Breast Cancer Awareness

October 25, 2012

Earlier this month, EDS sent me the following article:

Why Does My Cancer Have a Logo?

Though I quote it throughout this post, the article is worth reading in full (hint, hint… don’t be lazy… click on the link above) as the author, EL, brings up some interesting points about her battle with breast cancer in relation to the Americanized commercialization of The Pink Ribbon.

EL and I seem to have plenty in common.  Close in age. Grad students.  Writers.  Receiving/received ‘treatment for an aggressive, non-genetic and more-than-unexpected cancer.’ And both cancer thrivers who do not seem to identify with The Pink Ribbon that symbolizes our disease.

However… when EDS sent me the link to this article and asked what my thoughts were, I found that I could respond with neither an ‘I agree’ nor an ‘I disagree’.

So here are some points from EL’s argument that I would like to contend:

1) ‘This symbol [The Pink Ribbon], for all the money it has raised, has for me very little meaning and, in fact, feels contrary to a representation of what I have been through.’

Yes, EL, it does feel contrary to a representation of what I, too, have been through.  I would love it if the symbol, the face of this disease, was likened to something like the breast-less Amazon warriors…

Armored.  Fierce.  Wielding swords.  Bloodied.  Battered. Yet ready for more.

Because that is what I feel like.

But not everyone’s battle with breast cancer has been as aggressive as mine.  I cannot expect each survivor to identify with that symbol either.  Nor can I expect anyone who wants to offer support but has never experienced cancer living inside their own body to comprehend this battle mentality.

A symbol, by definition, stands for something else; not at all what it looks like or what it is.

I don’t believe The Rainbow sums up the horrific experiences a majority of gay people in this country undergo.  I don’t believe The Yellow Ribbon encapsulates what soldiers experience in war.  I don’t believe The White Dove of Peace is something that Christians residing in countries where they are persecuted experience as they strive to live out their faith.

I also don’t believe women and men look like this:

A symbol is a neutral, inoffensive emblem chosen so that anyone may recognize the thing that it represents.

This is why I am not opposed to The Pink Ribbon representing my disease as it probably speaks more effectively to the general populace than, say… this mastectomy merit badge:

2) ‘Pink, the supposed color of femininity, does not represent breast cancer to me. In fact, after losing my hair in six rounds of chemo, going through menopause at 28, being sick as a dog and having both of my breasts removed, I pretty much feel less feminine than ever.’

Losing my hair, my breasts, my eyebrows, the functionality of my ovaries has sucked.  Completely.

But what I have found to be a blessing about my disease, is that I feel incredibly feminine despite these things.  I feel beautiful… radiant… even on my worst day.  I feel tremendous amounts of inner strength.  I feel the need to nurture myself and those around me.  My sharp edges have softened.  And the side effects of treatment have confirmed for me that beauty and femininity are not defined by my physical form.  And I don’t think I truly realized that before my experience with breast cancer.  I’m much more accepting of my curves, my womanhood and myself than I have been in my entire life.  I have never been a huge fan of the color pink, but I appreciate that the symbol for this disease strives to include femininity… allowing women the assurance that feminine aspects of themselves need not be thrown onto the alter of sacrifice along with their breasts.

3) ‘To take this disease and cover it in pink glitter gives it a bubble gum appeal that, to me, does not raise awareness, but rather makes opaque and glamourizes the difficulties those of us with this cancer have faced. It also allows people to believe they are actually doing something and are helping and are informed when, in fact, they have simply peeled back a pink yogurt lid, bought a bag of pink-ribbon-stamped cookies or even a pink bucket of fried chicken.  …  There are now pink ribbons, pink colors and the word “pink” on everything breast cancer-related. Further, does this symbol not lose its meaning when a pink ribbon-clad product can be chock-full of carcinogens?’

I don’t think that The Pink Ribbon intends to glamourize cancer.  I just think perhaps we’ve gotten carried away in an attempt to raise awareness and have missed the mark in actually doing so.  I also think corporations will capitalize on anything, particularly the pain of humanity, so it should come as no surprise that this is happening.  It is important as survivors and patients that we keep raising our voices about this concern so that the goal of raising awareness/enthusiasm for a cure is kept in the forefront.

I don’t want The Pink Ribbon to keep getting slapped on 5 hour energy bottles… something that I am certain is only raising a person’s risk of cancer.  And of course peeling back a pink yogurt lid does not actually educate anyone about everything this disease entails.  (I’ve been doing that for years and knew virtually nothing about this beast until after my diagnosis.)  So, the question is… what do we do about it? This could be a great way to remind women and men to get yearly checkups for all their bidness.  Or getting statistics out to the masses.  We shouldn’t overlook the positives.

4)’When I see organizations and events called “Tickle Me Pink,” for example, with pink celebrities and pink cocktails, I fail to see the connection to what I have been through. I am not by any means asking everyone to go sit in a chemo ward. I am simply asking those of us in this breast cancer community to perhaps consider new modes of symbolizing our struggle while getting folks aware of how to prevent and understand this disease in a way that is not fixated on traditional gender roles and femininity.’

I think incorporating a claim to femininity in the symbol for this disease is important to a lot of women, myself included. I know this disease is not exclusive to women, but we are the gender most affected by it.  And it was significant to me to know that my sexuality, my womanhood, was not compromised by the loss of my breasts and ovaries.  But I agree with EL that we should find ways of of not excluding the other gender in our fight.  I also agree that all of us in the breast cancer community need to hold each other accountable for seeking ways to make folks aware of how to prevent and understand this disease.

Although I disagree with some of her statements, I am in no way stating that EL’s feelings expressed in her article are invalid.  As a writer, I have found immense usefulness in the ability to articulate the effects this disease has had on me. I am grateful for EL’s article and for her bravery to stand up against the misuse of The Pink Ribbon.

I just wanted to open the forum about this topic a little.

Because I am for:

Anything that encourages someone to do a monthly self-breast exam.

Anything that reminds women to get regular mammograms as early detection saves lives.

Anything that provides a sense of solidarity to survivors and patients… whether I myself am able to tap into that sense of solidarity or not.

So while I may not be one of those women who dresses in pink from head to toe as a result of her diagnosis, or one of those women who will allow her cancer to define her… and while I do wish our society would stop abusing the symbol of The Pink Ribbon and use it as a force for good… I am not Anti Pink Ribbon.

In fact, my pup wears one on her collar.

Omie is Breast Cancer Aware.

Of course this ribbon doesn’t sum up what I’ve been through… what I’m going through…

But the way I see it… you never know who may be looking for someone to talk to or who may need some sort of sign that things are going to be okay.  This is one way I have of making myself approachable.  Of saying to The Powers That Be, “Use me, my journey, to help someone else through theirs.”

End cancer chapter 17

PS.  EL also mentions in her article the difficulty of finding resources as cancer patients in our 20s and 30s: ‘those of us with cancer in our 20’s are just a rare bunch with a unique situation — everyone is maxing out on life in the apex of health. We are strange anomalies dealing with, to be frank, everyone’s worst nightmare.’  The majority of support groups and financial assistance programs are geared towards children, middle-aged adults or the elderly.  Here is a resource, also shared with me by the lovely EDS, for people in my age bracket: Stupid Cancer

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