“Knowing everything that I know about cancer, I would, in a heartbeat, take any kind of adult cancer—no matter how nasty and aggressive the disease and treatment—over any cancer diagnosis and any chemotherapy for either of my daughters, future grandchildren” Unlike most of us in the childhood cancer community, Laurie, a mother of 2, has not had her membership card pre-punched, but she has rolled up her sleeves and is pitching in. She is exactly what we need to create awareness beyond our own limitations. Please welcome her, already a member of the Coalition Against Childhood Cancer, to our community. Thank you Laurie O.! – Four Square Team Captain
I had intended to have my next post be about the childhood cancer fundraising event that I am planning in the Fall of 2014, but I have an overwhelming need to chime in on this whole gold versus pink thing. In an ideal world, I would be able to be all about gold in September and pink in October, but the “Pinkies” keep encroaching into the golden time so I have found that it is making me pick sides. I’m not happy about it.
To preface it all, even though I have never proactively sought to be different, I have always been one of those square pegs trying to fit into a round hole. For example, I am very much a tomboy and am most recognizable and comfortable wearing a baseball hat and ponytail, yet my favorite color is girly-girl pink and I gravitate toward anything pink. Following that theme, I am a pharmacist who chose to go to pharmacy school (nobody forced me into it) but I never intended to be a traditional pharmacist.
Pharmacy school was a way for me to learn about cancer and cancer drugs and to gain an understanding of what happened to my maternal grandmother. I highly doubt that I would have a career in the cancer field if it were not for her dying of metastatic breast cancer when I was in the 7th grade. She was initially diagnosed in her late 60s, was cancer-free for a few years, and then recurred in the other breast in her early 70s. She died in 1988, at age 74.
I remember an incredible amount of details regarding grandma’s second and last bout with breast cancer. The topic of “cancer” was so taboo that, in fact, no one in the family was allowed to even mutter the word around my grandmother because in her mind, cancer was a punishment from God and something to be ashamed of. I have no idea where she got that from. I vividly remember my grandma hanging up the phone on mom the first time my mom dared to say “cancer”, I remember seeing her pitch black & blue chest from the radiation treatments as I pretended to look away, and I remember grandma saying goodbye to me the day before she died but thinking I was someone else (as she was hallucinating from her brain metastases). I also remember that, around the same time my grandma died, my mom’s second cousin (who was her grade-school buddy) passed away from breast cancer at age 40, leaving behind 6 children. Around the very same time, my mom had a suspicious mass detected in one of her breasts and had to have it surgically removed. It was benign, thank goodness, but I remember her raw fear and worry and how she locked herself in the bathroom to cry. I went through those very same emotions in 2007, when I had a very firm pea-sized breast lump detected during the first trimester of my first pregnancy, which was benign but caused me great angst given my family history. I was devastated, fully expecting it to be cancer as I endured lots of waiting.
To date, my family history of cancer includes not only breast cancer, but also the rare uterine MMMT/carcinosarcoma that took my mom, acute myeloid leukemia (AML) that took my maternal grandfather, and colon cancer. Despite my efforts to stay fit and in good health, I have a really good chance of being diagnosed with cancer in my lifetime, more so than the 1 in 3 odds for women in general. I’ve been tested for genetic mutations in BRCA1/2 (breast cancer genes that, when mutated, increase the risk of not only breast cancer but also many other cancers) and had none detected, but I would still bet that my breast cancer odds are higher than the often cited 1 in 8.
So here I am, it is September 2013 and I’m alive and well. I have a history of adult family members dying from breast cancer but have 2 healthy daughters, and I am rejecting pink to go GOLD and asking others to join me? YEP, that’s right! In my eyes, heart, and mind, pediatric cancer research should be a higher priority than adult cancer research. Seriously, how can I possibly be more worried about adult cancers, even those that have taken my own family members, when there are (1) children who have not and will not even make it out of childhood and (2) children who may be lucky enough to survive cancer yet are more likely than not to be left with permanent physical and/or emotional scars and disabilities. Knowing everything that I know about cancer, I would in a heartbeat take any kind of adult cancer—no matter how nasty and aggressive the disease and treatment—over any cancer diagnosis and any chemotherapy for either of my daughters, future grandchildren whom I hopefully will meet someday, future great-grandchildren whom I will never meet, and so on.
Overall, I just cannot understand and cannot accept that pediatric cancer research is not THE priority of cancer priorities, so I have opted to join the childhood cancer community to do my part. But it is very obvious again, that I am that round peg and not the typical addition to the childhood cancer awareness community. I have met quite a few people over the past few weeks at different family/kid-focused childhood cancer events. I brought my 5 year-old daughter, Macy, along with me in my travels. As soon as I mentioned my plans to start a foundation and do fundraising events for my local cancer center, I noticed that the first thing that people did next was look directly at my daughter. Everyone automatically thinks that she must be a cancer patient, but she is not.
I have to ask: Should it matter—whether or not I have had childhood cancer, or if my own children have had cancer—if my mission is to help kids with cancer and I have the passion to do so? (Editor’s note here: If our community requires that we all must have suffered to join and help, we will never grow and achieve our dreams of making childhood cancer a national priority. Our “club” must never become exclusive.)
Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I fail, but it is never for lack of trying. Yet I know all too well that there are times when hard work is not enough to succeed, forcing a concession that it is time to “Let it go and let it be”. As I have not personally dealt with childhood cancer, I have already faced some unique barriers and challenges in trying to join this community, and I know there are many more trying days to come. This is the one time in my life, however, that “Let it go and let it be” does not apply to me and is simply not an option. I am dedicated to helping kids with cancer and to raising the much needed funds that will lead to much better treatments, and I am here to stay and am bringing others into this with me.
So as for pink vs GOLD, I am tabling the pink and going GOLD today, tomorrow, during October, and forever and always—no matter what happens to me in the future. In the battle of GOLD versus pink, I pick the kids and encourage all adults to do the same.
I have to say, that GOLD is a great color for the childhood cancer community to have because of the BLING factor, let’s exploit the heck out of it by making it cool and hip for people of all ages while spreading awareness. In my eyes, putting a little bit of light-hearted fun into the equation provides a way to balance out the inherent sadness that is associated with the topic of childhood cancer, likely a major contributor to why people in my general community shy away from joining this fight. I think an “Embrace your inner bling and go GOLD” campaign is in order! The gaudier the better, the more obnoxious the better—even for a tomboy like me.
Did you know and did you hear—that GOLD is the new pink?!! True story, spread the word and take care until next time…
Author: Laurie Orloski