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The Joan Lunden Be Bald, Be Bold (or Whatever It Was) Campaign

How many celebrities can you name who’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer? Of course, the latest one who might come to mind is Joan Lunden. There has been lots of buzz of late about her bald magazine cover on People magazine. And then there was the recent hoopla about The Today Show inviting women with breast cancer to take part in a pink rally day type of event to kick off Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but lo and behold, some women who were invited and wanted to attend were not bald! And so they were told thanks but no thanks. Next came an apology after a social media outcry (shout out to my friends who orchestrated and carried that out!) and so a re-invite followed suit. Some blundering and mis-steps for sure, but ultimately, a nice inclusive piece ended up airing on The Today Show.

During the fray, it all became rather confusing and many of us wondered if it was all more about staging another rah-rah pretty in pink event for this particular morning TV ‘news’ show than about wanting to embrace all women, or rather all stages of breast cancer.

Or maybe the Today Show just forgot (or never knew?) that not all cancer patients undergoing treatment are bald like Joan.

Much of this commotion was going on while I was traveling recently to Philadelphia to take part in Living Beyond Breast Cancer’s annual fall conference. Which reminds me I need to write about that and soon.

While I was meandering around trying to kill time in the Minneapolis airport, I found myself standing in front of the magazine racks at one of those buy-stuff-you-don’t-need-but-might-help-you-kill-time stores, staring at that very cover of People magazine.2014-10-01-2D274906849804todayjoanlundenpeoplecover14092.blocks_desktop_medium-thumb

Right there on the cover was Joan’s smiling face and yes, she was very bald, but also still looking beautiful. (Don’t you hate that about celebrity cancer patients? Why do they still look so darn good even during cancer treatment?)

I admit it; my eyes were drawn to that magazine cover. Joan’s face was like a magnet for me and yes, I had to buy a copy. I wondered if everyone else’s eyes were immediately drawn to that particular magazine cover too. A bald woman on a cover does tend to catch your attention in a sea of magazine covers in such a store. A bald man’s face/head would not have generated as much interest, I might add.

I read the article about Joan Lunden with interest. I thought it was a decently done piece. On a side note, I simply must tell you, that I was rather annoyed, bothered, okay, irritated by a different article in the same magazine. If you read the piece about Melissa Etheridge (p. 99) you may or may not feel irritated too.

In that article, Ms. Etheridge’s partner, Linda Wallem, stated:

She (Melissa) had a huge awakening and tackled the old thought of what cancer meant. It was devastating then, but we laugh about it now, that it was the best thing that ever happened.

Ugh…but okay, I won’t go there… this time.

Back to Joan Lunden…

I am feeling optimistic about Joan Lunden and the media platform that she has. She is smart, articulate, compassionate, caring and genuinely interested in helping others. She has triple negative breast cancer and is talking about that, or at least it’s getting mentioned. This is important because usually TNBC is not discussed a whole lot or very often. Joan can change that. Joan can also open the door wider for further discussion about metastatic breast cancer.

Is it unfair to expect more from Joan Lunden or any celebrities who go public and share about their cancer experiences?

I don’t think so. When you are famous and decide to go public, you have put yourself on a pedestal of sort. Sure it’s a cancer pedestal, but it’s a pedestal none-the-less. People are looking up to you and listening to your words. So your words need to be chosen more carefully and thoughtfully than perhaps mine or yours.

I do not expect perfection from cancer celebrities by any means. They are only human too and when they lie awake at night in the dark feeling all alone, they have many of the same worries and fears (well, about cancer anyway) as you and me.

Keeping this ‘not expecting perfection’ thing in mind, I ignored the hype made over Joan’s comment about worrying about her children worrying about her while she was undergoing surgery/treatment. I mean come on; this was reported as if it were something profound.

Newsflash:  Most moms undergoing cancer treatment of any kind worry about their children worrying about them.

And then there was this statement of Joan’s:

It’s a shame you have to go through something that almost takes life away to appreciate it more.

Newsflash:  I didn’t need cancer to appreciate my life. Comments like that rub me the wrong way.

