Fame, Fortune and Foobs (a piece I wrote for The Underbelly)
August 7, 2016
“Baby, look at me and tell me what do you see? You ain't seen the best of me yet, give me time, I'll make you forget the rest. I've got more in me, and you can set it free, I can catch the moon in my hand. Don't you know who I am? Remember my name….FAME!”
- Irene Cara, “Fame”
I'm still amazed when I hear of a celebrity that has been diagnosed with breast cancer and remains evasive about the specificities of their diagnosis and blatantly vague in the anticipated morning chat show interviews until they flip the switch and move to the expected pink and positive mantra. Actually, I take that back, it doesn’t amaze me … it downright vexes me! The platform that they have, literally at their fingertips, can bring comfort, camaraderie and solace to so many other women out there struggling with their own diagnoses in the real world. Just look at what Angelina Jolie did for BRCA testing and prophylactic mastectomies. She’s a freaking badass goddess in my opinion. She empowered so many to leap and take control of their own health instead of waiting for the cancer monster to jump out of their bra and spook the shit out of them. And isn’t that what being a woman today is about…empowering other women?
When a celebrity does the big reveal, announcing that they have successfully been treated for breast cancer and they’re just fine now or if they get caught by the paparazzi looking gaunt coming out of a well-known cancer treatment center and they’re PR peeps rush to have them make the ‘I have breast cancer but I’ll beat it” announcement on TMZ. It’s all rosy and glossed over and typically accompanied by an exhausted smile and some well-timed tears. That’s when I start yelling at the TV.
“Are you HER2+?”
“Did you have a lumpectomy?
“Mastectomy? Single? Double?”
“TELL ME MORE!”
I want the ‘me too’ moment. Don’t rob me of that, because whenever I meet other survivors and we quickly run through our diagnoses and treatments there’s always the ‘me too’ moment, and in that moment I’m less alone, they’re less alone, we’ve bonded in sistahood. We can commiserate about getting the shits from Cytoxin and the weight gain from the steroids. We can feel a bit better that someone else wakes up every day feeling like they got hit by a truck because of Tamoxifen. They don’t look at me like I’m nuts when I confide that I run my fingers through my hair every morning for the reassurance that yes, it’s still there. The ‘me too’ moment is unequivocally the best part about meeting survivors. It’s an immediate understanding from someone who’s been there, done that, and bought the tee shirt.
If I had been a celebrity no part of my diagnosis and treatment would be private. I’d be blathering on and on about everything from my first time dancing with the beast in 2007 to my second rendezvous in 2012. I would've been out there on every damn channel telling people specifically about my diagnosis which doctors I used, what my surgical and medical treatment plans are because it can only help. I’d happily dish on the drugs I took, the complications I had and the funny bits too – because seriously, what’s funnier than explaining how I chased my hat down a windy beach because it blew off my bald head? Or the time I spent the whole day in meetings donning a very chic off-the-shoulder white blouse while my strapless bra was chilling out around my waist because I never felt it slide down my totally numb (and tattooed) counterfeit tits.
But I'm not a celebrity I'm just a legend in my own mind <wink-wink>. Like a woman possessed I wrote and published a book, which dove into the intricacies of my diagnosis and treatment. I put it out there for the millions of other women who would be diagnosed after me. I made my way through the minefield and I wanted to help them navigate the terrain with some ease and support. This is not the time to feel shame, remember, anyone with nipples can get breast cancer. Do public figures understand how many people they have the ability to reach? It’s important because breast cancer is not singular disease; it comes in many forms and subsets so if you're walking the red carpet and you don't look all aglow from the caviar facial and mandatory high colonic the public will speculate about your health. Who wouldn't want to get out front of that, on their own terms, especially before the predatory trickle of Komen Kool-Aid seeps in corrupting them until they are all rah-rah pink-pink and using words like gift, blessings and cure? Because it has to get out there somehow that there is no ‘cure.’ Once breast cancer unpacks its bags in your body it’s there to stay, not necessarily in the metastatic sense but like the scars on our bodies that will never truly fade there are scars on our psyche that will remain as well. As a nearly 10-year survivor I know, that at any point, breast cancer can rear its ugly head like a zit on prom night.
It’s time to go beyond the red carpet. It’s time to give a voice to all of us out here that don’t have the platform that celebrities have. Empower each other. Talk about treatments and stages and protocols.