Memes are a Cancer on Cancer… by Britt Lee and Steve Safran

Hey. Hiya. Britt and Steve here. She had breast cancer. He had testicular cancer. And we’d just like to say: STOP THIS:

“Every person has 1000 wishes. A cancer patient only has one wish, to get better. I know that 97% of Facebookers won’t post this as their status, but 3% will. In honor of someone who died, or is fighting cancer – post this for at least one hour….”

Steve:

Seriously. What are you doing? Facebook is where you’re going to take your Stand Against Cancer? And you’re going to do it by posting this trite, ineffective and simplistic post– for one hour?

This is another doozy:

“I deleted a lot of people recently and continue to do so based upon behavior and content! Now I’m watching the one who will have the time to read this post until the end. This is a little test, just to see who reads and who shares without reading! If you have read everything, select “like” and then copy and paste this text on your profile. I know that 97% of you won’t share this, but my friends will be the 3% that do. In honor of someone who died, or is fighting cancer or even had cancer, copy and paste. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month!”

So, you’re deleting friends if they don’t live up to your reposting challenge? Facebook doesn’t work that way. Not everyone sees everything you’ve posted. It has an algorithm that determines… oh, fuck it. YOU’RE KILLING OFF YOUR FACEBOOK FRIENDS IN THE NAME OF CANCER AND YOU DON’T SEE THE IRONY.

 

Britt:

When I read these posts I want to comment, “I have 1000 wishes, and 999 of them are that you’d stop re-posting this” or “If you truly cared about cancer, you’d employ a colon properly and stop misusing exclamation points.” But I don’t. Once I typed, “This just made my cancer just come back” but immediately deleted it, fearing certain backlash, or scaring my parents. BUT IT WOULD BE SO FUN TO TYPE THAT.

Nearly four years ago I poked fun at one of these copy-and-paste Facebook Calls to Care on my cousin’s page. Because he is probably the nicest boy on the planet, and we don’t share oodles of social media contacts, it seemed a safe place to have a small conversation about it. He admitted that 1. He does, actually, care about cancer, 2. He had no idea these sorts of things were already clogging the interspaces, and 3. He felt a little pressure to repost, frankly. Still, I felt kind of shitty about not just letting it go.

Which is crazy! Why should I, a person who actually had cancer, feel guilty about mocking memes that not only trivialize that experience, but also trigger its memory?

 

Steve:

“Guys, we’re just trying to raise awareness.” Good. But you’ve got to know that Britt and I are at Maximum Awareness. We’re at 11. Wanna help? Raise money. Raise a whole lot of money. Give it to programs that treat people with cancer, or better yet, give an unrestricted donation to a hospital that treats all crap diseases. Cancer gets enough PR without your one-hour post, but there’s a lot of other shit that can kill us and it needs research.

Look, I get it. Cancer makes everyone feel helpless. Maybe there is something you can do. So you pray. You go on a walk to raise money. You share your cancer-ed friend’s blog (thanks, guys). These are helpful, kind and loving ways to respond. But, as your formerly cancer-ed Facebook friends, we have to tell you: these memes are mean.

Delete old acquaintances. Thin the herd, by all means. We’re there with you. Why did we agree to “friend” that person we met that one time at… where was it? Crap. Chemo brain. Anyway, delete away. Just don’t do it IN THE NAME OF CANCER.

 

Britt:

Last weekend another re-posted meme splashed across my feeds in honor of Cancer Survivor Day. You know when Cancer Survivor Day is? It’s in fucking June. But since no one knows that, it is assumed that TODAY is Cancer Survivor Day and then every day becomes Cancer Survivor Day. And the irony is that every day for us is Cancer Survivor Day. But thanks for the re-post reminding me you feel exactly one teary emoticon and heart about it.

IT WAS SO FUN TO TYPE THAT.

 

Steve:

Here’s the big problem with these memes: they’re demeaning. The “lost their battle with cancer” language makes us victims. No one is losing a battle. Does a stabbing victim lose a battle with a knife? No. People die of cancer. And we didn’t “win.” We’re in remission (for now). We were treated in a room full of people, and many of them died. The language of “battles” suggests if we won, they lost. Don’t do that to us.

Also: I felt nothing “heroic” about being an adult and having cancer or getting chemo, surgery and radiation. I was not “brave.” I was scared. The heroes are the doctors and nurses and researchers. They dedicate their lives to saving others. They work in the middle of the night, trading time with their own families to clean up our puke. We sit in a chair and get poisons slowly pushed into our blood, because there is no choice. They come to work every day knowing they will meet lots of great, kind and caring people who will die. That’s brave and heroic.

