Let's stop trivializing breast cancer!

It’s Time to Stop Trivializing Breast Cancer!

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 what a breast cancer diagnosis really entails?

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.


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.

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.

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.

31 thoughts to “It’s Time to Stop Trivializing Breast Cancer!”

  1. When it is actually to raise money, the silly stuff like dressing funny for races does not bother me as much, although I am greatly bothered that much of the money raised goes for awareness rather than research or helping women in treatment.
    All the silly stuff just for the sole purpose of “raising awareness,” that is just an excuse to talk about boobs and show underwear, is an insult to those of us with breast cancer. It is time for people to be reminded that breast cancer is not just pink soup cans and bras, that it is life and death, and many who do survive live with lifetime effects and disfigurements.

    1. Elizabeth, The over-the-top silly stuff does bother me, but I’m glad it doesn’t irk you, not too much anyway. And yes, those dollars and where they go…I feel the whole light-hearted approach that too often surfaces surrounding breast cancer awareness campaigns is potentially hurtful and even downright harmful. Because as you said, cancer is not pink soup cans and bras. Thank you for reading and sharing.

  2. Nancy, might be that socially or personally we’ve lost perspective on our emotions? Or worse, we’ve given up on our humanity and are just too embarrassed to show our being “touched” by sadness?

    I know people who are in contact with their emotions–like the Doctor that has become my unofficial oncologist who exhibits a clear concern that I think used to be called “maturity.” My other doctors don’t seem to know how to deal with a situation that’s hard to fix so they lighten it up. Too much sometimes.

    Do you think it might be that we could go so low socially as to dis-allow people to show their pain? The pain is too real and threatens us? My councilor suggested people really don’t want to hear about the medical system being unable to rescue them. Maybe all the BC nonsense is about avoiding a serious discussion and it’s drawn the doctors in too.

    Be interesting to study how we cope with bad things as a society. I’m thinking we’ve fallen into the habit of taking something that can’t be easily fixed and making it into an “event.” The first step might be a genuine attempt to make something easier to discuss–more open and public. But then it just becomes a circus. So, yes the whole breast cancer discussion has become trivial. It allows us to return to a childish response and surely as children it would be MEAN to ask us to do or think of anything that’s hard and sad.

    Like these likes from All Along the Watchtower by Bob Dylan:
    “No reason to get excited,” the thief, he kindly spoke,
    “There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke.
    But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate,
    So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late.”

    1. Scott, Thank you for your excellent insights. It’s sad to think breast cancer awareness month (and beyond) has become a circus and this is exactly why that first step drawing people in is so important. Presenting breast cancer in a cavalier manner just isn’t helpful in the long run.

  3. It’s way past time. Do you know I’ve written 48 posts so far that, in one way or another, are on the subject of pink nonsense?? Oy.

    Scott, you make a good point. As a society, we don’t handle our own fears very well at all, or our own sense of mortality.

    1. Kathi, That’s a lot of posts! I do wonder sometimes just how many ways and how many times we can keep saying some of this stuff. Pink nonsense remains. So I guess we have to keep trying. When we feel up to it. Thank you for reading and sharing some thoughts.

  4. I agree with Scott.

    Nancy, I have felt offended with some of the misrepresentations for breast cancer—I don’t feel represented by any of it. But the part that bothers me the most is how some organizations just wrap themselves in pink ribbons every October but don’t contribute much to advance cancer research. Also, there’s a lack of empathy for patients who are still in emotional and physical pain. We don’t all feel like celebrating. We don’t all survive breast cancer.

    And what about the families of those patients who have died? (My family is one of them.) How do they feel when they see these celebrations? Or when they witness the misrepresentations for the disease when they have been exposed to the truth? I don’t know, but everything about pinktober annoys me.

    1. Rebecca, You make some excellent points. There is a lot of misrepresentation going on in Pink Ribbon Fantasy Land. And just because you or I do not feel represented by the pink hoopla, this doesn’t mean we are ungrateful or being negative. This is the part that is very troubling to me, this one-size-fits-all way we should do cancer that is sort of implied. Thank you for reading and commenting.

  5. Hi Rebecca M. and Kathi, aside from making a society-wide observation about we handle trauma my direct experience tells me that even front-line cancer care givers are caught in an odd denial attitude. Won’t go into the details beyond my being made to feel undeserving of care for the following months of treatments. The conclusion from my end is we live in a society where “feeling bad” is NOT ALLOWED. In fact it’s rude to other people’s RIGHT to be cheerful. Especially when we should know by looking at all the celebrations that so many people care and are searching-for-a-cure by dressing up funny. Shame on us for being so unappreciative:-(

    Of course this isn’t everyone out there but… Wonder if we will ever see the conversation change?

  6. There is no other disease that we do this for. No one struts around in penises and underwear or shows pictures of healthy lungs for breast cancer. We don’t show sugar cookies to support diabetes and we don’t post pictures of healthy, uneventful pregnancies to support infertility awareness.

