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It’s Time to Stop Trivializing Breast Cancer!

It’s time to stop trivializing breast cancer with lame attempts to lighten things up. 

There is so much nonsense that goes on every October in the name of breast cancer awareness; it’s really quite remarkable. There could be an entire book written on October breast cancer awareness bullshit. And sadly, the bullshit is leeching out into the rest of the year as well.

One of the many things that troubles me most about all the breast cancer awareness bullshit is the trivializing of this still serious and still potentially deadly disease. And this trivializing goes on a lot.

You know what I’m talking about… 

There are the outrageous, silly costumes many good-intentioned supporters who walk or run in races often wear, in the name of having a good time of course. There are  brightly colored bras hung out for display on busy city streets, bra chains placed on bridges and even rocks painted to look like breasts. There are numerous awareness campaigns with cutesy slogans using words like grab, feel, tatas, boobies, honkers…. There are countless outlandish t-shirts, trinkets, and too many to keep track of carnival-like products and foods available for purchase that may, but often do not, support breast cancer anything.

It's time to stop trivializing breast cancer

There are breast cancer awareness parties held during October where organizers promote the illusion of doing something wonderfully admirable for women, but in reality the events are just another excuse to throw a party, serve silly refreshments, talk about boobs all night long and/or make money.

It's time to stop trivializing breast cancer!

And then there are organizations we all know and love (that’s sarcasm) who post images of dogs wearing bras stuffed with balloons, because yeah, that makes those with breast cancer feel supported and respected and encourages the public to take a deadly disease seriously.

Let's stop trivializing breast cancer!

Image via Susan G. Komen Facebook page

How in the world does stuff like this educate the public about about the gravity of a breast cancer diagnosis, regardless of stage?

It’s all so ridiculous sometimes a person just wants to scream, or hide, or both during October.

But I do neither (okay, sometimes I do). Mostly, I keep at it. I keep churning out blog posts. I keep talking to anyone who’s willing to listen.

Why?

Because breast cancer is still a deadly disease taking 40K lives annually in the US alone. And those of us who do not die from it, are often impacted horrendously by short and long term side effects from treatment. It’s never over.

Breast cancer is not pretty, pink, or party-like in any way, shape or form. Period.

The end does not justify the means.

Portraying it as party-like and demeaning women while also trivializing a still too often deadly disease is irresponsible, anything but supportive and just plain wrong.

It’s time to stop trivializing breast cancer, in fact, it’s way past time.

You might want to read, Has Feminism Dropped the Ball In Breast Cancer Awareness?

Do you feel breast cancer is trivialized, or do you think any attention is a good thing?

Do you ever feel demeaned or offended by awareness campaigns?

To grab a copy of my FREE ebook, Pink Is Just a Color, Ribbons Are Just Ribbons: A collection of writings about Pinktober shenanigans, Click Here.

It's time to stop trivializing breast cancer!

It's time to stop trivializing breast cancer!

This is so ridiculous.

Linda Hutcheson

Tuesday 26th of October 2021

Thank you for this. As a newly diagnosed early stage breast cancer patient, I feel like I’m not supposed to be upset about it because of this weird phenomenon around it that you describe. Someone close to me actually told me my cancer wasn’t a big deal. I’ve had a hard time letting any emotions out and showing my true anxiety and fear. This article validated many of my feelings. Thank you…

Nancy

Wednesday 27th of October 2021

Linda, I hear you. It's upsetting thinking you're not supposed to be upset. Breast cancer is too often described as the good cancer. Um, no. There is no good cancer. I'm glad this article offered some validation. Thank you for letting me know. My best to you as you navigate your cancer experience. You're not alone and always welcome here.

Rosalee

Wednesday 16th of October 2019

I agree Nancy all of this pink propaganda is so demeaning.

Nancy

Saturday 19th of October 2019

Rosalee, It is indeed.

Joyce Josephson

Thursday 5th of November 2015

OMG Those mammogram breast smores... I feel sick.

I am so glad that I found your blog, Nancy. I am still trying to discern whether to go ahead with a second mastectomy or not.

This is an essay I wrote the beginning of October. I posted it briefly on facebook, alarmed some friends, then hid it. I would like to share it here, if that's okay.

Many companies who flood the marketplace with an overabundance of pink each October exploit breast cancer for corporate gain; to polish their image or improve their bottom line. I personally believe this profusion of pink trivializes the trauma and disfigurement of breast cancer experienced by those who have been diagnosed with this disease, even those of us whose cancer was “caught” in an early stage.