 

Britt:

It wasn’t “heroic” of you to submit to testicular cancer treatment, Stevie. But your writing about it—well, there’s bravery and mask-and-cape stuff in that. And I agree with you about our caregivers. I can’t gush about Maria enough.

Is this too mean, though? I feel like we’re being a bit nasty. And then Darla from accounting posts, “My boobs got me out of a speeding ticket” and I want to rip out all of my new hair.

 

Steve:

What’s with the sexualization of breast cancer? “Save the Ta-Tas!” “Save a Life, Grope your Wife!” Yeah. It’s not funny; it’s sexist. My disease involved a tumor in an actual reproductive organ. But nobody sexualizes testicular cancer. Too bad, really. The jokes about my balls were damn funny.

 

Britt:

You know I’m going to need to wrap this up with a pretty bow, right? How do we land on a we-know-you-care note?

 

Steve:

Do we sound angry? Well, we are. We are angry that this despicable disease upended our lives. We are angry that it required amputating deeply intimate parts of our bodies. We are angry that our kids had to live through it and ask, “Are you going to die?”

And we are angry that all of that gets reduced to a CTRL-C, CTRL-V on Facebook.

But we’re not angry at you. We love you. You want to do the right thing. Perhaps someone you love has or died from cancer. Maybe you’re also a little irritated that a circulating status update is suggesting you don’t care because you won’t surrender your page for an hour of poorly constructed drivel. You don’t have to. You can donate to a charity, volunteer at the chemo ward… or just ask, “Is there anything I can do?”

That’s what helps people with cancer.

 

Britt:

Good advice. Loving. Pithy. True. I once compiled 10 awesome “posts” uttered in real life or typed in messages. They still mean the world to me. And honestly I feel better for having exorcized those feelings– maybe enough to delete my Cancer meme-trolling fake Facebook account. (No, I totally don’t have one of those. No, that would be mean. Nope.)

this-post-gave-me-cancer

 

If you’ve read this far and aren’t still totally insulted by him, Steve is doing his second annual Movember Foundation fundraiser. He grows a mustache, you donate to help men with testicular and prostate cancer, as well as depression. Donate here!

Advertisements

Schrödinger Box of Cancer

Spoiler alert: I’m totally fine. And only a few days of “awareness” to go…

The left side is bigger than the right. There’s definitely a lumpish sort of thing. It’s not huge, but it’s different. And it wasn’t there yesterday. Or was it? Was it there yesterday? Is it new? Is this it? Or am I being insane? I’m insane. This is nothing. Or maybe it isn’t. I’m fine. I’m dying. I’m scared. I’m praying.

“Strength. Guidance. Love.” He said.

So, I’m fine? Fuck, why do I need strength? Where is the guidance coming from? I’m emailing the oncologist.

“Hi there. After four years, are patients allowed one freebie freak out? I have a lump on my rib. It was probably there all along and I’m being crazy. Except here I am emailing. Can I come see you? Or tell me to call the office and make an appointment like a sane person.”

“I’ll see you today. Noon. You’re not crazy.”

My breast surgeon called that night. I’ll see you tomorrow, she said. Even though we could wait and no one is worried, I’ll see you tomorrow, she said.

And so I went. This seems normal, probably there all along, she said. But let’s do an MRI because it’s time to do an MRI, she said. And maybe I should see you more often, she said. Your cancer was high grade and you are still young, she said.

Risk. Probability. Recurrence. Tamoxifen for 7 more years. Maybe forever. More tests were ordered.

And I waited, feeling the weight of both possibilities… my body a Schrödinger Box of Cancer.

* * *

He injects me with nucleotide and says to return in three hours. I get back in the car to return to two pajammied boys glued to their monitors. It’s an unexpected snow day, and I hadn’t told them I’d need to be in and out of the hospital. Brodie is suspicious. Teddy wants pretzels. It’s time to go back. Humming “Radioactive” I brave the slippery roads back to the hospital. The huge machine scans me for hot spots that mean I’m dying. Bernie texts me a few hours later: it’s negative. I might be a little nutty, but I’m not dying. Not right now, anyway.

A week later, I’m back in the scanner. This time, a MRI of my chest. The lovely staff reminds me it will be identical to the test four years prior. I took too many milligrams of Ativan before all tests four years ago, so I have no recollection of the previous MRI. They’re nice about this. You have two boys? I have two boys! Weather! Crazy. Spring Break? Oh, we love it there. Sure, I’ll dangle my implants into those freezing slots. Bernie texts me a few hours later: it’s negative. I can stop feeling crazy because I’m not dying. Not right now, anyway.

