That’s what I wrote in my Facebook status this week when several friends suggested that I post the color of my bra to raise awareness for breast cancer. I did it in solidarity to my sisters — friends, family members and others — who’ve battled breast cancer. Also, to appease the breast cancer gods because, you see, I had radiation to my chest and I am, therefore, at a high risk for breast cancer.
Though I respect the impressively wide reach of the breast cancer awareness machine, from my tennis socks with the pink ribbons to the Facebook bra color campaign, some of us who had a cancer other than breast can feel a little overshadowed by it, as though the tumor the size of a softball found in my lung, courtesy of an aggressive form of lymphoma, doesn’t matter as much to the rest of the world as anything you can find on a mammogram.
I am among the more than 600,000 people “living with lymphoma or in remission,” according to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS). And my teen-aged neighbor Nicole, who has leukemia for the third time, is among the more than 4,000 children in addition to 44,000 adults who have leukemia, the disease that ultimately took my beloved hospital roommate, Katina, in 2007. And then there’s myeloma, which has a low, yet increasing survival rate.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in women, affecting some 117 per 100,000 women per year, compared to about 16 per 100,000 per year who get the cancer I had, non Hodgkin’s lymphoma. As a result, there is no Red Ribbon Store, and there are no survivors like Melissa Etheridge or Sheryl Crow to sing the praises of our cause. And yet, we’re dying of blood cancers. In fact, according to the LLS, the the incidence of NHL (which no longer stand for a hockey league to me) ”rose by more than 76 percent from 1975 to 2006, an average annual percentage increase of about 2.5 percent.”
So, I ask you this: Please put your blood type in your Facebook status and ask your friends to do so, too, to raise awareness for lymphoma and leukemia. Mine is O+, a blood type Nicole desperately needs*, but I can’t give her mine, because I had lymphoma just two years ago. Because I had a blood cancer like she does now.
There will be a candlelight vigil for Nicole on Wednesday night at Our Lady of the Valley Church in Wayne, New Jersey, because she isn’t doing that well. She has a fever of 106, and she’s battling for her young life. If you can donate your blood — O or O+ — and you’re in New Jersey, please check this out on how to do that.
Meanwhile, please post your blood type in your Facebook status and your Twitter feed, and pass it along to everyone you know. It’s not as sexy as bra color, but it’s equally as important to raise awareness for blood cancers now.
Jen Singer, lymphoma survivor and O+
*She can take type O (positive or negative) blood and A+, A-, AB+ or AB- platelets.