Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Ovarian cancer: teal should be the only color (and other musings on social atrocity)






This is one of those days when a lot is happening: we lost Pete Seeger at the great-grandfatherly age of 94. Without Seeger there couldn't have been a Dylan, and without Dylan there couldn't have been a Springsteen, and on and on.

When this great tree fell, the tree that will gradually compost itself into soil for succeeding generations (that is, if we don't strip it bare and pave it over instead), there was no terrible grief, because he had given more even in the first 40 years of his life than most people do in a lifetime. He was a light, a real man, both gentle and fierce. I once saw a clip of him playing Beethoven's Ode to Joy on a banjo. It seemed to sum him up, somehow.





But at the same time, other rumblings are felt. As if it's an entirely new phenomenon, as if it's a disease that women are still ashamed of and expected to bear alone, ovarian cancer is just barely beginning to come out of the closet. I've written about this before, about how "pink isn't the only color", though by the relentless pompom-waving juggernaut that is the breast cancer industry, you'd never know it.

Today Facebook was full of it, warning women not to use baby powder on themselves or they'd get ovarian cancer, without explaining just how. Like wildfire, the warning was shared and shared, kind of like the one about apple cider vinegar curing heart disease. These things remind me of the forest animals in Bambi during the fire: "Run! Run!" Why is it everyone automatically drops 30 or 40 IQ points, or else reverts to ten years old, when they go on Facebook?

But I digress. Ovarian cancer isn't cool because it isn't nearly as survivable as that other, more stylish disease. It's just not in vogue, and besides, it's terrifying. Women dread it infinitely more, knowing they won't just lose a breast or their hair, but their lives. They don't talk about it, it's still hushed, silenced, and profoundly stigmatized. It's as if you've done something irreversibly wrong to your most female, womanly parts, and they have turned irretrievably toxic. 







The ovarian cancer awareness movement had to pick teal as its color, maybe because all the others were taken. But in some ways, it's oddly appropriate. Teal isn't just one color, but is a mix of green and blue, the blue darker than in turquoise. It's a tiny bit exotic, a little outside the orbit. The disease isn't in the public consciousness yet, not in the way that the "other one" is. My feeling is that it's disgraceful to pound away at one form of cancer at the expense of others. In the rainbow of known diseases, in the spectrum of things we talk about and make banners about and run for and scream and cheer for, ovarian cancer isn't even in the running.  But teal is a new color, an original, slightly rebellious. I like it. I like surviving, and I like fairness, and I LOVE unfairly neglected causes getting their due at long last.





The thing I saw on Facebook today about talcum powder migrating up your vagina and poisoning your ovaries with cancer seemed absurd at first, but I've come to believe that it doesn't matter whether it makes sense or not. The warning has put the disease on the table for discussion. Let's keep it there for a while, shall we, until people stop gasping in horror and turning away.








Oh, and speaking of which, this is Mental Health Day, isn't it? I'm not sure what they call it now. (My brother, a schizophrenic, once made the memorable statement, "Support mental health or I'll kill you.") Anyway, it's the one day out of the year when we're allowed to think/talk about mental illness. Just the way it's approached bugs me - a sort of awkward "uhh, let's go in the other room and actually talk about this - now don't be ashamed, don't feel stigmatized, we're not stigmatizing you, in fact by talking about it, by starting a dialogue, we're hoping to break down the stigma that makes everyone think you're a raving maniac." 

It's sort of like that. It's still that bad smell that maybe can be dispelled using the same formula that worked for breast cancer (except it will never work, due to humanity's millenia-long dread and horror of mental illness). 
People in the news, stars like Catherine Zeta Jones, "admit" to having bipolar disorder, or even "confess" to having it, as you'd confess to a serious crime. These awkward public admissions are laden with guilt and culpability, but who notices? She's "brave" to unmask herself, to strip bare this jolting revelation: brave, that universal description for saying something it really would have been better to keep to yourself. 






When will this change? I think, when the last human being takes its last poisonous, gas-laden, toxic gasp of air before expiring. Maybe in twenty years or so. Nice to see the stigma dispelled that quickly.

OK, then - this piece has no theme to it at all except "things that bug me", so I might as well go steaming ahead. Facebook, my new Bible (blughhh) is now running all sorts of pieces on Woody Allen and "the scandal" (you know, the one he calls "What Scandal?"), in which he apparently abducted his own stepdaughter and married her, molesting his 7-year-old other stepdaughter in the process.





