TABOO - Is Breast Cancer a Dirty Word?

It has been a long time since I have curled up on my bed and thought long and hard about what is was like to be there suffering through chemo. Last night I did just that.  I came home, after being asked to leave work early and laid in my bed in the dark just reflecting on that period of my life. Sometimes it seems like eons ago. Other times, it seems like yesterday. It reality, it was five years ago.

I was told at work last night, after less than a week of working at a high end women’s fashion store that being a breast cancer survivor is something I am not to share with anyone. Being a survivor is something other women see as very sad, depressing and is not pretty.  A customer I assisted this week had a pink survivor bracelet on and I congratulated her on her recovery.  She told me she was a two year survivor and had just had her reconstruction completed from her double mastectomy.   The manager did not care to hear any of that; she said any talk of breast cancer is totally unacceptable. No one cares whether I had cancer or not and there is to be no talk of breast cancer in the store.  Breast cancer is sad, depressing and does not make anyone feel pretty. We are in the business of making people feel happy and pretty. If people don’t feel that way, they won’t spend money.  I want sales in my store and for that to happen, women need to be happy.” 

She made it quite clear I am not to mention to anyone ever again that I am a breast cancer survivor.  This discussion took place in the back stock room right after I got to work. All the other employees in the area were quickly told to leave the room as it was obvious I was going to be talked to in private by the big boss.   There were two other items on her agenda discussed but this was the item that really took my breath away.  Quite honestly, I was shocked.

I was told that the effect of me mentioning breast cancer to her business was that it would create a negative spiral and cause no one to want to shop in the store if they knew a survivor worked there.   I am to only talk about the clothes in the store.  She spoke as if I stand around and talk about breast cancer on the job for hours.   No one there knows anything about my battle, not the type I had, where I had treatment, where I lived when I was diagnosed, etc…because I have never discussed a single aspect of it with anyone, including a customer.  

She went on to warn me that my hours will be cut if I am heard bringing up this subject again.  Eventually she would have to let me go, as in lose my employment.  Breast cancer is an ugly thing.   Women will walk past her store and not come in.     She continued to educate me on how she feels the other half of women see breast cancer, seeing women like me as sad and feeling more like what she described as pitiful than compassion towards a survivor.  Customers will then, according to her, not feel beautiful being in the store or want to buy clothing there and will leave not spending money.    She will not stand for me affecting her sales.  Cancer is ugly.    It doesn’t seem to matter that there are signs all over the store about her corporation sponsoring hope for breast cancer, even selling Hope T shirts benefiting breast cancer.    Or that this store is for women, a disease that affects women.

This was repeated to me countless times.   I suppose she thought I had a severe case of chemo brain and wanted to be sure I heard it all correctly and it stayed etched in my brain. I have never, in five years, been made to feel so unclean and ugly as I was last night about the fact that I had breast cancer.   No one has ever looked me straight in the eye and actually said to me that nobody cared that I had breast cancer. Though I know that is not true as I have a wonderful support system, the sting of her words burns in my memory and heart. I find tears stinging my eyes even now when I think of my friends that have died and those that have fought to survive this dreaded disease being cast in this ugly group with me. 

I pride myself on having a positive attitude.  I can’t believe women would discriminate against other women simply because of a disease no one asks for.  But yet, it does exist, in a high end women’s clothing store in mainstream America.  Odd too that it would occur in the South where the disease is even more prevalent.   I had a conversation with only one other customer at this store about breast cancer.   This woman was in the store trying to buy a Hope T shirt in the size large as she could not find it at the other store location.  I asked her if she knew anyone that was affected by breast cancer.  She responded with who she knew.  I told her I was a survivor also and thanked her for her support.  I asked her if she was walking the Komen Walk and when she responded no I simply said thank you for wearing the shirt to show your support.  

However, during this exchange, a young twenty-five year old employee and another employee close to my age were standing idly by as it was slow that evening,  apparently ease-dropping on the conversation.  They must have heard something they found offensive and reported it back to the manager that I had indeed admitted to a customer that I was a breast cancer survivor.  That preempted the need for me to be reprimanded even though this woman was in the store for no other reason but to purchase the shirt for breast cancer.

