It all happened very quickly.
In summer of 2014, my 78-year-old grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer. After consulting with her physician, she didn’t hesitate to choose a mastectomy of her left breast. She wanted to avoid chemotherapy and radiation.
The surgery was about three weeks ago, and on Monday of this week, she had her appointment to discuss with her doctor the results of the pathology report that was done on lymph nodes that were removed during the mastectomy. Three nodes were removed. Two looked fine, but one was ‘iffy.’
Thank God, the report showed the third node was clear, and the doctor believes they got all the cancer, so Lord willing, this is behind her.
Premarin may be to blame
There was another vital piece of information revealed by the report, however. Her breast cancer was estrogen-induced, so we have been told that they believe the Premarin that she was on for 15 years after her hysterectomy decades ago may be to blame. (By the way, Premarin is short for pregnant mare urine, from which the estrogen is extracted to make the drug. I kid you not.)
Granted, my grandmother still had her ovaries after they performed her hysterectomy, so I’m not sure why she was ever prescribed hormone replacement therapy (HRT). She said, “that’s just the way it was done back then.”
Ovaries, or not, how many women have been prescribed Premarin, or other estrogen drugs, after a hysterectomy, or in response to menopause? And of those, how many have developed breast cancer? While Cancer.org claims that Estrogen-Progestin/Progesterone therapies do increase the risk of breast cancer, they claim that studies do not support the idea that Estrogen-only therapies increase that risk. An article about Premarin at Wikipedia explains that the drug is linked to a higher risk for endometrial cancer, and may also increase the risk of breast cancer, blood clots, stroke, and possibly dementia.
Year before last, my grandmother had a stroke, so it is my belief that Premarin is the culprit in her health scares of recent years.
I’m wondering what it takes to pull a drug off the market when it has so many known side effects. The pharmaceutical company that profits from the drug likely won’t yank it from the shelves anytime soon, but I am trying to do my part by telling everyone I know about what happened to my grandmother. I’m encouraging folks to get off of the drug if they’re taking it, or if they know women who are taking it, or who may at some point, to avoid it at all costs.
It should be noted, however, that Premarin is not the only problem. There are many HRTs out there. Premarin is just one brand. Discuss with your own health care provider the possible risks of taking HRTs before you blindly get that prescription filled.
The Color Pink
In closing, I’d like to address one other thing — and this may offend some women, so if it does, please know that I’m speaking out based on the experiences of two women that I know of who have recently dealt with a breast cancer diagnosis. In addition to my grandmother, another woman I know has also recently been diagnosed with breast cancer, and will be undergoing a double mastectomy within the month. Both women’s comments about this particular subject are so remarkably similar, I feel led to share them with you.
When my grandmother received her diagnosis, one of the first things the people at the doctor’s office did was to give her a pink bag, complete with breast cancer literature, information on mastectomy bras, and wigs (presumably for women who lose their hair due to chemotherapy and radiation). She refused to take the bag. She swatted her hand out in front of her, as if to say, “Don’t give that to me!”
My aunt, who was with her, graciously took the bag from the nurse, but then it was promptly taken home and burned up — literally.
The other woman I know — a close friend of our family — intimated that being given the pink bag felt as if she was being handed a death sentence.
As far as she knows, her cancer is not in the advanced stages, and it is supposedly a slow-growing cancer, so the feeling she felt when handed the bag was related more to the bag, and the color that has been trotted out ad infinitum as a symbol for women with breast cancer.
Somehow the pink is supposed to lump all women with breast cancer into a group, like the purple ribbons used to do for HIV/AIDS and like the rainbow ribbons do for the LGBT community. What is it with using little colored ribbons to try to lump people into a demographic category as though they are all the same just because they share one thing in common. Not all women are the same. Not all women with breast cancer are the same. And not all women wanted to be treated the same in response to their breast cancer.
I would only like to ask that if you know a woman who has breast cancer, please do not assume that she wants to be lumped in with the Pink Brigade. Maybe she doesn’t want to be part of any movement or be slapped with a label that will forever ruin the color pink for her. Maybe she just wants to see that cancer sent back to Hell from whence it came, and be done with it.
If some women do draw strength from the pink, then good for them, but if not, then her choice should be respected, as well.
Long before my grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer, I made the decision to boycott any products that were pink for the Susan G. Komen foundation. I’ve read far too much about how organizations such as SGK works in terms of dollars that are used in administrative and public relations costs, in comparison to anything that actually benefits women with breast cancer. If you’d like to learn more about the politics behind the pink ribbons, I encourage you to see the documentary Pink Ribbons, Inc.