And putting yourself on People magazine bald, was brave. Maybe. But as my friend Jody Schoger, who blogs at Women with Cancer, said:

Everyone who goes bald (from cancer treatment) should get a magazine cover.

Don’t you love that?

AND when facing chemo-induced hair loss, I did not shave my hair off to take control of the situation like Joan did. Does this mean I was less brave, less bold or less something? Does this mean I did cancer wrong?

Of course not, but still… it doesn’t make me feel like I did it right either.

So yes, Joan has said things that have annoyed me. But that’s okay. Again, perfection is not an expectation of mine. It hardly ever is.

All in all, for some reason I am hopeful about Joan Lunden using her voice and her platform as a vehicle for generating meaningful breast cancer awareness that would include talking about the full spectrum of this disease, including TNBC and  metastatic disease.

Wouldn’t that be refreshing in a celebrity who shares her breast cancer story?

And if the Today Show could tone down the pink set a little bit, that’d make it even better. Looking at it hurts my eyes and makes my stomach a bit queasy. Sometimes less is more.


How do you feel about celebrities sharing their cancer stories?

Do you feel optimistic about how Joan Lunden might use her platform?

Did you read the People magazine articles about Joan Lunden and Melissa Etheridge?

22 thoughts to “The Joan Lunden Be Bald, Be Bold (or Whatever It Was) Campaign”

  1. I wish the best for Joan in her recovery. I believe she stated that she went through fertility treatments after marrying her second husband. Like Elizabeth Edwards, there are definite risks trying to conceive later in life and by undergoing fertility treatment.

    1. Dee, Are you saying Joan’s fertility treatments may have caused her cancer? I don’t know what the science says about that, but her cancer is triple negative, which does mean it’s not estrogen driven. Is there a link? I have no idea, but it’s not really relevant to my post anyway. Thank you for reading and commenting.

  2. I wish Joan the best. I hope she uses her fame to highlight the realities of breast cancer. I think the hubbub created when the Today show tried to uninvited metastatic women might have some positive effects in the long run.
    I get very tired of the “I fought and won” mentality we see from most celebrities. It does not reflect reality for the 30% of us who are metastatic. In fact, it does not reflect reality for a number of non-metastatic women either, who develop long term health issues from their cancer treatments, from lymphedema to neuropathy, and so much more.
    As to the baldness, there are NO pictures of me from that time without a wig or scarf! I looked like uncle Festus on the Adams Family otherwise.

    1. Elizabeth, I think we all wish Joan the best. For some reason I’m feeling a bit more optimistic regarding how she’ll use her high-profile platform. I hope I’m not too disappointed… Time will tell I guess. Like you, I am tired of the “I fought and won” celebrity stories. That is exactly what Melissa Etheridge’s story was and it really irritated me as far as how it was presented. As you said, there is so much reality that is not reflected in many of these media celebrity breast cancer stories. Thank you for reading and sharing some thoughts.

  3. Thanks so much Nancy, you just hit the nail on the head! I have been so vaguely disturbed by Joan Lunden, Pinktober and all of it. I didn’t “fight like a girl” “win a battle” or any of that, I was lucky and blessed to have a treatable form of cancer. I have small children but I HATE the notion that Moms fight harder than anyone else. I have four Breast Cancer speeches scheduled this month due to my (smaller) platform in local news. The Pink Walkers may be surprised by what I have to say. I won’t go on the air bald, but all of Atlanta gets to see my frizzy, dry, Tamoxifen hair and skin every day. They don’t see the spots on my lungs that we’re hoping stay tiny and don’t grow. They don’t understand the economics and politics of breast cancer. It is exhausting. And now, I’m off to buy some Pink Windshield Wiper Blades. Thanks for you wonderful writing.

    1. Valerie, I know; those mom comments can get strange. I think it’s great that you have those upcoming speeches and I do hope you raise a few eyebrows! You go, girl! Thank you so much for reading and for taking time to comment. Sounds like you’re pretty busy this month…

      1. Nancy, I am and I’m trying so hard to carefully express what I say and how I’m feeling. I don’t want to be the ‘Debbie Downer” of Pinktober but I don’t want to be the RahRah lady either. Writings like yours and Ann’s have helped me figure out what I want to say. Thank You so much!

