Does it sometimes seem like lots of women who talk about their breast cancer experiences often mention how they’ve become more appreciative, enlightened, transformed for the better, or whatever? Does it seem like there is story after story about celebrities sharing, let’s be honest here, more than we want to know about their breast cancer experiences? And don’t you think too often such celebrity-type stories often make breast cancer seem not so bad?
And then there are the mastectomy stories, lots of mastectomy talk of late too. Of course, talking openly about this stuff is wonderful. However, there’s a double-edge sword here. All this talk, all this exposure can be misconstrued and potentially create the false illusion that breast cancer is well, normal-like and therefore, not really all that bad, can it not?
Pink ribbon culture has certainly played a major role in promoting this “normalization” of breast cancer.
Breast cancer should never be presented as normal-like. It should never be trivialized or sexualized either.
Such narratives are inaccurate and downright insulting.
Again, bringing a once taboo topic out of the closet is tremendously helpful and welcomed. But maybe we’ve gone a little overboard and have unintentionally desensitized people.
Removing the stigma should not result in making a horrible disease appear normal-like.
They are very different things.
Breast cancer has become the elite cancer, the cancer of notoriety.
Breast cancer is definitely the shopping cancer and this, too, is insulting when you think about it.
If you haven’t read Bright-Sided: How Positive thinking Is Undermining America by Barbara Ehrenreich, I highly recommend you do. This book is not just about breast cancer and actually, I wish it was. Only chapter one focuses on breast cancer, but this chapter alone makes the book worth reading. Even the title of chapter one is perfect: “Smile or Die: The Bright Side of Cancer.” I must share this one brief passage:
Positive thinking seems to be mandatory in the breast cancer world, to the point of where unhappiness requires a kind of apology…
The above all else, just stay positive, mantra drives me nuts. As you know, right?
I maintain too much positivity, too much glossing over of the horribleness of breast cancer, falsely presents it as being not so bad, and therefore, in some weird sense, normal.
Ehrenreich has this to say about the normalization of breast cancer:
The effect of all this positive thinking is to transform breast cancer into a rite of passage–not an injustice or a tragedy to rail against but a normal marker in the life cycle, like menopause or grandmotherhood. Everything in mainstream breast cancer culture serves…to tame and normalize the disease: the diagnosis may be disastrous, but there are those cunning pink rhinestone pins to buy and races to train for.
Ehrenreich’s outspoken truth telling about her breast cancer reality is laced with wit, sarcasm and spot-on insights about what breast cancer is and what it is not.
And one thing breast cancer definitely is not, is normal.
This is one reason I felt compelled to write my memoir. I wanted to ‘shout from the pages’ that nothing about breast cancer felt/feels normal.
Some probably consider my memoir or even my blog and therefore me, to be negative. But I refuse to gloss over the harshness of cancer reality, well, my reality anyway.
A cancer diagnosis is not a normal occurrence. A mastectomy is not normal. Reconstruction is not normal. And as far as I can tell, even six years post diagnosis, there is nothing normal about survivorship either, new or otherwise.
Frankly, I am tired of people trying to twist or re-frame cancer into something it is not.
Cancer sucks. Period.
Can we please stop portraying a horrible disease as something it is not?
Because no cancer, including breast cancer, should ever be normalized.
As Ehrenreich says:
Amen to that!
Do you feel breast cancer has, to some degree, become “normalized”?
Have you read Bright-Sided?
Have you seen Pink Ribbons, Inc?