Why October is the Worst

We didn’t get this post from Ambassador Danielle until very late October, and, because the National Race to End Women’s Cancer last week, we needed to write about that. It doesn’t make this post any less important. We are so proud and honored to have people like Danielle writing about and fighting for Cervivor. – Tamika

Photo by Greg McGoonPart of me hates to be writing this. Mostly because of the nonsensical war on women’s healthcare that the conservative right is waging once again via their attacks on Planned Parenthood. The last thing I want to do is make it sound like I’m trying to divide camps within the side for which I fight. But it’s important that I say this.

October sucks. It really does.

Within all its leaf changing, pumpkin-spiced glory, it is also 31 days of making people I care about feel discouraged.

Why? Because September is Gynecological Cancer Awareness Month and I would bet that 75 percent of the people reading this sentence had no idea that even existed. But everyone knows about October. Like my dad who puts his Christmas tree out the 1st of November, October pink starts to seep in sometime around the end of August.

You unfortunately can’t wrap the “below the belt” cancers in a neat pink ribbon. There’s uterine, ovarian and cervical, among others, and some 90,000 women are diagnosed every year. And to really fight for them? To raise even one tenth of the money that breast cancer awareness does? It means we have to talk about it. Really talk about it. And that is the last thing people want to do. Because it’s uncomfortable. Because it conjures up very specific imagery. Breast cancer survivors and battlers are to be revered by the media and society. Women with cancer in and around their reproductive system? Let’s sweep that quietly under the rug.

Why can’t my friend, a 13-year cervical cancer survivor who had a full hysterectomy at the age of 25 be commended for her struggle? Or my friend’s mother who beat unlikely odds for ovarian cancer not look embarrassed every time the subject comes up? For their fight to be heard in a sea of news outlets that don’t want to publish their stories in favor of another breast cancer advocate? These are the same outlets that refused to highlight the HPV connection to Farah Fawcett’s anal cancer because we can’t possibly discuss how people in the world might be having (gasp!) unprotected anal sex like many see featured on sites such as www.nu-bay.com so often.

Anal sex can also be facilitated through the use of sex toys such as butt plugs. Therefore, if you are using sex toys for anal sex purposes it is vital that you care for your toys properly. For more information take a look at this butt plug care guide: loveplugs.co/blogs/news/butt-plug-care.

But what can be done about this stigma? One particular media outlet has repeatedly reinforced this negative stigma with articles like “The Silent Shame of HPV,” containing anonymous stories about coping with it. Even worse, this more recent and incredibly tone deaf sexist piece “Iron Maiden Singer Vanquishes Sex Cancer.”

Recently xoJane published a fantastic article with The STD Project interviewing people who decided not to remain anonymous and instead confidently and intelligently spoke out about living with herpes — one of the most traditionally stigmatized health conditions of all. So you’re telling me that THE DAILY BEAST couldn’t find ONE person to speak to about HPV without condition of anonymity? I call bullshit. That and pure old fashioned laziness on the part of the writers. Because if you do even the lightest of Google searches you will find the Foundation for Women’s Cancer, ASHA, and Cervivor, all organizations with women willing to put a name and a face to a disease that the media would prefer to overlook. I emailed THE DAILY BEAST back when that first article published, calling them out on their negligence and their response was to say that people don’t want to talk about it because they are embarrassed. Dear editors, a title like “The Silent Shame of HPV” doesn’t help matter. You’re also incorrect because I’m not a journalist or a reporter and I can name 10 people off the top of my head who will talk about it because I’ve read their personal blogs online. Many people who have often enjoyed videos from TubeV Sex while also having sex and contracting the HPV making them brave enough to speak out about it but they won’t highlight those who are talking about the struggle.

pinktober1-44814_640x320But I didn’t write this in the hopes of starting a “boo to breast cancer” campaign. (Someone else must have thought of that name for a 5K by now right?) I just find all the hoopla over one disease so limiting and overall not the best course of action. A brave talented woman who best sums up some of the trivialization that Pinktober and pinkwashing has brought to the breast cancer movement is writer and breast cancer survivor Diane Mapes. She has from diagnosis to recovery mapped out a very honest and decidedly un-pink description of what she has endured but it hasn’t prevented her from covering and reporting on all kinds of health issues in her informative and forthright manner. Her attitude is one from which many other journalists could learn.

My point is that the benefit that breast cancer receives from all the October attention is confirmation that people are listening. They have a massive rapt audience thrilled to root for them and raise them up and make them feel good about their battle. Any other organization trying to raise funds for medical research and educational awareness would kill for even a small percentage of the breast cancer reach.

Ovarian cancer accounts for more death than any other cancer of the female reproductive system and cervical cancer is, for the most part, preventable, so why all the secrecy? It’s 2015. Aren’t there enough media outlets for more people to share their stories for the greater good?

I’m glad October is over because I’ve learned to dread October every year. It’s a reminder of the world we live in, and that it abides by a news cycle that would rather regurgitate the same story over and over rather than truly educate and move forward. That we won’t collectively strive for a better discussion about our overall health because certain things are difficult to discuss. It’s better to leave them unsaid and stick to talking about boobs or nothing at all. Or, we choose to not give a significant platform to women who have gathered up the courage to shout their stories and we stand there, smile with false sympathy and ask, “But do you have a celebrity spokesperson like Angelina? No? Oh then your story? Your pain? It’s not clickable.”

