Trying to talk about Cancer above a whisper

One of the best moments in the brat pack classic St. Elmo’s Fire is when the preppy Mare Winningham character introducing her family to rebel Rob Lowe at a dinner party. Her mother has this habit of whispering words she doesn’t like to say. So she’ll ask, “Did you hear about so-and-so?” Then she’ll pause, look around, finally leaning close into another guest to whisper dramatically, “Cancer.”

Yes, you can laugh. But don’t laugh too much. Because that’s kind of me. 

I am more superstitious than I care to admit. I don’t talk about the things that scare me most, I don’t confess my deepest fears about my kids, and I don’t write about diseases so much.

I think it’s a horrible thing, actually. And it’s not how I want to be. There are a million causes I stand behind and scream about at the top of my lungs (don’t ever ask me to promote the store rhyming with Schmallmart on this blog, ahem) but I recognize that I sometimes stop short when the cause is medical. It’s like, if I don’t talk about it, maybe it will go away.

Well I’ve tried that with breast cancer, and so far I’ve failed.

1 in 8 women will get breast cancer.

That’s a lot of freaking women.

I’m crying as I write this. Like I said, I’m not good at writing this stuff. And I’m not good at thinking about how close to home that really hits. Because if I conjure up 8 women in my life that are important to me, then imagine one of them getting breast cancer…well you can see why it’s something I’d rather not do that often.

So here’s why I am forcing away tears and pushing through my sheer terror about saying cancer above a whisper, and writing about it anyway.

My friend Susan Niebur of Toddler Planet, aka Why Mommy, is a brilliant blogger (seriously briliant – she used to work for NASA) and yes, a breast cancer survivor.  And she told me to.

Her post In the Name of Awareness was one of the Blogher Voices of the year, only partly because the semi-final judges were me and Tanis Miller, and we each, coincidentally, scored it a 475 out of a possible 100 points.  It’s a must-read. Because Susan is so freaking rational and brilliant about how to help beat breast cancer.

And what Susan says is that wearing pink ribbons and making people aware is kinda not helping enough. Same as me not talking about it is not helping enough.

What is helping is research.

So what she’d like us to do is Join the Avon/Love Army of Women which means you’ll get emails so you can participate in research and online studies. It’s free, it’s easy, and it really does make a difference. Then you can pledge to blog for breast cancer today and share the decision like I just did.

This is a big deal for me.

It means I’m going to get emails about breast cancer all the time. So I have to think about it. And do something about it. Maybe even get better about (eek) talking about it.


19 thoughts on “Trying to talk about Cancer above a whisper”

  1. I just wanted you to know that your post inspired me to learn more about the Army of Women, and I decided to sign up! Hoping I can help make a difference.

  2. i am so excited for this initiative. my sister is nearing the end of treatment for breast cancer (so far, so good!), and being able to actually DO something to help prevent cancer is awesome–and so necessary.

    way to take the plunge;)

    (and the worst? when people whisper “black.” drives me nuts.)

  3. I read one time that “breast cancer awareness month” was silly because it's an ongoing thing that we should be aware about ALL the time – not just one month.

    And the “we donate 10 cents to research” thing? That just upsets me. My grandmother is a breast cancer survivor – in both breasts. These companies should be donating much, much more than 10 cents for 30 days to research.

  4. Susan is a wonder, she could get me to do anything. I joined up and not eligible, qualified, whatever do to much, but it's such a worthy cause. MS has something similar, because the more information they can get the better we can treat these horrible diseases.

  5. Thanks for this… I'm absolutely over foundations and companies that are “raising awareness” about cancer. We're aware! It's awful! Now DO SOMETHING about it. Research is much more necessary than awareness.

  6. Thank you so much, all of you. Every one of these comments was just what I needed.

    And Suzannah, huge whooo for your sister!

    Headless Mom, whooo for your granny.

    Gotta love strong women.

  7. Thank you for having the courage to write about something that brings up tough emotions. I'm a cancer survivor and I know how you feel. I had a hard time talking about cancer and then I was diagnosed. I'm proud to say I'm a 5-year survivor! Army of Women is a wonderful organization. I also like and (note: I founded Bites of Hope, so I'm a bit biased, but wanted to mention it for anyone who can use our services). Stay strong, survivors! Same to you, survivors-in-waiting!!!

  8. When I rowed with 8 other women in 1999 there was a boat full of breast cancer survivors – the 1 in 9 boat (it's not improving folks!) in that race too. Since then, yes, we have had one of us diagnosed and treated: she was 26 and youngest of all 9 of us.

    Being a scientist, I love putting my support behind any endeavor that supports research – and this is one that is trying to attack one of the really big issues: getting enough folks to really start understanding the risks, what works treatment-wise, and most importantly, diagnostic-wise.

    Being a scientist, I also know that the typical funded cancer researcher is not funded for their most innovative work – the stuff that will change these outcomes. If this gets the fight cancer juices going – search out for those programs that 1. put 100% of everything you raise towards that research and 2. fund the crazy stuff.

    …and then ask everyone you know for that donation, don't be embarrassed, the worst they can do is say no, and more likely they'll say yes and tell you a story that will carry you every step, every mile – sometimes with tears, sometimes with smiles.

  9. I did it – signed up that is. Because cancer sucks. It really does. And if somehow I can help? I'm there.

  10. Not sure if you've ever popped your head into my blog, but my life has been one cancer diagnosis, death, survival or scare after another. It is scary as all heck, but I find the louder you say it and the more you force your lips around the word the better it is.

    Being brave is scary. But if we can all be brave together…hopefully our bravery will eventually scare the crap out of Cancer and make it run with its tail between its legs for good.

    Thank you, on behalf of my mom who just finished chemo, for posting this and asking outright for the help.

  11. Thank you for this. This is INCREDIBLE! Yay!

    BTW, If people want to let me know they did it, I'll happily do a round-up post with links from my site! — and I'll start with the brave women who made the committment here. You all are beautiful for doing this.

    Susan @WhyMommy

  12. I just linked through to this great organization. I'm in and talking to my friends about it.

  13. A beloved friend of mine has stage 4 breast cancer and, as I'm older, I've already lost several friends. The onset ages seem younger and younger; loud noise and outrage and public participation are required. Brava to Liz for moving “outside her comfort zone,” to all the brave women who face this disease every day. Attention must be paid.

  14. Thank you for publicizing this. My 2 y.o. grandson was just diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma. No obvious symptoms until two days before the diagnosis. Research for pediatric cancer is not “trendy” and offers little or no profit for pharmaceutical companies. Up to 70% of children die and there is very little funding from the government. Cancer causes loss in many ways for too many families. Your raised voice is much appreciated by all who have been touched by this disease in any of its forms.

Comments are closed.