Is it still “then,” as in the days when people still thought cancer only happened to other people – specifically the ordinary, average-looking person who came from a bad genetic pool? Apparently so.
I’m sickened by the notion that there are still those who would be, could be, and are inspired, touched, and otherwise moved by something like Farrah’s Story – a celebrity’s video production of her experience with cancer within – and beyond – the American health care system.
Years before Farrah’s infamous 1976 poster hit stores nationwide, my mother was going into the hospital – again. That visit was for the purpose of taking skin from her thigh and grafting it over bare bone exposed by the radical mastectomy that took much more than her breast.
When my mother’s arm hung by her side, anyone standing in front of her could look at her underarm area and see past her. The once gaping wound left a gaping hole in her body. Because it was the 70s, her illness and recovery left a gaping hole in her life.
Physical therapy was limited in scope, often regarded as unnecessary, and rarely paid for by insurance. There were no support groups, and often patients were strongly encouraged to keep their experience to themselves – primarily because those who hadn’t been touched by cancer found it uncomfortable to hear about it, those poor cancer-free souls.
Advances in cancer treatment have been such that if my mother had her surgery now, she would have a lumpectomy. But they didn’t know as much back then, so they took everything and then some. Society, however, has not advanced nearly as much, as evidenced by the reaction to Farrah’s Story.
No one wanted to hear my mother’s story. Every effort she made to educate others and make them aware of the risk and experience of cancer was met with charges of whining, complaining, and bringing others down. Those who asked where she’d been when she was in the hospital for weeks at a time actually physically stepped away from her when she told them she had cancer. I was nine years old the first time that happened. I’m now close to staring down the business end of 50, and I’m still seeing this happen – although thankfully, it’s not happening to my mother anymore. Not so thankfully, she died in 1999 of liver cancer – not an uncommon end for breast cancer survivors of the 70s.
Unlike in the 70s, people now want to hear the story of cancer. Unfortunately, it is for the wrong reasons – not the least of which is to indulge themselves in genuine emotion, although this rarely manifests in genuine action. Farrah Fawcett’s attempts to educate, inform, and make aware those who are still uneducated, uninformed, and unaware are to be lauded because she has suffered greatly and will likely continue to do so.
What is not to be lauded, and should be regarded as our national, if not global shame, is society’s attitude toward cancer – or any disease of the body or mind, for that matter – and the joke we call our health care system. I’ll eat a stethoscope if even one percent of the people who watched Farrah’s Story do a single thing to advance medical research or fight for a better health care system (which has had nothing to do with health care and everything to do with money since before my mother was hospitalized), or admit that cancer could happen to them and make life changes accordingly.
What is more likely, evidenced by how little has been done to make things better since my mother’s first surgery, is societal short-term memory loss. After the tears dry up, the lump in the throat subsides, and the water-cooler conversations turn to the next celebrity story, who does what about what they saw?
Every effort I have made as an adult to bring attention to and fix our shoddy health care system has been met with accusations of trying to bring on the nightmare of socialism. Duh. Capitalism is good for American businesses, but not for the physical and mental well-being of American citizens.
If Farrah's experience is news to you, you might ask yourself what rock you’ve been hiding under all this time. There is no health or care in our health care system, and there hasn't been for a long time. If you’re not willing to do a single thing to fix it, then save your tears. They're not only wasted, they’re blurring your ability to see what is real.