The drop kick to the head is completely unexpected.  It’s a beautiful and sunny October 1, and I unsuspectingly grab my daily newspaper. Boom!!

The headline screams: “October Is Breast Cancer Awareness Month: What to Know –and Buy—to Join in the Fight.”  Inside is a one-page spread detailing how to support breast cancer by buying lipsticks, cookies, alcohol, and clothing, to name a few.  I’m totally sneak attacked by this; I forgot today was the start of October and my guard is down.  Now I’m ticked off. I spend the next two hours at work furiously concocting an adequate (but not too insane) FB post, complete with a picture of the offensive top fold of the newspaper.  My post:

So, here is the problem with PinkTober. You want to eradicate breast cancer? Don’t buy ANY products. You buying alcohol, sweets, make-up (the first two are scientifically proven to contribute to cancer and the third very likely) or anything else that vendors are self-servingly slapping a pink label on won’t do it. Do your homework.  Find an organization that puts most of its money into research instead of “awareness.” Is there anyone in this country who isn’t aware of breast cancer at this point? We need prevention and a CURE. Nothing else will suffice. So please, think before you pink! There are a lot of great organizations that aren’t hawking wears and will put your generous contribution exactly where it will help the most.

Having already wasted two hours at work, I waste the next hour and a half hitting the refresh button on my FB page to see who has commented or liked my post. I’m not disappointed, and I spend the rest of the day feeling outraged and self-righteous.  Welcome to Breast Cancer Awareness month, 2014!

I used to love October. Fall is glorious in the northeast. The air is crisp, the colors vibrant, and the smell of fall is unmistakable.  But now, as a breast cancer survivor, the color pink has usurped the sunlit gold leaves and burnt orange pumpkins of October.

Before cancer, the PinkSplosion was a small background buzz, but since cancer, it has morphed into an omnipresent roar-in-the-face for 31 days straight.  The already crazy 24-hour news cycle turns into a fuchsia feeding frenzy and I am ambushed by the television, the internet, bus billboards and advertisements on city streets.  I hear it on the radio and podcasts. I even hear it over a grocery store PA system preaching breast cancer prevention by eating fruits and vegetables; meanwhile, the same store has a garish pink table display of frosted cakes, cupcakes, cookies and most egregiously, pies.  A car dealership inexplicably hawks cars for breast cancer.  Football teams slap pink ribbons on their jerseys. Bars advertise offensive events such as “Boobie Bingo.” Frankly, it’s hard to enter any type of store without some pink-ribboned item smacking me in the face.

The “Awareness” moniker sets my teeth on edge.  I ALREADY think about cancer all the time.  It’s the fear of reoccurrence that flares up at any unexplained pain in my back. Or my shoulder. Or my neck. Or my head. Oh heck, anywhere, really. It’s my daily dose of tamoxifen, complete with ever-present side effects. It’s the anger and sadness and yep, more fear, when yet another survivor friend’s cancer metastasizes.  It’s the PTSD symptoms that easily resurface.  I ALREADY think about cancer far too much, so I resent having it thrown in my face for an entire month. This is my most base, most visceral, knee-jerk reaction to breast cancer awareness month. I don’t expect anyone else to feel the same way or agree with it (although I suspect, I am not a lone wolf on this). I know some women are really into Breast Cancer Awareness month.  I just personally don’t know any of them. Near universally, the young survivors that I know are at best ambivalent about PinkTober and at worst, pretty infuriated by it.

Big reveal –I’m infuriated by it.  I view it as pinkwashing with frothy pink tutus and lace, concealing and forgetting women who struggle with metastatic cancer and worse, women who die from it. I want a Cure Campaign, not an awareness campaign. I want a full-on Prevention campaign, not the hawking of products that actually cause cancer.  I’m infuriated by the euphemisms:   Save the boobies! Save the tatas! Take your bra off day to support breast cancer!

I don’t know many women whose “boobies” were saved. Even a lumpectomy can be very disfiguring. And the sexualization of cancer is disturbing…it’s not about BOOBS it’s about cancer. But by far the worst part of PinkTober is the corporatization of breast cancer. It should be an anathema but it isn’t.  Slap a pink ribbon on an item, donate 5% to breast cancer something-or-other and boom, instant marketing technique.  This year the most egregious award goes to the Susan B. Komen Foundation in partnership with Baker Hughes, one of the world’s largest oilfield service companies. BH is manufacturing pink drill bits.  I know I’m not the only one who prayed this was an Onion story.

Until yesterday, I didn’t think I had anything to offer in a web post. Self-righteous indignation is tiresome and I honestly don’t want to tick off women who feel differently than I do.  But a funny thing has happened this 2014 October.