I think what  I found the most upsetting was her general attitude about breast cancer. It was a reoccurring theme of it being ugly. Yes cancer is ugly,  but to imply that the women who survive it  are somehow perceived as ugly individuals and would somehow discourage other women from wanting to be around them  as it would interfere with their ability to feel beautiful is short sighted and unfair.  Furthermore,  to elaborate and state that women would actually avoid shopping at a clothing store to avoid being near a cancer survivor employee is just plain outrageous.   That mentality went out  years ago; cancer is not contagious.   Her concern is dollars in her store, nothing else. And for this conversation to take place in October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month when the whole country is focused on awareness of one of the top medical issues we are faced with, how hypocritical.  She does not want to know if her customers are survivors, she just wants them spending money. Where is the heart and soul of the business model here towards the true inner beauty of a woman? How can you make a woman beautiful if you are unwilling to unleash her inner beauty also?

Today, I simply retreated, much as I did when I was in treatment.  My objective today was to digest how the world views me, a breast cancer survivor. I am not happy I had cancer, I did not want it, I am sad I had it.  But I am glad, in particular, I put the survivor at east, earlier this week,  in spite of the pain it caused me later in the week.  I am glad because her recent surgery was indeed painful, emotionally more so than physically. She needed to hear, from someone who had been there, right then, at that time, while trying on clothes, she was indeed beautiful. I suppose, in some ironic twist of fate, God put me there. And how twisted it is  that Saturday night I am sitting at the same store, in the back stock room.   Essentially I was being told for the same reason, because I am a breast cancer survivor and revealed it,  I am a deterrent, somewhat ugly, for anyone wanting to shop there.   I am blessed I told a woman the complete opposite earlier in the week on the other side of the wall.  

Earlier in the week, when this one customer told me she was a two year survivor, with that hopeful look that I would understand, I simply said five years for me. We shared that knowing look that says, ‘been there, done that.’ I told her what every women wants to know that has been to hell and back, “You look beautiful.”     I congratulated her and told her she looked awesome.   And we hugged.  

As the customer, a survivor,  stepped back in to the changing room, I was waved up out of the changing area by the assistant manager quickly.  She pulled me over to the side and said urgently, “Do not get close to the customers at all.” I explained to her, the assistant manager, that the customer had whispered to me she just got her final surgery complete on her reconstruction work.   She was a breast cancer survivor.  It didn't matter to her what the customer was going through, she did not want me talking about anything like this.  It is this mentality that this topic if foreign to them and not pleasant. 

It was apparent this assistant manager was upset by her demeanor.   Maybe when you have not walked the road of cancer, you cannot relate to how life changing it can be.  Or maybe you don’t understand how easily survivors naturally bond.  Having a support system when you are out there, trying on new clothes with a new body was wonderful Godsent for this lady. She had her new breasts in place and I was there for her, to stand by silently and give an honest opinion.  She knew I had been where she was just a few years before, without us exchanging a word.  She bought a multitude of clothes that , over $750.00.  

Incidentally, when the customer went to pay for her purchase, the assistant manager would not allow me to ring out her sale at the register. It was my customer and we are paid commission.  The assistant manager took the entire sale as her own. I suppose she was punishing for the exchange about breast cancer. 

Sales numbers and dollars are the only figures my supervisor, soon to be promoted to the district sales manager is concerned about. Here are some real hard numbers to look at also.   2.9 million and 18 million. The first number is how many  cancer survivors there are as of June 2012 in the United States according to the American Cancer Society and the second figure is the approximate number there will be in 2022. Among female cancers, breast cancer is the most prevalent with 41% getting breast cancer. The national norm is 1 out of 8 women get diagnosed.  The single largest group of cancer survivors is breast cancer survivors, making up 54% of all cancer survivors. That is a sizable percent of the buying population. If this manager, soon to be district manager of a female clothing store is correct in her assumptions, this organization is surely in for some rough times ahead!

I suppose I should caution other breast cancer survivors out there to not share their success with others in the work place or run the risk of being reprimanded. But, I leave that up to you to decide.  I will never open my mouth again without hesitating.   The look in her eyes, of total lack of compassion, was unfathomable to me. I had just come from walking the Susan  Komen walk.   I always knew I was prettier before cancer and here someone was pointing it out to me loud and clear. 

Sometimes, as a survivor, you think you are invincible, on top of the world. Then something happens and you feel knocked back down. Usually it is another cancer scare.  I never dreamed it would be a callous comment that would send me reeling.   Last night, I felt hit by a boulder that left me taking a critical look at myself.   At least at first it did.  Now not as much so. 