* * *

This is the occasional paranoia of your formerly, maybe currently, but-always-checking, cancer-ed friend. Remission isn’t a word breast cancer allows. Why the Year Four Freak Out? Maybe I was thinking about Lisa Bonchek Adams, or Tricia, or Susan, or Tara, or Kathy… or maybe any palpable lump will always herald the beginning of the end. Go ahead and queue a could-get-hit-by-a-bus-tomorrow argument. We’ll listen politely. But anyone who has watched a loved one die from cancer might prefer the bus.

I’m sure I was distracted, forgetful, lazy, and uncharacteristically impatient during the Schrödinger moments of those two weeks. Not wanting to unnecessarily scare my loved ones, I kept it close to my lumpy chest.

“Strength. Guidance. Love.” He said.

Check. Check. Check. Not a single person—most importantly, my beloved Bernie—accused me of being paranoid or silly. Instead, they rallied with strong support, quick tests, and grateful “phew!” messages.

I opened the box and killed the cat that was never Cancer… but fear. For now, anyway.

cat

 

 

 

 

Because a stranger called me a prostitute

Occasionally, an odd message will come through the blog or even directly to my personal email. They don’t comment on the topic at hand (trivializing breast cancer, embarrassing myself, hating exercise). Instead, they want to use my small platform to peddle their own ideas or products. Probably most cancer bloggers have had at least one herbal-happy loon suggest we attack our tumors with green tea and meditation because chemotherapy is an evil scheme. I’ve only had to block a few weirdoes, which is saying something in this increasingly say-anything-at-all world.

One reader suggested that my willingness to stand naked before anyone but my husband and undergo life-saving surgery was a profound disobedience to God. We in the Shittiest Sorority should submit to His plan regarding our cancers, and die (or not) according divine whim instead of disrobing for surgeons. BLOCK. But it disturbed me enough that I still remember it three years later.

Today I received a bizarre email from a man trying to strike up a jokey relationship based on the conceit that I am being held in this marriage against my will as an “American Comfort Girl.” An actually creepy, deeply racist stranger found a picture of my family on line and wanted to ridicule the outlandish idea that I had married an Asian and birthed these two bastard half-breeds. He wanted to help me “escape.” I couldn’t delete and change all of my passwords to everything fast enough.

This screen-polluting email made me even angrier that there wasn’t a true apology for this. (I won’t link directly to the disgusting clip.) When something that ugly is laughed off as lighthearted fun, it can lead to other jokey offences, actual on-the-street, go-back-to-China shouting, and possibly prompt a message from a stranger suggesting I am a prostitute to the husband I adore.

Our current political climate has reminded us that we’ve only been putting makeup over our hate-filled pustules of racism and sexism. We’ve looked good enough for the school pictures, but it’s time to lance these boils. Maybe someday we’ll actually credit the billionaire bully for exposing what has obviously been simmering and spreading below the surface for too long: fear and misunderstanding of different skin, beliefs, and women in general. And you know, it’s not helpful to simply wag a judge-y Facebook finger at the orange ego-maniac who has been caught on tape, or the white man who made an actual video demeaning an entire town of Asians. We’re going to need to do more than that.

Only one generation ago, it was against the law for Bernie and me to be married in many states. Some of our parents, just 20-30 years ago, warned us not to date other races “because it would be difficult for your children.” And those were the thoughtful, modern parents who weren’t overtly racist. And you know what? They weren’t wrong. Last week, I had to explain to my boys why an entire “comedy” segment on a popular news program made fun of people that look like them… and why no one said, “sorry.”

Have you honestly never been complicit and quiet in the presence of downright rape-y language about women’s bits? Do you publicly chastise the jerk (maybe even a family member) who makes the offhand Asians-with-cameras or black-neighborhoods-where-you’ll-get-shot comments? No. No you don’t. Not every time. And you definitely didn’t ten or twenty years ago.

And that’s ok. Not sure you’re changing minds doing that, anyway. But I bet you make damn sure that the kids within earshot get schooled. Dinnertime discussion at the Lee home has been nothing but race relations (complicated and problematic) and rules for talking about girls (only ever say nice things). Exhausted, exasperated, and frankly kind of grossed out with the topic (God, aren’t we all?), Teddy pushed back from table exclaiming, “I’m still PRE-pubescent! My voice hasn’t even changed yet! Do we still have to keep talking about this weird stuff?” Well, Teddy, yes we do. But last night, this picture went viral, and gave me a glimmer of hope that future locker rooms will be filled with actual feminists.