The family, incredibly, is still bitter and angry, even hysterical about this. Ronan Farrow, Mia's oldest son, sent Woody a Father's Day card that read, "Happy Father's Day - or, in your case, Happy Brother-in-law's Day." Never mind, he was actually sired by Frank Sinatra anyway, and he's dead, so we can't go into Mafia ramifications. Myself, I am surprised at the rancor and even hate that Mia still feels for Woody. I'm not saying all should be comfy-cozy with him: he strikes me as fairly reptilian and a man who will pretty much take whatever he feels like, claiming, "The heart wants what it wants." But Mia strikes me as earth-motherish, having adopted a dozen or so disabled Third World children, a granola type who normally would preach forgiveness for everyone because, after all, "everything happens for a reason" and our enemies teach us the most valuable lessons in life. We shouldn't hate them, but thank them.

Mia is still a screaming banshee when it comes to all this stuff. I don't know what really happened in the Farrow/Allen household 20 years ago, but I do know that, against the odds, Woody and Soon-Yi Farrow are still married and have raised two daughters together. I doubt if Woody is the kind of Dad who goes to their ballet recitals, but he hasn't walked out on them either. 





That said, I still have problems with Allen. He made a searingly brilliant film last year called Blue Jasmine, with Cate Blanchett out-Blanching Blanche du Bois in a performance that made my scalp crackle. The only false note in it, and it was a real clanger that nobody even noticed or maybe didn't dare comment on, was the utter disconnect from any kind of technology beyond 1950. In order to get a decent job, Jasmine had to take "a computer course", something so generic it sounded like the courses my local library offered seniors in 1992. The classroom depicted a lot of twentyish students sitting at rectangular desks with antique-looking monitors in front of them. Jasmine supposedly didn't know anything about this - at all - though in another scene, she uses an iphone with impugnity. I don't think Allen knows what iphones are - he has no idea what Twitter is, and is only vaguely aware of blogging or YouTube. Somebody must have forced this change on him just to anchor the film in the present day. (Or maybe he thought she was improvising a mad scene by talking into her makeup case.)





What do you call this ranty rambling, then? Pete Seeger will turn to soil, or maybe not if he turns into pavement. Ovarian cancer as a "cause" will remain buried unless and until people care enough to bring it out of the closet. Mental health issues are still "admitted", "confessed", always "bravely", of course. The bravery isn't in enduring what can be an excruciating illness (but hey, not always! One can live with it in a state of grace and even joy!), but in having the guts to admit you've had something you should have been able to snap yourself out of yourself. Something that inspires primal shivers of dread and even repugnance, because it is associated with the walking dead. The jabbering homeless. Vivien Leigh, Blanche du Bois, receiving shock treatments in a "psycho ward". (And here's a connection. The deranged Jasmine babbles away to a couple of kids sitting there trying to comprehend what she's saying. She talks about "Edison's Medicine" - ECT treatments, presumably, a phrase that used to mean execution by electricity, "the chair".)

And on it goes.





It's been my experience that if you criticize or even comment on anything, people will expect you to be able to fix it. So if I could do one thing to set the world right, what would it be? Slap humanity on the side of the head and tell it to SMARTEN UP before it's too late! Or at least wake up. Great potential riches lie asleep, buried because we are afraid of them. Afraid of looking at them, but most of all, of looking at ourselves.

POST-BLOG THOUGHTS. As usual, I have some post-thoughts in this post. The little doohickey above is interesting. "Strong men can have depression TOO" - what does that imply, or perhaps scream from the rooftops? "Strong men can have depression, JUST LIKE WEAK MEN" (or wusses, or crybabies, or homosexuals, or whoever you happen to hate on a particular day). It's just inherent in the statement that "we" think depression only happens to men who are NOT strong, at least not strong emotionally. So we have to reassure everyone that YES! Even guys with big bulging muscles, even guys who have more brains in their dicks than their heads, even Mafia dons and Wall Street wild animals and other perceived power types, CAN HAVE DEPRESSION, though we still cannot figure out why - it's a puzzle, a real riddle that anyone with any earthly power at all, any perceived social worth, would ever have it! Must just be a quirk of the human condition. Or all those steroids I've been sucking down for the past 10 years.






No comments:

Post a Comment