I hope other women that haven’t had breast cancer don’t look at breast cancer survivors like these three women do.   I pray they don’t.   I wonder, if this attitude is reflective of their company as a whole or just the individuals?   Actually I pray breast cancer survivors are not thought of as ugly, sad pathetic individuals who are bad for business and bring sales down for women’s clothes.  Fighting cancer is hard, is it fair we should also have to fight misconceptions after the fact that are groundless?  Please don’t prejudge us. 

It is hurtful and unfair to be judged based on a diagnosis for anyone, no matter what the diagnosis is and not for who you are as an individual.  Breast cancer does NOT define the person; it is a disease, treated and they hopefully conquered. 

I am strong.    I am a survivor. I will not be silenced.  If I was meant to be, God would have taken me. And yet, I am still here, still standing strong.  


The Good Ole Cheek

Something happened yesterday that reminded me of my grandpa. I was at lunch with my grand-daughter and she kept reaching over and pinching my cheeks with her hands.  In her excitement to see me, she could not contain herself, nor find a way to express it other than just busting out this tight huge smile and squeezing just as hard as she could.  Yep, she had some of the Italian blood in her. I knew then and there, my Grandpa was smiling with joy at his great-great grand-daughter!

When I was a little girl, every time we were met at the door to walk into Grandma Gliatt’s house, Grandpa was always right there behind her all smiles.  The next thing to come was the dreaded cheek pinching.  It was Grandpa’s way of being endearing and no one had the heart to tell him it hurt like hell.   We loved him just the same. His face always had the kindest smile on it with a twinkle in his eye but when he grabbed your cheek and shook it, you prayed the minute went quickly.  When Ava did that yesterday, if I closed my eyes, I could have swore it was Grandpa again coming back to cheek on me again!

 It makes me reflect on just how much time has truly gone by since he passed away, both of my grandparents. They were from Italy and when they died, a rich history went with them.  The stories they would tell us of their life, when we could understand their dialect, which could be a challenge, were fascinating.  I wish I had more time with them to hear more stories.   It helps me understand where I came from, part of who I am today.

An integral part of growing up should be listening to older generations tell stories of days gone by.  These are the best history lessons of life.   Children need exposure to many role models and thrive on adult attention from more than just their parents.  I remember one older senior citizen named Louise that lived next to one of my grandparents.  She was an invalid with no legs.   I use to go over and visit her every time we saw those particular grandparents. She would weave on her big loom and also tell me elaborate stories of her years where she was courted and attending galas and enjoying life to the fullest.  These visits were treasured by both her and me.  It gave Louise an opportunity to share a glimpse back over the wonderful life that she had led.  This mutual time gave me a chance to peak into a world I would never know existed.  

I sometimes wonder, if in this world of modern media, technology and competitive sports for children of all ages is there time or an effort to have children be told stories?  Are they encouraged to bond with elders anymore?  The richness of history can really be found much more in the spirit and stories of those that have lived it.  Young people need to find the time to spend with those that have those experiences while they are here. 

My neighbor in Kettering, Ohio baked apple pies and told me about her children, husband and her years as a school teacher.  I was in grade school but she wanted me to know what life held for me in my future.  She died while we still lived in that house but I knew what kind of woman she was and I admired her.  I aspired to have the kind of heart she had and have the depth of love she had for her kids and her husband.( She was also a great baker! )  

I write my blogs for many reasons.  One of the motivations though is as a legacy. I want the opportunity to leave stories about me behind. I remember so many older people that cared enough about me, as a child, to sit and tell me their thoughts.   They shared their lives with me and I feel I am a better person because of it, their selfless sharing, and their openness.   

We live in a different reality.  There is a fear in society about talking to strangers. In my neighborhood, most of the folks don’t even know each other’s names much less talk to each other.  It is hard to even talk to a child unless the parents are friends for safety reasons these days.   Hence, never would a child come knocking on a door just to talk.

Society also tends to be quite a bit more judgmental.  I think more people are afraid to express these feelings due to the tendency to be categorized as this or that.   I understand that concern, however, I suppose I am a risk taker of sorts.   These women taught me that life is about risk taking.   Leaving my stories and reflections behind is like the old lady who weaved on the loom and sat alone in the retirement home.  If she never talked to anyone, her stories would have died with her.   Silence is not always welcome.  Blessed are those that share and more blessed are those that listen.   Please know, as you read this, I am squeezing your cheek…ever so slightly…      Grandpa Tell Me Bout The Good Old Days by the Judds
                                       YouTube Video Link Above



As I was checking the SPAM comments of my blog page, I took time to view several unpublished comments. I routinely check these incase any reside there in error.   I feel, out of consideration for any potential reader that vests energy into writing feedback, I need to be forthright in checking that folder.