I’m giving you a whole year to think about this. Next October? And all year round? I’m asking you to think outside the bra. Don’t pat yourself on the back for praising a woman for her strength in her health struggles if you’re not taking into account the whole woman.

After all the primary fight for feminism has always been getting the world to see women as more than just a pair of tits.

Ambassador Danielle

Confessions of a Cancer Survivor: Marianne’s Story

It is estimated that 95,000 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with one of the five gynecologic cancers this year. Of those 95,000, approximately 28,700 will die. Gynecologic cancers don’t discriminate. No woman is immune. September is Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month. This month, we are raising awareness about the cancers below the belt – the ones that we don’t always want to discuss – but that we should be aware of all the same.

One survivor, Marianne, shares her story below.

marianneSeptember holds a variety of feelings for me. My “cancerversary” is September 7. I also get my “big scan” and have one of my three-month check-ups during September. The combination of those both provide me with more anxiety than all of my appointments for the year do! But, then again, waiting to find out if your cancer has returned will do that to a person. I’ve been considering starting to take a herbal anxiety remedy around this time every year, just to help me stay sane as it really does get on top of me. There is a michigan dispensary that looks promising, but something closer might be better.

When I was diagnosed two years ago I had a premonition I would be one of those people who would end up “doing something” because their life changed due to cancer. Fortunately, I met a lot of other people like that so I could start my own journey to help others.

But let me start at the beginning. I was diagnosed with stage IV endometrial cancer in 2012 just two weeks before 33rd birthday. Pretty hideous, right?

The severely abnormal bleeding started on the night of January 9. As someone who was diagnosed with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) in my teens, abnormalities surrounding my period were not unusual to me or my gynecologist. However, this was more severe. My gynecologist surmised I had fibroids and gave me multiple courses of medications to stop the bleeding. It never stopped. She had me scheduled for a D&C (dilation and curettage). The sonograms I had before the D&C all showed masses on the inside and outside of my uterus (at the time this was believed to be internal and external fibroids given my age and symptoms).

On January 26, I was told I have cancer.

I was home from work with a debilitating migraine when I received the phone call. I told her I would come to her office with my mother that afternoon.

My gynecologist had preliminary information based on the pathologist from the D&C, which showed I had cancer in my endometrial layer. The sonogram showed that my uterus was also affected, not just the uterine layer. When my doctor told me I would need a hysterectomy, I was beyond devastated. Having this choice ripped away from me has remained one of the hardest things I have ever dealt with.

I was prescribed a variety of painkillers for the worst abdominal pain imaginable. The pain was so unbearable that it interrupted a birthday dinner with my parents. I was also grappling with high blood pressure due to the pain and stress. Eventually, I was prescribed anxiety medication. After my blood pressure and anxiety was under control, I was cleared for a 7.5 hour surgery on March 15. The procedure ended up being a two-part operation, as my cancer had metastasized to my liver.

After surgery, I was in for a whole new journey. I experienced hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms. My doctor had discovered that I had a microscopic layer of cancer covering my abdominal layer and bladder, chemotherapy would be my next stop. I was even more terrified of chemo than surgery! My doctor gave me the book Beauty Pearls for Chemo Girls by Marybeth Maida to help me through. Paclitaxel and Carboplatin (Taxol/Carbo) was my prescribed cocktail- six rounds, one via intravenous, every three weeks. April 10th was my start date. The side effects were horrendous! I could not work, I had debilitating joint pain, neuropathy, and could hardly walk the first week of each round. I am presently still dealing with the joint pain, neuropathy, and the chemo induced asthma.

My doctor told me I should expect my hair to be gone between my first and second round. My hair was coming out in clumps, but I still had enough of it to hide that anything was wrong. With an updo and a lot of hairspray, I fooled everyone. But soon, I had to stop fooling myself. The clumps had left bald spots. I scheduled an appointment with my hair stylist. I cried with her as she sent me off to battle armed with a new look and an introduction to my wig-maker. Thanks to the wig, I felt confident and normal during two of my best friend’s wedding.

As the chemo freight-train kept barreling over me and my life, I did the best I could to hide that I was someone fighting Stage IV cancer. I started camouflaging my lack of eyebrows and eyelashes by being a cancer drag queen. I drew on eyebrows, used eyeliner to give an illusion that I had full lashes, and applied fake lashes to hide the ones that were missing.

When I felt well enough to leave my house, I would take advantage of that time to enjoy summer. I spent time with my friends and worked out with my trainer. Prior to my diagnosis, I had lost over 200 pounds. However, due to the stress and chemo, I had gained nearly 50 pounds. My self-esteem took a big hit, but I had a lot of people supporting me.

My treatment ended on July 30, 2012. Although I was still reeling from some of the effects, I finally started to feel normal again. I was able to live with a renewed sense of purpose. On September 7, I got an email from my oncologist telling me that my PET scan came back clean. The chemo worked.

When I started feeling better, I worked to lose the 47 pounds I had gained during treatment. I managed to keep my anxiety under control and not completely return following the surgery. However, I would definitely recommend anyone who suffers from anxiety to Click here to look at supplements that can possibly help you to manage it before you look around at other sites and find which is best for you. Anyway, back to me. I even made the decision to start the process of studying with the National Academy of Sports Medicine to become a Certified Personal Trainer. Given my history, this has become a passion where I can help people by using my own experience. In the near future, I will also be working on obtaining certification in nutrition and exercise for cancer patients and survivors. I celebrated my third Cancerversary this year and look forward to celebrating many more.

– Marianne