A Not So Short PSA

Don’t ask me to show support for the fight against breast cancer by liking/promoting a specific message on social media. Just don’t. I understand it sounds callous but I don’t care if XYZ foundation would donate based on the number of likes for a particular post. I don’t.

For many of you who know of my mother being diagnosed with Stage 2 Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS) this may be slightly off-putting. In fact the number of such messages I have gotten after her diagnosis and surgery has been more than the usual number during October (Breast Cancer Awareness Month). No doubt most of them were from well wishing acquaintances, who are likely to turn a deaf ear to my explanations of why I find these tactics to be disturbing. I’ll put aside the number crunching that goes behind this correlation between donation to a cause and the number of likes/tweets it receives. Or the debate over whether or not campaigns such as ‘#nomakeupselfies’ make a difference in raising awareness about breast cancer (awareness and not the two million, those are different things). Though I would say with a 20% increase in incidence rate from 2008 to 2012, should awareness even be a question? Given that close to 1.7 million women were diagnosed with some form of breast cancer in 2012, it’s probably safe to say you know someone living with breast cancer and therefore aware of it.

I am not asking you to do away with self-checks or advising others to check with their GP or OBGYN should they feel anything suspicious about their breasts. You should do all that and more. I just wish that more didn’t involve posting on Facebook the colour of your bra or a selfie.

Well, I will get back to the point, be informed and inform others. I don’t know if it’s just a cultural thing on my side of the globe or something else, but how about treating breast cancer like you would any other ‘contagious’ disease? Put down the pitch fork and let me explain why I am using that particular term. Breast cancer seems to run in families, a Swedish twin study concluded that roughly 30% of the total variability behind a positive diagnosis could be explained by genetics. So how about you treat it as such? I have two relatives, one first degree (my mother) and another second degree (my aunt/my mother’s sister) who have been diagnosed with DCIS within a month of each other. So talk. Tell each other about regular checkups instead of sweeping it under the rug because you are worried someone might use this to “ruin” a marriage proposal for your niece or something equally ridiculous. And believe me I have heard of more ridiculous reasonings for not being open about breast cancer. I think at this point the asinine excuses are on par with the ’causes’ of breast cancer that range from anywhere between having fewer children to being on the pill.

Speaking of hilarious, a cousin of mine recently called me in a moment of concern to get the ‘Breast Cancer Vaccine’ shot from a doctor in the capital (Dhaka). It took me a while to make her understand how such a vaccine is still under clinical trials, with most failing at Phase III and not going to be available in a prescription-based manner as GSK’s Cervarix for Cervical Cancer for at least the next two to three years. It was easier for me to regurgitate the facts because ever since my mom’s diagnosis I have been reading up on as much of it as I can, with the extra advantage that I have access to most paywall blocked journal articles. This is my word of advice to you, if you are being courted with such a vaccine jot down the name of the doctor, the company behind it and ask them in details about what it’s supposed to do. The idea of a breast cancer vaccine isn’t so much as prophylaxis as it is preventing the recurrence of the cancer, so if the sales pitch to you is that you will never have breast cancer to begin with then pack your stuff and stay the hell away from that office.

This was a Public Service Announcement, because the number of people asking me about breast cancer and a vaccine has been surprising and I am angry at the lack of information made available to the public. Also, I do not have any affiliation with GSK. I just suffered at the end of a needle containing Cevarix (take your shots of that, will hurt like a thousand ants biting), thrice.

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