The endless number of supporters and incredibly large funds make the Breast Cancer Awareness movement remarkable, like no other health-related cause out there. Every year in October, we witness a variety of events – monument lighting, marathons, dances and fashion shows, all to celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness month.
In my previous article, we talked about how the pink cause is in fact, pinkwashed – companies use it to profit off of the patients, thereby abusing the supportive, helping spirit in the breast cancer community.
What we haven’t talked about is what the Breast Cancer Awareness cause does for the breast cancer patients and how pinkwashing their disease affects them. It seems that these days, instead of comforting and supporting people with breast cancer, the movement disregards and alienates them.
Detection Isn’t Protection
It seems to be a common belief, perpetuated by awareness organizations and programs, that getting a mammogram on a regular basis will prevent you from developing breast cancer. To begin with, a mammogram is simply an x-ray picture of a breast. It doesn’t do anything to prevent breast cancer, it simply lets you know whether you have it or not.
Early detection of breast cancer can mean two things – you have breast cancer that’s treatable or breast cancer that’s untreatable. In the second case, getting a mammogram doesn’t change much because the cancer is so aggressive, that the time of its detection is irrelevant.
Naturally, when diagnosed, a lot of women are unpleasantly surprised because they have been regularly getting their mammograms. A lot of companies and groups convey this notion to the public, because it’s a more hopeful picture of the actual reality and encourages the public to participate.
Breast Cancer Awareness Isn’t Action
So you bought a pink t-shirt in the spirit of Breast Cancer Awareness? How cool, your awareness has increased by 25%! But what good does awareness do? How does it help people suffering from breast cancer? With the risk of sounding cynical, I raise you this question: does awareness really inspire change and progress or is it just a well-designed cash machine?
Awareness is good when we have an underreported issue that people need to know more about. Awareness was good for breast cancer when we didn’t know that it’s actually an epidemic disease. We are more or less aware of the fact that there is a strong need for a breast cancer cure.
What we need now is action, more than awareness. Women suffering from this disease need to hear that something is being done, something more than an increase in the number of people who are ‘aware’. Action could mean anything from finding factors that cause this type of cancer, to drugs and treatments to cure it. It’s only reasonable to expect a discernible result from all that money that has gone into breast cancer campaigns.
Breast Cancer Awareness Language
Obviously, breast cancer is a topic that a lot of people talk about nowadays. But the way we talk about it, the rhetoric that surrounds this issue, seems to alienate people who suffer from the disease rather than help them. The reason behind this is very simple – pink campaigns and programs use terminology that’s dedicated to attracting consumers, essentially making sure that breast cancer ‘sells’ good.
Let’s start with a phrase that has been so commonly associated with this disease – ‘battling cancer’. A lot of women who have breast cancer don’t feel like they are battling anything. They would rather describe the whole experience as ‘enduring’ and it’s definitely not something they choose to do, or want to be praised for. What’s more, this phrase sends a wrong kind of message: if you try hard enough you can beat that cancer! This kind of thinking would lead one to believe that people who did not beat cancer, who didn’t overcome the disease, just didn’t put enough effort and they lacked that strength of character.
The same goes for words like ‘journey’, ‘brave’, ‘warrior’ or ‘survivor’ who are not only insensitive to those who lose their lives to this disease, but are also nothing more than a marketing scheme, painting a nice, joyful picture of breast cancer. These overly-optimistic and celebratory portrayals of women with breast cancer alienate real people who live with the disease, especially when they are having a bad day. They feel like they don’t fit in the movement and that it’s just not for them.
Are they right? Is the Breast Cancer Awareness movement aimed not at the patients, but at the audience who can pay a certain price? Let this article serve as a reminder that these are real people whose lives are at stake, and not just pawns in a marketing strategy. We should treat them with dignity and not let them be defined by their disease.
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