I’m starting to hear a different noise, outside the roar of Awareness with its pink t-shirts and pink key chains.  I’m starting to see Hope, but a different kind of hope than the pink frosting-smeared HOPE on that pizza-sized cookie.  Maybe I’m unconsciously filtering my Pinktake this year, but at least half of what I’ve read in the media from survivors this year is from women who are not happy with the co-opting of their disease for corporate profit.  Their words are honest, raw, indignant, determined and pointed. Daily I discover new writing that pierces me deeply with anger, sadness, joy, love, fear, determination, and perseverance.  It’s powerful to read these brave stories, but even more than that I feel…. Excitement. I feel exhilarated. THIS is what Breast Cancer Awareness should be: Awareness of those who actually suffer from breast cancer, at every stage of the disease. I’m not naïve enough to think that the outrage of actual breast cancer survivors will stop the PinkTober juggernaut.  But the conversation is changing, shifting, and expanding.  And that’s worth raising awareness about.

By: Jenn Jaye

Posted in Advocate, Survivor Story | Tagged | 5 Comments

Breast Health: Herbs and Supplements
Originally presented at 12th Annual Complementary Medicine Conference
New Paltz, NY
27th April 2014
Learn how to use safe and effective means in breast cancer care. Many herbs can target receptors on cancer cells in a more effective and broader way that specific chemotherapies. This can help the chemotherapies to weaken or kill cancer tumors.

breast health supplements
Powerpoint presentation with voiceover

Posted in Cancer Support, Complementary Therapies, Herbs & Supplements, Vitamins | Leave a comment

I imagine that most folks reading this article have, at some point, wondered why they can’t seem to remember much anymore. Memory loss –or at least poor retrieval—is becoming a monumental issue in this country. Whether it is caused by Alzheimer’s, senile dementia, poor circulation to the brain or simply stress, many of us wonder if we’ll still be able to remember things years from now.

Memory is a complicated thing, but we’ll focus on a few basics. First, the type and amount of fats that we eat make a big difference in how well our brains function. Nerve cells are wrapped in a fatty layer that insulates them and insures good conduction. Healthy fats like those found in olive oil, walnuts, hemp seeds and salmon from healthy, functioning insulation. They also contribute to healthier blood vessels so that the brain gets good oxygen and appropriate nutrients. Other sources of good fats are sardines, anchovies, avocados, and brazil nuts. Eggs from pastured chickens (but not the usual supermarket egg) contain high levels of omega 3 fatty acids. They also contain choline, an antiinflammatory chemical helpful in brain function.

Saturated fats and trans fats, however, lead to less healthy brain function. This is like having broken insulation on an electric cord—usually leads to some short circuiting. Avoiding processed foods containing transfats (most boxed crackers and cookies) and minimizing beef, chicken, pork (especially bacon!) and dairy will help to keep this in check.

The amount of fat in the diet is also important, even if it’s healthy fat. High fat diets lead to production of inflammation and free radicals. This free radical damage leads to death of brain cells. Most experts suggest that we limit the fat in our diets to 20-25%, which is significantly lower than what is typical in this country.

Free radical damage can also be avoided by eating a diet rich in antioxidants. This includes Vitamins C and E, the carotenoids and flavonoids found in highly colorful vegetables and fruits, and minerals like zinc and manganese. Berries of all kinds, all the dark leafy greens like kale and chard, as well as dark orange squashes and red bell peppers are all good sources of antioxidants. Blueberries, especially, have been shown to keep your brain cells from deteriorating.

Other important contributors to good brain health include the B vitamins, which act to help neurotransmitters do their jobs. These are the chemicals that send messages between our neurons. B6, folate and choline are especially helpful, though it’s important to remember that all the B vitamins need to work together. Dark greens and whole grains are the best source of B vitamins. Phosphatidylcholine (“lecithin”) is another helpful form of choline and is found in eggs and soybeans.

Inflammatory chemicals in our bodies are produced by excess sugar as well. Obvious sources of sugar are candies, cakes, cookies, soda and alcohol. However, excess starches –especially refined versions, like white flour and “regular” semolina pasta – also get converted to sugar and lead to trouble. Even excess fruit isn’t a good idea, especially if it means you aren’t eating

vegetables. Limiting simple sugars to rare occasions and fruit to only 2 servings a day is the best idea. The main exception to this is dark chocolate! It has been shown to have loads of antioxidants and minerals, so help yourself to a small piece. Make it dark, and make it simply chocolate, not a “chocolate covered” something. Then take a few deep breaths to relax and do the crossword puzzle to keep your brain alive!

By Wendy Warner

food memory enhancer

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This time of year, it’s common to see squashes laid out in decorative heaps—dark green acorn squash, cream colored butternut, or red/orange pumpkins mixed with dark green striped Hubbards. In addition to making a beautiful display, they are a tasty source of many helpful nutrients, but many people don’t know how to cook them.

