Vacuum Woes and Pinking Shears: Bursting at the Seams

  • 4 July 2011

Sewing box selected

After my last two vacuum cleaners conked out within a two-year time frame, I knew it was time to invest in a quality replacement.

When our sons complained that our 1994 built-in house vac refused to pick up crumbs from the carpet, I knew trouble was brewing. If they couldn’t use it, they had a valid excuse not to do their vacuuming chores. And their poor Mom, with a two-timing cancer history and lymphedema, would end up using a Dust Buster or sweeper to go over what the busted vacuum left behind.

The new machine would have to be a canister model, not an upright, to maximize versatility. So I did what normal people do. I consulted Consumer Reports. They recommended a Hoover canister that I could buy online. Perfect. No trekking to a brick-and-mortar store with a pushy salesperson. No sales tax, and free shipping.

When the package arrived with “some assembly required,” I quickly put the apparatus together before more dust could settle in the rooms. First my sons were thrilled at the efficiency of this bagless wonder with light shining out of the carpet power head. I chose the bagless model to save money on bags and so the kids wouldn’t forget to change the bag. But that backfired. They promptly forgot most times to empty the canister after each cleaning. Maintenance is part and parcel of these machines, like removing lint from a dryer filter.

While this whiz cleaner was bagless, it was not bugless. Its fragile electronics gradually fizzled out after two many knocks on the walls of the stairwell leading to our computer haven. First the light went out in the power carpet attachment, then loud noises emanated from its bosom. I could feel its pain. So I decided to buy another one like it, since it faithfully did its job for over two years and I would have replacement parts at the ready.

Unfortunately, the second one lasted even fewer months than the first one. Its carpet attachment had a problem with intermittent power surges. Of course, this trouble erupted after the deadline for returning the carcass to the online store. The nearest authorized Hoover dealer was more than an hour away. So I lugged it to a regional sew-and-vac store to give them a go at it. Just for looking at it, they required a $25 deposit, which could be applied toward a new vacuum cleaner. If I chose that road.

A few days later the store mechanic called. No way could he repair it. He couldn’t even get it to turn on. Piqued at having wasted so much money, I told him to junk the thing. I just wanted those Hoovers out of sight and out of mind, like my cancer. I would buy a new one at this store, where I could return it under warranty if it misbehaved.

Obviously experienced in his trade, the salesman showed off his knowledge of the cleaners carried in the store. When I told him I wanted a canister with power carpet attachment for a thick carpet, he went right to work, as if on cue (and commission). On display and ready for action stood a canister made in Korea with the power head assembled in the U.S. of A. The salesman frowned on Hoovers and Eurekas, which he said lost their reliability when their manufacture was outsourced to China.

So much for the Consumer Reports recommendation.

The slick orange baby he demonstrated sported lots of bells and whistles. Since I have lymphedema I prefer one that isn’t overly heavy, with a power wand easy to push. (When I was first diagnosed with lymphedema, I was afraid even to use a vacuum cleaner because my affected arm would be subject to the back-and-forth repetitive motion required for the task. But once the swelling didn’t appear, I regained confidence in my ability to do this everyday household task. When my sons weren’t doing it.)

In the store this display vacuum cleaner seemed relatively light and easy to push. But the main advantage was its low noise volume. Our family dislikes the roar of a vacuum cleaner almost as much as that of our lawn mower. Yet both these machines do necessary chores. So the quiet nature of this beast was an added bonus. Like our pets, it would fit in with our family personality. And it wasn’t pink.

Other features that impressed me were a slider to adjust carpet pile height and an indicator when the bag was full. Unfortunately, my sons are gone so I have to do all the vacuuming now anyway. Where was that “bag-full”  indicator on the earlier models when I needed it most?

As I waited for the cashier to enter the serial number into his computer and do the paperwork, I spotted a drawing for a prize in recognition of the store’s first birthday in their new location. The store had occupied this current sizable building for a year (it was formerly a furniture store that was a casualty of the economy). So I filled out a slip of paper with contact information and stuck it in the basket with the slips of other hopeful contestants.

A few days later an email appeared in my inbox informing me I had won the birthday giveaway! I had totally forgotten about it. The message invited me back to the store to pick out the prize. The business was located a good 30-minute drive from my house. So when I had gathered enough errands to do in that area of town, I made the trip to claim my trophy.

