Beyond awareness

Welcome to RN&R’s Breast Cancer Awareness issue

While putting together RN&R’s annual Breast Cancer Awareness issue, I’ve been thinking about other forms of cancer, too. Forms that don’t have color-based campaigns selling KitchenAids for earmarked research dollars; cancers without a month devoted to their awareness. I wonder why they don’t.

I’ve been thinking about my father, who died last autumn of lung and bone cancer, and who’d had prostate cancer before that. And of his brother, my strong, burly uncle Ken, who also died last year of lung and pancreatic cancer. Of their parents, who both died of lung cancer in their 60s. And of my grandfather, who suffered horribly years ago from prostate and bone cancer. I’m trying to imagine 5K walks of men—with blue ribbons, perhaps?—proudly wearing T-shirts that say “I survived testicular cancer.” Then I think of men who would be too embarrassed to proclaim they have less than perfect testicles. That leads me back to the women I’ve known, who take off their shirts to show the scars left by mastectomies. I think of the nuances of sexuality and femininity intermingled with breast cancer issues, of the importance we’ve placed on body parts and identity, and of the ultimate, overwhelming power of life over vanity.

I’m mostly just thinking of the clarity of perspective and priorities that cancer—no matter the form—so painfully provides.

This issue is about women, and it’s about cancer. I think many of its stories will resonate with anyone who’s dealt with the disease. There’s the story of the indominatable Kelly Rae, who fiercely stood up to breast cancer when it came calling her so unexpectedly. There’s Sena Christian’s report on chemicals in beauty products, the same chemicals found in products many people (men, too) use and are linked to cancers. Kris Vagner questions whether the pink-ribbon campaign shouldn’t spend more time encouraging breast cancer prevention, rather than just awareness, given that some of the products sold in breast cancer’s name contain chemicals linked to the disease. And Megan Berner provides advice from the health experts about how women can take better care of themselves, despite never truly knowing what nature, habit, heredity and chance has planned.

Sometimes, it seems there is no escape from cancer. There are dark times when we see it around us, we trace the branches of our family trees with fearful eyes, we see it take those who’ve fought hard, and we despair. Then there are those who are still with us, some who feel cancer is behind them and are vividly moving forth with their lives. Research, science, technology, love and support save lives every day. In some cases, it’s buying time. But time, as cancer makes bluntly clear, is no small thing. Milestones are found in moments. Time—a few more days, weeks, months or years—allows a father to walk his daughter down the aisle, a grandmother to meet her grandchild, a faraway sister a visit home, another birthday, another chance to say you’re sorry, a chance to tell those who matter most that they are loved.