In December of 2009 I was diagnosed with stage zero DCIS in my left breast. Because it was in multiple ducts I was told that a lumpectomy would not suffice; that I needed a mastectomy. At the time, I had just gone through the most difficult year of my life, so I was barely fazed by the diagnosis or the mastectomy and first phase of reconstruction that followed in late February of 2010. I developed an infection 2 weeks after my surgery, was hospitalized and given IV antibiotics for a week. My condition wasn’t improving, so I consented to have the tissue expander (the first step of reconstructive surgery) removed.

Reconstructive surgery is not the simple fix it's touted to be. An implant, for example, involves multiple surgeries and procedures. I was told by my plastic surgeon that symmetry of the implant alongside the natural breast (unclothed) was not a realistic expectation. Also, there was no guarantee that I would not develop an infection or allergic process again.

Five plus years have passed since that reversal surgery. I wear a prosthetic bra with prosthesis so I look normal and feel normal when I go out. But I find it physically uncomfortable, and at times even painful. Taking off my bra used to be the first thing I would do when I got home. Now I keep the bra on until I can’t stand it anymore. Then I switch to a camisole with stuffing or put on an extra layer. Otherwise, I feel naked and exposed. My only respite from this routine is when I go to bed.

I lock the bedroom door and avoid mirrors when I dress and undress. I lock the bathroom door when I shower, even when no one else is home. Showering is a bizarre and numbing experience - my mind disconnects from my body.

A week ago, I had my annual visit at the breast care center. My mammogram was normal. After she examined me, my doctor asked, as she does every year "so, do you want to do anything..." I said "Yes. I want my right breast lopped off."

I know there are worse things in life. I am grateful that I am cancer free. Please don't judge me, pity me or try to solve this “problem” for me. Instead, please... just think before you pink.

Nancy

Saturday 7th of November 2015

Joyce, Thank you for sharing. And yes, those mammogram s'mores. Sort of harmless, but then again...

Beth L. Gainer

Monday 19th of October 2015

Hi Nancy, The sexualization of breast cancer is infuriating. Some of the images you posted I hadn't even seen yet. I saw the one with the dogs and some other ridiculous campaigns, and I know it trivializes this disease.

I think the problem goes even deeper than sexualizing breast cancer. As long as women are sexually degraded in our world culture (and I think this will unfortunately be the case forever), campaigns like this will flourish. Women are so degraded in so many countries -- including our own -- that the breast cancer campaigns that sexualize cancer are the part of the same problem.

Cathy Craven

Wednesday 16th of October 2019

I now start to cringe at the end of September, knowing the "pink washing" and sexualizing/trivializing is about to descend. In my area, it actually seems to be getting worse. One of the newest "let's all celebrate and have fun" events is hosted by a local Harley-Davidson dealership. They call their event SAVE SECOND BASE. If that isn't bad enough, the only money raised (separate from their pink merch) that is actually donated to an organization related to breast cancer is through their Bra Pong challenge; your first throw is free, then you pay $1 for each additional throw. Of course, the event is held at the dealership where customers are promised merchandise discounts of up to 20% and extra points for MVP members if you wear pink! And then there is the advertised Harley-Davidson Pink Label Collection -- overpriced "feel good" merch of which 3% of the retail price is supposedly donated to breast cancer organizations. From my perspective, this is just another example of a giant corporation using Pinktober for financial gain through the guise of philanthropy. It's shameful and upsetting. I'm always relieved when November rolls around and the pink party hoopla simmers down for another year. Breast cancer awareness and education are important, of course -- but I feel that, for the most part, they become lost in a sea of sparkly pink party balloons. It is during this time of year that I am especially grateful for people like you, Nancy, who are all about telling it like it is, presenting accurate and helpful information, and providing a safe space for those of us who are fed up to share our thoughts and opinions.

Nancy

Thursday 22nd of October 2015

Beth, I hate to think that's true, but maybe you're right. The think I don't get is how many women seem to think all this exploitation of breast cancer and women is okay. Makes no sense to me. Feminism has dropped the ball. But then again, too many people, including women, think feminism is a bad word. Guess we still have our work cut out for us...

Janne

Friday 16th of October 2015

I have been recently diagnosed with BC. I don't mind the pink ribbon items, I feel that if 1 person asks me about it and gets checked, then I have done a good thing. I don't like the "tata's, girls, and stupid boobie drawings, I find it degrading, but I'm very happy to share what I'm going through with anyone who is interested. My advice, ignore the dumb stuff, don't take it personal, if they donatee even $1 , it's $1 closer. Most people have no idea what we're going through, let's educate them and take every penny we can from them. I saw a tshirt the other day that I loved, it said " of course they're fake, the real ones tried to kill me." If you let it get you down it will. Use it to your advantage to get the word out. Every disease is nasty if you have it. It's how you handle it that counts.

Nancy

Friday 16th of October 2015

Janne, Thank you for sharing your perspectives. Mine don't quite align with yours, but that's fine.

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