In some ways, I'm glad that Emily Helck's story has gone viral via Mashable. Because, you know, it's October, and sometimes the whole breast cancer awareness thing needs a human face on it instead of just pink slapped all over everything.
Unfortunately, Emily's story isn't the first. And it won't be the last. Before her came Kerry Mansfield's Chronicle of a Mastectomy, which is one of the most gut-punching photo essays I've seen. And there was Adriene Hughes' (the name is just a coincidence; I found her today when I was hunting links for Jen Merendino and Kerry Mansfield's stories) documentation of her 2004 battle with breast cancer. And the most painful one: Angelo Merendino's documentation of his wife's fight -- and death. Angelo is a real-life Cam for me. I hate that there are countless Cams out there.
Because the pink on everything isn't doing everything.
There are still women, like the Adrienne in my book, who are diagnosed pre-menopause, and there are a lot of young women out there who don't think they need to do breast self-exams and be vigilant. My mother had pre-menopausal breast cancer. I have a friend who is fighting now, who is my age, and has been fighting for years. And I lost a college friend who left behind young children when she died in her early 30s.
Breast cancer rates are on the rise in black women. Yes. On the rise. Going up. An increasing number of black women will be counted among the deaths this year, simply because awareness and screening are not as prevalent among Cultures Other Than White. The pink campaign is not targeting African-American women. Or Latinas. And we need to change that.
Men get breast cancer, too. And in that sea of pink, are you seeing any outreach toward educating men about signs, symptoms, and screening? I'm not either.
And lastly, for every Angelina Jolie, who could not only afford the genetic screening (which is thousands of dollars and not covered by many insurance companies) but also prophylactic mastectomy, there are those of us who still don't have insurance. I'm lucky in that my community has a program for low-income, uninsured women to get screened. More resources can be found online.
Breast cancer is very real to me, and very personal. It's probably why I used it as the subject for my novel. But I'm even more passionate about things like getting health insurance for everyone, something that shouldn't be on the table in the current ridiculousness going on in Washington. And in getting "awareness" to the point where everyone is aware, not only white women. And a future in which my October no longer turns pink.
So I'm in the middle of reading Rainbow Rowell's FANGIRL.
It's a little creepy how well she gets inside a fangirl's head. In fact, the first thing I highlighted in my little Kindle was this quote:
“Why do we write fiction?” Professor Piper asked.
Cath looked down at her notebook.
I think I've talked ad nauseum about my first foray into fan fiction. In high school and college, I rolled my eyes at the fan fiction authors. Especially when they did the whole self-insert Mary Sue business.
But then I started writing original fiction again several years ago and I didn't know anyone who would crit my work. I had no idea where to find people outside the confines of a college classroom.
So I repurposed it. I posted it as fan fiction hoping to get some feedback.
But at the same time, as Rowell's character notes, I did it to disappear into something that was not my life. It wasn't my ongoing divorce. It wasn't the stress of trying to find a job and worrying about money and trying to keep my kids together at the same time as I was losing myself.
Even as I've left fan fiction behind (for the most part), my own original fiction isn't to silence voices in my head or to get feelings out; it's to disappear into a world where everything is in my control and nothing ever goes against my plans, even if the characters might not agree.
I'm enjoying this journey Cath is taking as she ventures out of her self-imposed exile into fandom. I'm just a little scared of what's going to happen to her when she finally takes the full plunge into real life instead of dipping her toe in.
The water's cold.
So when I set up my author profile on that other book site, it asked me to list my influences.
Like I'd have more than one.
Oh, sure, there are a lot of authors I love. Some I've purchased every book they wrote for a period of time. But there's only one author I think I've read every single book by (even the religious stuff, and I'm not religious) and that's Madeleine L'Engle.
While there are other authors I wish I wrote like or were as smart as, L'Engle will forever be the pinnacle of "wish I was" for me. From the moment I first picked up A Wrinkle In Time, I was hooked. She was the first author I experienced as a child who, quite simply, buried me in feels. She told me it was okay to be a smart girl. It was okay to be different. It was okay to be nerdy and weird and that sometimes, very special things would happen if you were. It was okay to question God and religion and science and everything we think we know.
Mostly, though, she taught me that you could create a phenomenal world with rich characters by setting yourself free from what was expected. You didn't have to follow a formula or do what everyone else was doing, and you could think outside the box and include fantastic things and people would still want to read it.
I'll spend the rest of my life trying to do something even one iota as good as her books are, as well as rereading everything she wrote, from her young adult books to her picture books to her memoirs. And marvel at the worlds she built.