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.
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.