Expecting a cheap gadget, I was delighted that I could choose one of two large sewing boxes filled with “crafty” goodies.  Lined with satin and equipped with a removable tray, these elegant gems resembled miniature storage ottomans, complete with wooden legs. Unlike Let’s Make a Deal, I could actually see what was inside Box #1 and Box #2. The store clerk who displayed these boxes assured me that the only difference between them was one had a set of two big scissors while the other contained a paper cutter useful for sewing, quilting, or scrapbooking.

So I took a closer look.

Dressed pink from head to toe, Box #1 sported two pairs of bright pink-hued scissors with the ubiquitous pink ribbon emblazoned on the bubble wrap surrounding them. Other pink gizmos lurked behind them, but all I focused upon were those tacky scissors. They weren’t even pinking shears, for heaven sakes. They gave a whole new meaning to the term. The outside of the box came upholstered with a pink-themed design.

Besides the paper cutter, Box #2 contained a sharpener for the cutter, a bobbin holder, a small pair of blue-handled scissors and some non-pink items in the back that I couldn’t yet identify. The outside sported a blue and gold floral pattern on a cream-colored background. Despite the flowers on the outside, the second box almost looked masculine when compared to the first.

After reading all the posts about shameless pink merchandising in the breast cancer blogosphere (such as Nancy’s Point, Accidental Amazon, and Pink Ribbon Blues, to name a very few), I chose Box #2. Why should I support causes that promise to direct the money to breast cancer research but end up, upon further investigation, only (or mostly) lining the pockets of the profit-minded?

Even though I had several other places to go in town after picking up my prize, I decided to take the time to tell the clerk why I chose the second box. In fact, I was bursting at the seams to tell her.

She nodded her head, indicating that she “got” what I said. Then she shared her tale of woe.

While she hasn’t had breast cancer herself, she has a friend diagnosed with the disease who wants no reminders, nothing pink. The clerk also indicated she has no health insurance. Her husband was recently laid off and this mom-and-pop sew-and-vac store where she works doesn’t offer medical insurance. She can afford to pay out of her own pocket for an occasional mammogram. But whenever she does that, the technician insists on a confirmatory ultrasound, which she can’t pay for. Pink merchandise and October awareness month will not compel this poor soul to get screened unless she can do it for free or at lower cost.  She eats right and tries to stay healthy so she won’t get breast cancer. I urged her to find some free mammography services that I know are available.

I hadn’t expected that much of a mouthful from this woman. People can be really passionate when breast cancer issues are raised. In the past I would not have chosen to share with this stranger my breast cancer history, but would have simply picked up the golden box and left the store. As soon as I spied the pairs of shiny pink-handled scissors, though, I knew I had to speak out. I couldn’t let my fellow breast cancer sistahs down.

So now I am a happy camper with a quiet vacuum cleaner that I hope will serve me for many years. And a sewing box that will remind me forever that I deliberately chose against pink-ribbon wares, for the first time in my life.

Have you ever revealed your cancer history to a stranger to make a point? Have you felt strongly enough about a cancer-related issue to raise it–or to refute an unsolicited opinion?  Even if you are in a hurry?


    I’ve always been friendly with stranger, but after breast cancer, I’m even more so. It seems as though I always strike up a conversation with someone, never meaning to say anything about breast cancer, but in unusual ways, like the vacuum cleaner store, it comes up. Sometimes when I’m in an airport, my lymphedema sleeve prompts people to ask if I’ve had breast cancer. Numerous women have told me they quit wearing their sleeve because they never had any problems. My last trip, I was seated next to a man who’s wife had breast cancer. Strangers became instant friends because of unspoken, shared experiences. It’s quite a remarkable experience.


  • jhasak

    Brenda, yes, it is amazing to see strangers open up to each other in intimate ways because of a shared crisis. When in Ireland I confided in fellow tourists as the spirit moved me. Their reactions were incredibly compassionate, and I became much closer to those to whom I revealed my breast cancer than to people who were not privy to my cancer history. Thanks for your insights. I am intrigued that so many women quit wearing their compression sleeves. Hmmm, I wonder if I should give it a whirl for a day. Maybe in winter, but not in the heat. XOXOXO, Jan

  • Pink Ribbon Blues

    Jan, This is an incredible story. Given all of the pink merchandising, it would have been so easy to choose Box #1. Sometimes people (including myself) purchase pink items by default, e.g., flying with a particular pink ribbon airline simply because it is the only one going to said destination. But really having a choice, contemplating it, and then choosing Box #2…this is direct action. You not only made a statement with your purchase, you followed up by starting a conversation about it, one that opened the door for someone else to speak. Amazing. The fact that your clerk has no health insurance in the midst of all this pink “awareness” really captures the competing priorities of the current culture. I’d love to put a link to your story on my ‘tools for action’ page. All of these actions matter!