Squashes were first cultivated from wild varieties found in an area between Guatemala and Mexico; evidence shows that they have been eaten by humans for >10,000 years. The original squashes were grown primarily for their seeds, but over the years, varieties with milder, tasty flesh developed. Explorers took squash back to Europe, where they spread rapidly, even into Asia.

1 cup of baked cubes of winter squash provide 145% of the daily value of Vitamin A, 35% of Vitamin C, 25% of potassium and 25% of fiber. They are also a good source of manganese, folate and B vitamins, all with just 79 calories per cup!

Research has shown that extracts of squash helped to decrease enlarged prostates in older men (BPH), as well as prevent cell mutation, thus decreasing cancer risk. Winter squashes contain beta cryptoxanthin, which decreases lung cancer risk. (This compound is also found in corn, papaya, red bell pepper, oranges and peaches). In an overall population, those with the highest consumption of this compound had a 27% decrease in their risk of lung cancer, but among smokers, there was a 37% decreased risk compared to smokers with the lowest intake of this nutrient. Please note that this study involved eating real food; followup studies did not show the same result for taking this compound in supplement form.

The carotenoids found in winter squash are primarily in the form of beta carotene; it is this compound that helps prevent oxidation of cholesterol. Only oxidized cholesterol builds up in vessels and causes problems. Also, beta carotene and other carotenoids help to regulate blood sugar in those with insulin resistance and diabetes. Carotenoids also have antiinflammatory properties, which help to improve asthma, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. The high folate content of squashes also help to decrease levels of homocystine in the blood; elevated levels of homocystine increase the risk of blood clots (think heart attack and strokes) as well as osteoporosis.

For those of you not familiar with the different types of squash, good depictions can be found at http://www.foodsubs.com/Squash.html and at http://whatscookingamerica.net/squash.htm. Most winter squashes can be used interchangeably, so feel free to use whatever is handy. Since most have hard rinds that are difficult to cut, options are to either bake them whole (first add some knife slashes through the rind near the stem to allow steam to escape), and then scoop out the strings and seeds, or treat them as you would a pumpkin—cut a portion off the top, then scoop out the seeds prior to baking. Some grocers will also sell them already cut; obviously, these pieces cannot be stored as long as uncut squashes and should be used right away.

An unusual but very quick recipe for winter squash follows—I’ve served it to veggie haters and they were surprised at how good it was!

Steamed Winter Squash with Red Chili Sauce

1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes (~4 cups) 1 medium onion, peeled, cut in half and then into thin strips
3-4 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 tsp chili powder

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1/8 tsp cumin
1/8 tsp cinnamon
~1 cup vegetable or chicken stock Fresh cilantro, parsley or basil to taste

Place the cubed squash into a steamer and cook until nearly done but still slightly firm inside, ~5-6 minutes. While squash is cooking, place several tablespoons of stock into skillet and “saute” onion until soft, stirring often. Add garlic and spices; after ~ 1minute, add remainder of stock and simmer gently. When squash is steamed, add to sauce and cook another few minutes until fully done. Sprinkle with fresh herbs and serve.

By Wendy Warner

Posted in Diet, Nutrition, Recipe | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Today marks the birthday of a former friend. A close friend for over 20 years, she and I hit all the milestones together: college suite mates, bridal parties, baby showers (hers), changing careers (mine), home ownership, an ugly divorce (hers), and emotional changes and growth. Even though we lived in separate cities, we were pretty tight for a long time. But she is no longer my friend and I have no desire for any sort of contact with her ever again. What ended our friendship? My cancer diagnosis. I wish my story was unique, but it isn’t. Friendship doesn’t come with an “in sickness and health” clause, but maybe it should.

At my first few support group meetings, women talked about their cancer experiences and the great support they received from family and friends. Overall, this was true for me, too. Oh sure, there were plenty of bumps along the way (I think all cancer survivors could write the book: “Stupid Shit People Say During Cancer”), but in general, I remain immensely grateful for the strong encouragement of my family and friends. With the one standout exception.

When the friendship imploded, I was confused and struggled to process my “Bad Friend” experience; I was disappointed that my first few cancer contacts didn’t seem to relate. But as time passed, frank discussions surfaced and I found a common theme. Many survivors experience the dissolution of friendship, or friendships, due to their cancer diagnosis (and all that follows). The reasons and excuses are myriad but really don’t matter. What does matter is that this is not uncommon and if it has happened to you, or is happening to you, it doesn’t reflect upon you as a person.