In my searching and scanning for anything of substance, I found the usual comments alright. Most of them, needless to say, listed under SPAM are not, shall we say, suitable for print.  Oh there was everything from the usual "Sex sells" agenda to the personal proposition by someone I have never heard of whom, apparently, has no shame.  I suppose anyone that has a blog is just like anyone that has an email, free rein for unwanted emails and comments.   Geez, reader, if you wanted even a remote chance of a hook up to a blogger, read on.  I would strongly suggest you read the blog and at least attempt to comment on it! There is my dating tip for the day, free of charge.
What amazed me, this time, about the comments under SPAM was the sheer volume of comments about one topic,  Uggs.  Let me repeat that incase you think you read it wrong, as I thought I had, Uggs, the boots. I put it in Google it to see what I was missing as there were comments from so many different sources about these boots.   What I learned was that Uggs are quite popular and made from sheepskin. They originated in Australia or New Zealand, apparently depending on which country you ask.  What is in agreement is that they date back as far as the 1950's. What other fashion dating that far back is considered trendy?   

This particular style of boot was worn during both World War I and II by aviators. The styling of the boots makes them functionally comfortable and the added insulation was a nice bonus for the pilots in the small cockpits. This type of boot was worn in the same time period by China and in the Arctic areas also due to the easy availability of sheep shearers, the main product component of the boots.  

How funny it is that the name came from a slang term from a woman calling these boots ugly, thus the term 'uggs."   The inside is fleece so they’re super warm and comfy with the outside made of leather (though sometimes synthetic).  In the country of origin they were constructed and worn for practical purposes, warmth and comfort period. They also used this type of construction and brand for slippers.   These slippers began to be popularized in the surfing industry and made their way internationally.  This caught the eye of the United States.  Uggs were work by the US team in 1994 Winter Olympics, Lillehammer garnishing even more notoriety.   

The Uggs are apparently popular and considered quite fashionable by some but deemed by others unattractive. I am told they are extremely comfortable and some women that claim to be, in their own minds anyways, fashion icons, say they are extremely cute. Each individual on my page had personal comments about Uggs about what their individual comments and thoughts were about Uggs as if I had written a blog about the darn boots. Some loved them, others hating them.  That is fashion for you, one person says these are simply to die for and the other person saying this item is a total waste of money, and  I would die before being caught wearing this with a cute outfit! 

Well, what is the average woman to do?  I reflected on the string of comments that had not got published due to being in my SPAM folder and not having one thing to do with my blog.  Oh brother!  Someone raved about what colors looked best, some poor soul without a life actually lamented about how lousy they held up in the rain (as if I care?), there were comments about what not to wear them with, what price to pay, where to buy your first pair of Uggs, what they go best with, and on and on.   It was like reading a monologue that never ends until I just said aloud “Enough!”  I quit reading and just hit delete all, that is SPAM comments with the word Uggs in it!

And yet, it was too late. It was gone from my computer screen, but not gone from my head. All that talk of Uggs was running back and forth in my brain.  It was like they forced me to write a blog about those darn boots. I felt I was somehow possessed by their madness towards these stupid iconic boots. I knew I would not get a moments peace from their idiotic rants they left on my page I read and somehow absorbed.   Here I am, writing about those darn Uggs, just as if they are commenting on my blog that I didn't write, prior to me writing it,  as if I wrote it. Did you follow that? If not, don’t worry, it has to do with their crazy ranting not mine.   

I should have wrote down the emails too.  I could have jotted off a few emails to those women.  They need to know those boots are not to die for.  They are not life altering.  There is a political campaign going on here.  Perhaps putting some of that passion towards our political process might be better spent.   Perhaps following public policy issues verses public fashion might take precedence at this time?  

Oh well, you touch some people’s lives with your blog and then there are those others. More importantly than the telling of a story, is hearing yours, the reader.   When someone opens up to me, ah, that is the real reward.  Shared caring, going full circle is the magic.  

So, I suppose it is with some degree of sadness I read those SPAM messages hoping beyond hope that one day a comment will be something worthy of my time.  But I am not altogether disappointed this time.  Due to this SPAM folder, I learned a great deal. Who knew there was so much to learn about Uggs?  And, if you can’t go through a day and learn something new about anything, a day is wasted.   And I may have just come up with another idea for my birthday list in November, to boot!