Nearly six months ago (yikes!) I was asked to write a review for the new (at the time) book, So Much to Be Done: The Writings of Breast Cancer Activist Barbara Brenner (edited by Barbara Sjoholm, introduction by Rachel Morello-Frosch, afterword by Anne Lamott, University of Minnesota Press), and I said yes because I am a fan of Brenner’s writing. Then life got busy, okay, I also forgot about it. A few weeks ago, I rediscovered my review copy. Since it’s now Breast Cancer Awareness Month, maybe I forgot for a reason. Because what better time than this could there be to review and give away a couple copies of this particular book? It’s a perfect way to close out another Pinktober.
Who was Barbara Brenner?
For those of you who don’t know, Barbara Brenner was an accomplished woman who wore many hats throughout her life, but perhaps she is most well known (at least in Breast Cancer Land) for being one of the powerhouses behind Breast Cancer Action, originally a small, grass-roots organization formed in San Francisco by women living with the disease.
As many of you know, BCAction has grown to be one of the most well-renowned national breast cancer advocacy/watchdog organizations around.
For starters, BCAction raised the level of questioning in regard to the “pinking” of breast cancer to a whole new level. One way it accomplished this was with its well-touted, “Think Before You Pink” campaign. The term “pinkwashing” was coined in this 2002 campaign, bringing much needed attention to companies (pinkwashers) that proclaim to care about women’s lives by making commitments to breast cancer awareness, but whose products themselves are linked to cancer. BCAction became the first organization to reject funding from companies profiting from or contributing to what it calls, the breast cancer epidemic. BCAction was also a major player in the lawsuit which ultimately landed in the Supreme Court. In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled Myriad Genetics could not patent the human gene. I wrote about this here, here and here.
Barbara was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1993 at the age of 41 and found her way to BCAction. She later became the organization’s executive director, a position she held for more than fifteen years. In addition to her various roles at the organization, she penned a column in the organization’s newsletter, The Source.
Through her column, readers were given a glimpse into Barbara’s intellect, wit, provocative questioning ability and sarcasm. Barbara was not hesitant to write about unpleasant truths, often offering sharp, critical analysis of shenanigans in breast cancer land while also demanding answers and accountability.
I first discovered Barbara’s writing after I started blogging in 2010. I remember reading her blog, Healthy Barbs, and let’s just say my eyes were opened on more than one occasion. She didn’t worry about stepping on toes and even went so far as to criticize groups such as the National Breast Cancer Coalition in her blog post titled, NBCC – the Promise, the Process and the Problems.
So Much to Be Done is a compilation of some of Barbara’s best writings during her tenure at BCAction and beyond. The book divides Barbara’s writings into two parts. Part 1 is called, Building a Movement 1995-2010 and Part II is called, Thoughts on Dying and Living, 2011-2013. The writings from Part II are shall we say, a bit feistier. These pieces were written after Barbara had left BCAction, so she was freer to speak more candidly via her personal blog. One entry from Part II is titled, Gloves Off What the Fuck, Komen? Another is, Is October Over Yet? And another is called, Walk for Your Health, But It Won’t Help Anyone Else’s Much.
Even the titles are great, right?
And yes, as you might guess, Part II is my favorite.
So Much to Be Done is a must read for anyone interested in learning more about breast cancer activism. In fact, health activists of any sort have much to learn from Barbara Brenner.
Because as Barbara so succinctly suggested:
Being an activist is not for the faint of heart.
But my favorite quote of all from Barbara continues to be this one:
If breast cancer could be cured by shopping, it would be cured by now.
Amen to that.
In 2011 Barbara was diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a progressive neuro-degenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord). Barbara died from complications of this disease in 2013. She was 61 years old.
If you would like a chance to win a FREE copy of So Much to Be Done, leave a comment stating so by 5 pm CT on November 1st. Two winners will be announced shortly after.
Thank you in advance for participating!
Would you like to enter this giveaway and if so, why?
Have you read this book or any of Barbara Brenner’s writing?
The WINNERS are – Bridgette and Beth! Congratulations! Thank you for participating, everybody!