  • jhasak

    Gayle, thanks for sharing. It’s truly ironic that we have all this “awareness” through gimmicks and gadgets, yet many are not financially equipped even to get themselves screened. Our actions do matter! I’m so happy I took the time to converse with this lady. Thanks for offering to put a link to my story on your “tools” page. The more collective courage we can gather, the better! XOX Jan

  • Kathi

    Great story, Jan!! I’ve had several serendipitous encounters like that. One of the first was when I decided to get a tattoo for my first birthday after breast cancer treatment. I wanted a tattoo that was NOT one of the black dots left on my body by radiation techs when I got zapped. I went to a shop with a friend who’d had breast cancer & who had gotten tattoos there before. The tattoo artist had the most magnificent tats of the Four Horsemen from the Book of Kells on his forearms. We struck up a gab about our Celtic heritage. Eventually, I told him why I was there getting a non-pink tattoo of a Celtic circle knot on my leg. Turned out his younger sister had died of breast cancer a few years earlier. She’d been my age. My girlfriend was in the room at the time. Instant support group — poignancy, mutual compassion, bonding. I know he under-charged me, so I left him a big tip.

    The latest such encounter happened a few months ago, when I was making hotel reservations for the NBCC Conference. The hotel reservationist knew what the Conference was & who was attending. She, it turned out, had had breast cancer herself, 2 years ago. Another great chat ensued with a total stranger, full of tender understanding, kindness & mutual support.

    I love these encounters. It makes you realize how crucial it is that we all stay true to ourselves, because you never know when your own truth will be important to someone else. By the way, I need to go clean the cat fur out of my vacuum cleaner head… :) xxoo

  • jhasak

    What a cool tattoo story, Kathi! I admire tattoos of the non-radiation and non-pink genres. I’ve experienced the instant bonding and the need to tip big when in that magic mood.

    I didn’t know you were Celtic. I have a soft spot for the Celts. When in Dublin in May I didn’t get a chance to see the Book of Kells, so I must go back. And now a must-see is those Four Horsemen.

    I’ve seen time and time again when my own truth is important to someone else. Once I get up the gumption to share (or maybe an intuition), I’m never sorry.

    Is the cat fur from any new kitties, or from your beloved departed felines? I know how fur can gum up the vacuum works. XOXO, Jan

  • Nancy

    You go sistah!!!
    I am sooo proud of you for taking such action! And look what happened as a result, meaningful dialogue with the sales clerk!

    What a great story you tell here. You just never know where conversations will lead do you?

    And as for the vacuming, we have two vacums, a built-in which only seems to work for the non-carpet floors and then a Hoover (ugh, not good I know) upright for carpets. When I vacum I think, really, why do we need two vacums? And my husband does all the carpets now because of my ‘bad’ arm. Your new vacum sounds perfect.

    Thanks for the great post and for mentioning Nancy’s Point. Happy vacuming! Not!

  • Beth L. Gainer

    Hi Jan,

    Excellent posting, as usual! Yes, getting the right vaccuum can be a challenge!

    As for the clerk you spoke with, there is some hope. There’s a terrific organization that has partnered with hospitals that give free mammograms to underinsured women. The organization is Chicago-based, but it may be reaching out nationwide.

    Here’s the website:

  • jhasak

    Thanks for the cheerleading, Nancy! It’s so true that you never know what discussions will ensue if you just open your mouth as the spirit leads. What a great husband you have to do all the carpets! My sons did the rugs not just because of my arm but for their own benefit (doing chores is good prep for later life skills, etc., etc.). But I’m glad my arm doesn’t swell up doing this kind of thing. Time will tell if the vacuum holds out, but for now, it’s a dandy. You’re welcome about mentioning your blog; yours is a great source of thought-provoking posts and advice. XOXO, Jan

  • jhasak

    Thank you so much, Beth, for that valuable information! I’m going to add that resource to my website. There had to be foundations out there to help those in dire need of screening. In addition, if/when I see that clerk again, I will let her know. We breast cancer bloggesses (as Marie calls them) learn so much from each other. Thanks again. XXXO Jan