14657316_1260179210704921_1100413023204267691_n

Young men at Centennial High School, showing us how to combat the overwhelming ickiness on the news.

Unlike other angry outbursts catalyzed by news reports of truly gross behavior, mine is not political. I don’t care about the election (this year). Vote, don’t vote. Whatever, dude. But I do care profoundly about how you and I treat each other, how we talk about and to each other, and how we raise our boys to be champions for women. It’s time to get our multi-colored asses into pews or temples or mosques or yoga studios or Soul Cycle. Where do you go to tap into your sincerest, We Are the World feelings? I need them. And so do our kids.

 

Boys in Pink Tee Shirts

Before I became a pledge in The Shittiest Sorority, the Pepto Bismol dipped month of October didn’t make much of an impression on me. Plus, pink is the principal color in my closet, so I was happy to buy an umbrella or vacuum cleaner in rosy hues. But for those who have spent a year (or lifetime for metsters) preoccupied with mutilating surgery and poisons, wigs and neuropathies, PTSD and depression, that pink ribbon-emblazoned hosiery egg becomes irritating and dismissive. Control Top for the Cure in nude and suntan!

Pinked-up products are like that girl in high school who does a happy, drunken jig to The Love Cats, but cannot name a single song on any of the B sides. She likes The Cure because The Love Cats is upbeat and silly and ba dum dum dum dum dum BAH da da da da da! The peppy cheerleader doesn’t know The Cure, though. Don’t pretend to understand the tortured genius that is Robert Smith. That’s what we’re like in October. We’re eye-rolling goth girls and YOU DON’T GET IT. We’re barely tolerating your cheery enthusiasm and goofball Facebook status jokes (“no TP, goodbye socks” isn’t saving lives, y’all.) The #FuckCancer slogan, though– that one we can wave a foam finger for.

This month, my favorite gals in the blogging world are posting under a common theme: #BreastCancerRealityCheck. This hashtag is our clubhouse—a place to vent about the realities of breast cancer treatment as our social media feeds fill with well meaning, but miss-the-mark slogans and fundraisers or complete inanity (Save the Ta-tas, No Bra Day). A brief scroll through these tweets will immediately acquaint the un-cancered with the uglier side of the disease, and explain why your friend who you assumed was “cured” gets a bit bitchy in October.

Bernie, who is sometimes nicer than I am, says people should not be criticized for good intentions. I will never Walk for the Cure—I’ve given quite enough, thank you. Plus, cardio, so yuck. But today, both of my kids did that… for me. I think. I’m not sure. Teddy chose crossing the Smoot Bridge over the first performance with his choir. Brodie skipped the second tryout for travel basketball in favor walking all over Boston in the rain. Maybe they just wanted to ditch Church to hatch Pokémon eggs downtown. I’ll never know. But last night, their bedroom looked like this:

img_3676

and I gave them the benefit of the doubt. The only other time they have laid out clothes in anticipation of an event, we were going to watch the Red Sox in the World Series.

Thing is, Bernie and I can never underestimate how Breast Cancer has affected our boys. For nearly 5 years, they have been the kids at school whose Mom Had Cancer. It certainly doesn’t define them. But when other moms join The Shittiest Sorority, mine naturally become the go-to pals for information, possibly support. Two years ago, Teddy told me that a school friend’s mom “… has breast cancer, and probably is going to die.” Ooof. I reached out to her not only to offer help and a sympathetic ear, but also to be able to change that narrative for my own kid.

The boys understand that Breast Cancer Awareness is unnecessary—everyone is aware. They know there is no remission, that there is no cure, and also that many moms don’t die (but that some do). Why did they want to do the Breast Cancer Walk today? Not sure. Last night Bernie and I watched Deadpool, and I cannot stop thinking about this quote:

“The worst part about cancer isn’t what it does to you, but what it does to everyone else in your life.”

Some of these Pink Things aren’t really about us, at all. Instead, they give the people who love us an opportunity to do… something. If that something raises even the teensiest bit of money for metastatic disease research, that’s even better. At year five I feel less back-lashy about the Pinking of October, possibly because I know I have my sisters at #BreastCancerRealityCheck who will virtually high five my snarky aggravation with pink urinal cakes, Dill Pickles for the Cure, or silly slogans about boobies that insult the very people who no longer have them. (So, maybe still a bit back-lashy.)

But to all who gathered together in the rain to walk the city in support of people like me: THANK YOU. Thank you for raising money and caring and being silly and wonderful. This is what my boys need to see in the world: a bit of pink-drenched proof of generosity, encouragement, and love. And to my Shitty Sorority Sisters, hang in there. Only 29 more days…