2. “Left Behind”

Jody Schoger is a writer and cancer advocate with more than 25 years of experience in public relations and communications in health care, science, education and the arts. Following her own diagnosis with a locally advanced breast cancer in l998, she has since devoted her energy to helping other survivors. She is the author of the “Anchored Activism” column in Oncology Times, the respected WomenWithCancer blog, and the creator of Breast Cancer Social Media (#BCSM),  a popular tweetchat for breast cancer survivors. Her writing has been featured in Cure Magazine as well as Cure’s blog. She has served as a grant reviewer for the Lance Armstrong Foundation, is a member of the Breast Health Collaborative of Texas, the National Breast Cancer Coalition, and serves on the American Breast Surgeons Board of Advocates.  She recently spoke on survivorship on a #Med2 panel at Standord and will do so again at Life Beyond Cancer Center’s survivorship retreat and the fifth annual Digital Pharma East conference in Philadlephia.  A frequent guest on SIRIUS radio’s “Doctor Radio,” she also has been quoted several times in USA Today and other publications. Her essay, “Left Behind” was first published on WomenWithCancer on September 26th, 2011.

I recently lost a lovely friend and family member to metastatic breast cancer. She was 55. Her first grandchild is due this January.

The cruelty of cancer is relentless.

My friend had access to great care and the mind-bogglingly expensive ‘designer drugs’ that did little to stem the tide of her cancer. They didn’t improve her quality of life, either. In fact, treatment further weakened an already impaired immune system and ultimately she died of pneumonia after three weeks in the hospital.

At her memorial service the Seattle sky was cloudless. Many of us were too warm in fall clothes but there was a shaded patio adjoining the reception area so we stood out there, remembering, laughing, letting tears flow, talking about our dogs and the weather.

There was a box with programs and next to that, another one with pink ribbons and pins.

I hesitated.

The hesitation, in and of itself, infuriated me. I didn’t want the politics of cancer to intrude on this quiet, private evening. But that is what a pink ribbon has become: a mixed signal. Where it may have once stood for hope and advancement, it now also represents commercialization and ‘branding’ (a term I’ve come to dislike) that has absolutely nothing to do with or for cancer. That simple ribbon, which I wore proudly when diagnosed in 1998, is now seen to mask the darker realities of cancer: treatments that don’t work, the sorrow of lives cut short.

But the people who put the ribbons out had no idea about mixed messages or health culture. So I put one on my collar. And as soon as the service was over I left it behind.

Pink Ribbon Blues Post Script: When I first read Jody Schoger’s essay about leaving her ribbon behind, I saw how heavy culture can be, and how much it can intrude upon people’s lives. The pink ribbon has gotten very weighty over the years, still serving some but also “masking the darker realities of cancer” and intruding upon the freedom to choose how to show not only our support but also our grief. It’s a heavy, heavy ribbon.

For more consciousness raising essays, check out “30 Days of Breast Cancer Awareness.”

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"women urged to get screened because it might save their lives. But that’s only 1 possible outcome, and it’s the least likely one" @cragcrest cutt.ly/jei8WJr

“Pink Ribbon Blues”

Paperback includes a new Introduction on fundraising controversies and a color insert with images of, and reactions to, the pinking of breast cancer (2012).

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