        1. Valerie, Speaking your truth from your heart, you can’t go wrong with that. I have a feeling you’ll be great. Thank you for the nice compliment. It means a lot to me.

  4. Thanks for this thoughtful and fair piece. While I admit that VERY small steps are being taken, in that NBC actually featured 1 (one, not enough) Stage 4 patient, I’m still unimpressed overall. And Lunden’s comment about appreciating life more now really got my goat. And yes, I’m a little tired of the notion she was brave to be on a magazine cover bald. Tons of patients go outside everyday, too irritated or tired to mess with a wig, without the help of professional make-up artists–where are their accolades?
    So yes, media gets on tiny point for at least mentioning stage 4, but for me this year, it has just been the same old same old: so much pink I have to look away, and the the same message that being positive is the only way to do cancer-I’m living proof that one can get through cancer, become NED, all while remaining a Curmudgeon, proudly!

    1. CC, Sometimes we have to settle for small steps I guess. At least stage 4 was represented and at least Joan talked about the need for further research. I was encouraged by that. But you’re right, it’s not impressive progress by any means. And that whole brave, bald, bold thing… yeah… I hear you. Guess I was totally not any of those things. Keep on being your curmudgeony self. I love you just the way you are! Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.

  5. Ugh, it hurts me to have watched that video clip, and seen the Today Show differentiate between showcasing “Two survivors and one woman who is battling stage four metastatic cancer” – this, I think, is another issue where the Today Show needs to be educated; going on after any diagnosis makes you a pretty tough nut, IMO. In cases like these the exclusiveness applied to ‘survivor’ irks me (not the word itself, but the use of it to that excludes other who are indeed surviving as best as possible). Hmm, lately I’m very ‘language sensitive’!

    Oh well, I guess having someone who is stage 4 on tv is a good start.

    1. Catherine, I hate reading that you felt hurt by that separation, but I understand your feelings. There is so much educating that needs to be done yet, but I feel like the voices of women like you are making a big difference. And I hear you about that word, ‘survivor’. It’s always been a bit bothersome for me too, that exclusive part that you mentioned I mean. And as far as I’m concerned, being language sensitive is a good thing! Thanks for reading and sharing your insights.

  6. No I am not saying it was caused by the treatments but it is suspect IMO. And one more thing. . Oh and about her cover shot. Joan is an attractive older woman but this is not the real Joan. We could all look fantastic with photo shop/retouch/pro makeup that she had for this cover photograph.

  7. Nancy,

    I do feel that celebrities who tell the public about their breast cancer, or any cancer for that matter, have one obligation: not to mislead. They have a public platform, so what they say has a lot of impact. Joan Lunden could be a great spokesperson for TNBC and breast cancer in general, but she has to avoid going down the road of Melissa Etheridge, which should be easy. I saw Etheridge in an article in a different publication, and her ideas are so inaccurate. She’s a celebrity who should keep her opinions on breast cancer to herself. I know everyone has a right to free speech, but she goes too far.

    1. Beth, For some reason I am feeling optimistic about Joan Lunden and how she might use her platform. Time will tell. I don’t agree with Melissa Etheridge’s messaging, but of course, she can and does, say whatever she chooses to. Thank you for chiming in here.

  8. Joan looks beautiful, she’s so courageous! And all the women participating in events, I admire them! I’d surely be in bed, crying and devastated… I’m not a fighter at all when it comes to these things.

    1. Lily Lau, Joan does indeed look beautiful. You’re probably more of a fighter than you give yourself credit for. We fight when we must, right? But there’s so much more to a breast cancer experience than “fighting”. Thank you for reading and commenting too.

  9. There are a lot of ways, I’ve learned, to “do cancer wrong,” making it very challenging to do your own cancer in the best way for you, however determined. However, “fake bald” is wrong for me because it is fake…and cancer is all too real. Fakies can leave it outside the door; mine travels with me. It may be either kindness or commercially driven, and some believe any attention is good attention, but it just doesn’t work for me. Any day I can be real is a day I really lived.

    1. Maggie, I don’t believe any attention is good attention. Don’t buy that either. I agree. It’s all about being real. Thank you for sharing some thoughts.

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