The Austin Chronicle

Public Notice

And So It Goes...

By Kate X Messer, September 18, 1998, Columns

In two weeks, Breast Cancer Awareness Month begins, and Austin is so packed with events that we couldn't wait 'til the first of October to begin them. Coming Together to Conquer Cancer March in Austin takes place Sat, Sep 26, noon-1pm on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol. The event is a rally for all kinds of cancer survivors, their friends, family, and supporters who cannot make it to the national rally in Washington, D.C. where tens of thousands of people will gather Fri-Sat, Sep 25-26 to call for greater national focus on the disease which claims more than 1,500 lives a day in America alone. 329-2909.

Linda Ellerbee

Throughout the month of October, local HEB pharmacies will be handing out $60 coupons for reduced-rate mammograms. Locally, 13 mammography facilities will be participating. 919-1800.

The big kick-off spotlight event, however, will be Live With Linda Ellerbee, a Champagne Sunday Brunch to benefit Austin's Breast Cancer Resource Center at the Renaissance Austin Hotel Ballroom in the Arboretum, Sunday, Oct 4, 11am.

So it occurs to us, as we're typing our little informative blurby for this $50-a-plate-reservations-are-suggested-event, that as down to earth as Ms. Ellerbee is, as engaging and as witty and as right-on as she can be, really, the thrust of this event is Star Power. Why, look, we even printed her photo over there, because we, too, were impressed that the groovy Ms. E would be happening upon our town -- and damn, what a great cause. But, it also occurs to us that we actually know some folks who've had breast cancer, and geez, wouldn't it be great to put a real live human touch to this piece?

So we invited our friend Mel Bramyn, who works in mediation and conflict resolution in St. Louis, Missouri and just so happens to be visiting Austin this week, and who just so happens to be a breast cancer survivor, to give a shout out about her bout with this disease that hits one in eight American women in their precious lifetimes.

Do Tell, Mel

"I wish that it were more about knowing our bodies and loving our bodies instead of instilling fear about cancer. I think we'd be more inclined to do self-exam." Mel says as she looks down at the breast exam shower card on our desk. Breast cancer became part of her life two years ago this week when a radiologist diagnosed her. She was only 34.

More and more younger women are getting it. Yet the medical know-alls still promote getting a baseline (or first) mammogram at the age of 40.

Hell, more and more women are getting it, across the board.

"In 25 years, the rate has gone from 1:45 to 1:35, 1:25, 1;15, 1:12, to what the figures are today, 1:8," Mel rattles off. It's clear that she knows these figures like a personal scar, that this is a goddamn real issue that she tastes and takes along with her each day of her life. "How many more of us -- women that is -- are sitting in front of computers for hours and hours, exposed for hours and hours each day? How is the environment affecting our ability to eliminate cancer from our bodies due to weakened immune systems?" The hurt is as pronounced as the conviction in her voice.

This hurt, or what we're perceiving as such, might be due to the confusion that most folks with any sort of life-threatening ailment must feel when encountering the monolithic medical establishment in the U.S. It has to be frustrating dealing with a system that doesn't talk about where these diseases come from.

"The focus in most fundraising is about finding a cure and not about researching prevention or what effect our environment has on us," Mel says. It's clear that she thinks this to be a defeatist aim. She is careful to use language like "challenge" and "opportunity" in places where most press releases or pleas for public service cash might use words like "battle" or "conquer."

"My breast cancer journey," she says of her two-year ordeal since her diagnosis, which has included extensive chemotherapy, a mastectomy, and having her ovaries removed, "was an opportunity for me to really look at life, to approach things with more vigor." All of which might sound like a bunch of optimistic hoo-hah, were it not coming from the mouth of someone who's been there. For in her "opportunity" to have it out with breast cancer, she began to take some things very seriously. From issues important to her, like her work in anti-racism and anti-Semitism to simple, everyday things, like diet -- and in making all those things a part of her life, not just something she talks about.

"The food we eat is irradiated. 'Eat bigger fruit!''Eat bigger eggs!' What we're eating is hormones," says Mel. It took a lot of vigor to change old ways. And she did it. And for now, she's living healthily. So, of course she's going to desire that this change in a certain way of seeing should be at least an option for folks facing disease.

"So much of the money in fundraising efforts against disease goes to drug research -- to the drug companies -- instead of to research prevention. Money is not going into research to determine how our environment is killing us." These are very real things that breast cancer groups or at least the medical establishment could be doing, she believes. On a human level, cancer support organizations could "offer more alternative care and resources, to become clearing houses for local info on homeopathic remedies, acupuncture, vitamin supplements, etc." Mel had success with acupuncture during her extensive chemotherapy. It kept her emotions, liver, and bladder healthy.

But the lack of focus on prevention isn't the only thing that irks her about the medical establishment. "Our breasts are our shields; I don't think enough has been done. They sure found a cure for prostate cancer pretty fast."

Anger. Bitterness. You'd think she'd have more of it. But that's really about the extent. The journey is still wending for Mel. There's a long way to go. Her follow-up screenings are "terrifying." As she says, "Things happen. Your normal aches and pains aren't your normal aches and pains. I had a stomach ache today..." she changes the topic slightly, "Friends change." If she tells them she's bummed out, then all of a sudden it must be about the cancer. "Everything becomes it."

"But that's happening less and less," she smiles and that might be because she keeps doing more and more proactive things to keep herself -- her body and her spirit -- healthy.

One thing still bothers her, however. "I haven't figured out how to be radical, ya know? Radical in the breast cancer movement." She smiles again, this time more wistfully, maybe a bit sadly. "The last two years have been about me and my fears."

Damn right, Mel! We think you're doing just fine ...


Copyright © 2022 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.