The pervasiveness of fractured friendships isn’t frequently discussed or recognized in the cancer literature and support sites. I never found a “Your Friends May Disappoint You or Desert You” pamphlet next to the “Side Effects of Chemo Drugs” and “Yoga and Recover” brochures. Instead, I found sometimes overwhelming cheerfulness and positivity in cancer-related conversation, especially among survivors. Staying positive and putting the best spin on a lousy situation is beneficial, but the “pink glazing” isn’t always helpful for those who come after us or who are struggling now. The negative aspects of cancer are real and painful and common. The positive aspects of life following a cancer diagnosis are also real and wonderful and common. But if the conversation is always positive, it ostracizes those who are experiencing something different but no less real. It’s important to normalize the emotional pains, the struggles, the physical difficulties, the human bonds that may fray, all of which can linger for years after an initial diagnosis and treatment. These things are normal.

And unfortunately, many women discover that formerly strong bonds of friendship disintegrate under the harsh reality of cancer diagnosis. Maybe it’s the whiff of mortality, maybe it’s the feelings of helplessness, maybe it’s because suddenly you (not she) are the center of attention…. Whatever the reasons, it is a painful truth that some people cannot and will not be able to handle your illness. This will be confusing, disorienting, maddening, and hurtful. But know this: although your illness is ALL ABOUT YOU, how people react to your illness, be it as a bright beacon of support or as a total turd on the floor, is ALL ABOUT THEM.

I share my Bad Friend story with the hope of normalizing anyone else’s Bad Friend story.

The ugly fractures in my friendship with Molly* began immediately at my diagnosis; the harshest was a bullying phone call that reduced me to tearful hysterics as she questioned my already-scheduled surgical decisions and insisted I have my surgery six hours from where I lived. Never mind that her “recommendation” was based on a friend of a friend’s breast cancer treatment, never mind that I nor my family had any place to stay near this facility, and never mind that I lived in Philadelphia, close to some of the  best cancer resources in the country. Already a confused mess because of my diagnosis, I didn’t know that I had the power to end the conversation and say. “You’re really upsetting me and I’m hanging up now.” That lesson took time to sink in. If you’ve gone through any sort of serious illness, you know that suddenly, almost everyone in your life has some sort of opinion about it. I say very grudgingly that maybe it’s okay for people to have an opinion, but unless explicitly asked, most times it is NOT okay for them to share it with you.

Molly’s opining continued, and months later as I contemplated radiation, she sent me a text message telling me to “please consider (radiation) as I want to grow old with you.” I was incensed, as the implication was if I didn’t do radiation I would die. Eight months of cancer treatment had built up my “Inappropriate Comment Destroyer Reflex” and I rapidly sent a “please don’t comment on medical issues you have no knowledge of” text. Unsurprisingly, instead of understanding, she was offended.

It took a girl’s only weekend trip for me to realize that our relationship was neither good nor healthy for me. Months of surgeries and chemo had left me longing to share my struggles with close friends. I wanted them to understand. However, everything i brought up Molly tried to top. Hot flashes from the chemo? She had hot flashes, too! Horrible yeast infections from the chemo? When she was pregnant she had the worst yeast infection. Ever! Unable to do anything with my 2-inch long hair. She had serious problems with her hair, too. In fact, was she starting to lose some of it? This continued the entire weekend as she tried to outdo me at every turn. I say with no sarcasm, I’m pretty sure you cannot top the Big C. The moment I realized our friendship was dust was, after vulnerably sharing that I found it hard to deal with or look at pregnant women and babies (due to the loss of my fertility) she tried to force a lifelike toy baby from FAO Schwartz in my arms because “it will be good for you.”

Ouch! The experience now reads like a dark sitcom in the making. At the time I was troubled and puzzled by the termination of our friendship, but it took a long conversation with a leukemia survivor to point out the incredible inappropriateness of Molly’s behavior. It was not okay. (This survivor, too, had her own Bad Friend story.) Like I said, some lessons take longer to sink in.

I could psychoanalyze Molly’s behavior to death, and, in dark moments, I have. But ultimately, it doesn’t matter. Whatever her deal was…it was HER deal. As painful and insensitive as I found her comments and actions, they weren’t about me and were all about her. And when you have cancer, baby, it is ALL about you. Anyone who doesn’t respect that distinction needs to be jettisoned.

The bad news is, many of us may have friendships that cannot survive our cancer diagnosis. It’s unfair, but it happens. I’d even go so far as to say it can be a normal byproduct. It’s hard to say goodbye to these friendships. (Or to the friends that simply disappear without a trace.) But the good news is, most friends pass the “in sickness and health” clause with flying colors. And the even better news is, new and wonderful friendships will be found along the path of your cancer journey. So make new friends, keep the old, and ditch anyone who isn’t serving you and your new healing path.

*Name is a pseudonym.

Jennifer Jaye is an editor, writer, actress, yogini, former karate instructor, and in her newest role, a cancer survivor. She lives, works, and plays in New York City as she attempts to navigate life as a young survivor of breast cancer.

By: Jenn Jaye

Posted in Emotional Health, Spiritual Care, Survivor Story | Tagged | 5 Comments