single day. Life with BC is my life, my reality, my every waking moment. The world is screaming breast cancer in every isle for a month and when it’s over and things go back to normal I am still here, in the depths of this disease.
BC awareness month brought up emotions I never knew I had. It felt like a slap in the face, a constant reminder and at times, very insensitive. As companies feature pink everywhere and participate in breast cancer month activities, I’m here fighting for my life, living everything they are talking about. ME, US … not them. Buying a pink pen isn’t going to fix that for me, and I don’t get to just move on after the month is over. I live with the fear of reoccurrence, the fear of side effects and surgeries. I am here on the battlefield every second of the day. I made myself miserable. I wanted to scream in stores. I had to come to terms with BC awareness month. It wasn’t going away, and neither was my cancer. I had to find ways to cope. It’s been 4 years and I am still learning how to make the best of this month and be ok.
Finding balance was one of the hardest but most important parts of maintaining my mental health during this journey. I started by informing my support system what works best for me and what doesn’t. My parents started therapy because I can only work on my needs right now and not theirs. I let everyone know it’s okay to not only ask me how I am, what I need, but also to ask if I have the mental capacity to answer their questions or take their suggestions. I told them I didn’t like them always sharing information, statistics, etc. I also had a deep conversation with them explaining I don’t always have the capacity to give supportive words to newly diagnosed persons, but that they can send me their contact information and when I have a good day I will reach out. It’s been a lot of learning, open communication and open minds.
Not everything I do is how someone else would go about it, and that’s ok. We need to support everyone as individuals and truly realize every cancer journey is uniquely different. These realizations helped me and still help me prepare for October, the month the entire world has a spotlight on breast cancer – which is exactly what is needed with all cancer – but living the reality daily is on another level.
I hope this helps anyone struggling with BC awareness month and provides guidance on how to cope or prepare. I hope this brings you strength to speak about what works best for you. If you are a caregiver or a support-person, I hope this helps open your eyes and heart to the reality that we live. We are all in this together, no one fights alone.