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Monday, September 30, 2013

Attention Seeking

Today I wake to a story on comedienne, Jennifer Saunders who,  the Herald Sun reports has "hit out at cancer survivors who wear the disease as a badge".

The paper reports:

The Absolutely Fabulous star received the all-clear in 2010 but said she was attacked by former sufferers for suggesting she was 'free' from the disease after she revealed her regrown hair at a party.

"People were writing 'How dare you say that!  You're never free of cancer!" she told The Times Magazine.

"And I thought, 'No, actually I am free of cancer now"

Asked if she believed some people keep wearing cancer like a badge, she responded;  'For ever - and I'll give you why.  Because it is the job you don't have to work for.

"You suddenly get so much attention, and if you're not used to that, I bet it can sway you a bit.

"I'm used to it. My job gives me the attention I would otherwise crave.

"They must be so pissed off when their hair grows back.   And you think, 'Oh, come on, cancer is so common now'."

The comedian and mother of three who received chemotherapy and radiotherapy after doctors found a number of malignant lumps, said she never worried she would die from the disease because 'they told me I wasn't going to".

Saunders, from Richmond in west London, has previously made light of her illness and joked about her "lovely per new bosoms" when she spoke out about it for the first time.

But her husband, Ade Edmondson, has described difficulties endured by those with cancer and said the ordeal should not be referred to as a "battle".

"It's not a great three-part TV drama full of moments.  It's a long grind, like a slow car crash that will last five years and then, hopefully, we'll get out," he said.

Tomorrow is the first day of October and the start of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, internationally.

Saunders' comment has somewhat annoyed me.  Quite frankly, I believe she is quite wrong in suggesting breast cancer survivors who don't blithely move on are 'attention seeking'.

Since my diagnosis with you-know-what, I have befriended around 20 women who have received a diagnosis of this disease.

Somewhat sheepishly, I observe that I am probably the only one I know who seems to routinely mention it in the public domain.

Saunders' comment has had me pondering:  Am I attention-seeking?   I was certainly accused of it by some during the thick of my intense blog-keeping.

After further pondering I decide that no, 'attention seeking' for me is definitely not blogging.

'Attention Seeking' for me isn't even speaking at a microphone - something I do under sufferance because there is rarely anyone else in the room who wants to do it (something about the 'greatest' fear?).  A side track:  Why is it that speaking in public is supposed to be man's greatest fear?  In fact Jerry Seinfeld once made a great joke about it.  He said that if 'speaking in public were man's greatest fear' it would mean that if you were giving the eulogy at a funeral, you'd be wishing you were IN the box rather than speaking to it.

Neither is 'Attention Seeking' painting the ceiling with my top off (these days) while there are workmen just a couple of metres away outside my window.  I call that being pragmatic - who want's to ruin a perfectly good shirt?

However it may be 'attention seeking' if I took of my clothes and ran naked down the Queen Street Mall during peak hour (on my bucket list... no, actually, I'm kidding!)

Blogging, on the other hand, is not 'attention seeking' but rather a tedious job.

The reality is that writing about an illness, in particular, and while you are in the middle of it, is extremely difficult.  I can admit now that there were days I was quite resentful of having to report anything at all.

I wondered regularly why I had been stupid enough to set myself up as I had.  It would have been so much easier to languish quietly in bed (as I admit to a streak of martyrdom).

As it is, it seems my daily missives delivered some functional utility.  Some days, they gave me something to do.  As I treated them as a 'community service' in the main, all along I was really focusing on someone else, readers who I felt could be informed, entertained or inspired.  This was a greater motivation for me than simply writing for the sake of some cathartic relief.

In the end, the blog also came to serve well the adventure of someone very close to me: my own sister!

I know, because I've heard it from the horse's mouth (okay, not so much a horse, as a fine filly), that knowing what was in store made my sister's ordeal so much more bearable

That is why, without being judgemental like Saunders, I just say, 'to each his own'.

Most of my breast cancer friends are intensely private about their condition and, you know what?  That's perfectly okay.

I know several friends with a breast cancer diagnosis who couldn't bear the idea of their bald heads being paraded in public (my sister being one of them).

I am sure some were appalled by the brazen way in which I publicised my scars.  And can I mention again 'vaginal dryness'.

(You know I'm thinking that one day I shall establish the VDF (Vaginal Dryness Foundation) not to be confused with the other type of VD (quite unlikely given the reduced libido of the formerly bald).  I would have a team of specially trained counsellors and a 1-800 number, funded by a generous donatio from KY Jelly.  Hey, you think this is bad?  I was watching Joan Rivers yesterday.  At least I don't look like the wind changed.)

The fact is that speaking openly and candidly about pain, poo, wee and blood ain't everyone's cup of tea - and especially not in the public domain (unless you are Joan Rivers, of course).

Nonetheless, if you or someone you know receives a diagnosis of any illness, I can only encourage you to speak openly about it to those you care about.

The fact is people around you need to know how you are doing.  I don't know why they need to.  They just do.  If you don't want to go into any details, you can try my standard line:  "You know.  I have good days and bad days".

As for Jennifer, I have this to say to her:

We are all entitled to our own unique fears and concerns - be it  public speaking, spiders,  or, in my case the likelihood that, when George Clooney finally agrees to meet me in a G-String, he chickens out and sends his understudy, Karl Sandilands.

Some may consider it 'attention seeking' to think that cancer will return.  Others might consider it 'self delusion' to think that it may not.

It is all a bit dire but here are some statistics to ponder:
  • 1 in 7 women worldwide will receive a breast cancer diagnosis in their lifetime.
  • 6% of women with a breast cancer diagnosis will die. 
  • In Australia, that equates to about 850 women each and every year.
  • Five year recurrence rates for women with Stage I, II and III tumorus are 14%, 13% and 9% respectively. 
  • 1 in 5 breast cancer tumours will recur within the 10 years after 'adjuvant' (chemo, radiation, hormonal therapy) therapy is completed (that is the five-year mark).
Meanwhile, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute cautions:  "Adjuvant therapy does not completely remove the risk of late cancer recurrence, even for women with low grade/low stage tumors. And although recent advances in therapy can be expected to reduce the risk of late recurrence... clinicians and patients still need to remain aware of this problem and researchers need to consider this a high priority for further studies".

On the basis of the above, I would think that, regardless of how you deal with a cancer diagnosis of any kind, there is an argument for being at least a tiny bit mindful of the unpredictability of this disease.

Can breast cancer recur?  Yes.

Do we know with any certainty if it will recur?   No

Should we shrug off the likelihood and continue to live life to the fullest?  Absolutely.

Is Jennifer Saunders correct?

You decide.

1 comment:

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