    But somehow, it’s breasts and bam … showing off your healthy breasts is encouraged, considered a good thing, and if YOU (sitting, watching it after going through hell and back to treat your breast cancer) are offended, well then, you just need to get a sense of humor, you need to lighten up, and you need to just accept that pink is a fact.

    GRR! So frustrating. So extremely frustrating. We do this to no other disease. None. It’s disheartening. Our disease has become a punchline, an excuse to show boobs, and a reason to party. With no mention of the hell that women (or men) go through for treatment and no mention of the lives lost to this.

    1. Brandie, I think you are right. After all, no other cause gets the attention of the NFL in this way – that’s one example of many of the overdoing of pink. It is frustrating. I hear you there. GRRRRR from me too. Thank you for sharing some thoughts on this one.

    2. I couldn’t agree more about how frustrated and sad I feel when breast cancer is trivialized. All of last year I geared up and trained to walk in the Avon 39 Walk in D.C. After a couple of fundraisers with family and friends and walking a ton to prepare myself for this physical challenge I was pumped at the beginning of this walk.
      After all I spent a year of my life raising the $3500 minimum required to participate in the 39 mile walk, saved up some personal days to miss work, and flew from St. Louis to D.C. in May to join this “crusade.” Once the 3 day walk started I was irate and really pissed to witness the insensitivity that was tolerated, even encouraged, along the route. It required much self-control for me not to “go off” on the people along the route. An image that sticks in my head are the men with bras strapped to their heads riding motorcycles at several of the traffic lights as walkers were crossing through intersections. These guys were volunteers for the walk. For someone like me who had a bilateral mastectomy at age 39, opted out of reconstruction and no longer has breasts THAT’S NOT FUNNY.

  7. Nancy, thank you for your post.
    I’m not sure “Breast Cancer Awareness” helps anyone very much.
    Yes, it’s good to get regular mammograms. A mammogram probably saved my life.
    But as this article in Time magazine points out, many patients panic and are over-treated for early-stage or even “stage 0” cancer. Their lives are turned upside down by side effects from mastectomies, chemo, and radiation, when simply watching the non-invasive tumor would suffice.
    Here’s the link: http://time.com/4057310/breast-cancer-overtreatment/
    In my case, the trivialization of BC made me believe I would be a hero. I was sure I would breeze through treatment like a champ, and then pick up my life where I left off, as if I’d just had a small, inconsequential hitch in my giddyup. Sure, I’d lose my hair to chemo, but I thought that would be the worst of it.
    Instead, I had a really hard time, and I felt like a loser who was too weak to be a hero. I’m still plagued by cognitive issues and painful neuropathy three years later. I nearly lost the writing career I worked so hard to earn; the side effects of chemo made it difficult to think straight, and my memory declined so dramatically that it became hard to keep a story in my head.
    And while my reconstructive surgeon did a wonderful job, the “tatas” that appear to be so perfect are numb. I miss the real thing so much more than I thought I would!
    Then again, I’m alive, and I’m happy. Realizing that “life is short” made me stop talking and start doing. My husband and I moved to the mountains, and live a life full of nature and beauty. I see things differently now. The world is a little brighter, and my focus on the good things is a little sharper.
    I wouldn’t change anything. I had invasive breast cancer, and though my choice of a double mastectomy might have been overkill, they did find cancer in the second breast that the mammogram missed. So I felt like I did the right thing.
    But dogs in balloon bras? “Save the TaTas” bumper stickers? I know people mean well, but breast cancer isn’t funny, and it’s not a public affair.
    I appreciate the money raised for research, and I’m not that easily offended or outraged. Still, I wish people would think twice and be certain they’re not making fun of women, of breasts, or of cancer patients with their gimmicks and party favors.

    1. Well, I was asleep having had symptoms starting the prior 10 months which didn’t completely resolve. I remember hearing Jennifer Garner saying something about breast cancer awareness…and that got through to me and helped me realize I needed to get it checked out!!!

      I had not had a mammogram for 10 years…..I had been thinking of getting one of those thermogram things…..

  8. Ok…I have seen it all now. I was just on Pintrest and saw a breast cancer Christmas ornament…a glass ball, all pink and pretty, with HOPE scrawled all over it, wrapped in pink ribbons everywhere. I went through treatment at Christmas and if someone had given me this as a gift I would have given it back pronto. Sssoooo commercialized.

    That is exactly how I feel we treat breadt cancer in October…commercialized. And I hate all the morning news shows that strut women around with ta-tas in pink. Barf!

    The media makes it all sound like all you gotta do is wear pink, show up for the parade and you are headed for the cure. Cure my ass, I want to see women interviewed on TV who say breast cancer and its treatment is hell and a life changer but us lucky ones are still here.
    It’s time to tell it like it is.

    Take that PINKTOBER!

    1. Mary Ellen, Well said. I am not opposed to pink gifts, pink ribbons or whatever. What I am opposed to is trivializing a still deadly disease while demeaning women. And the over-commercialization of a deadly disease seems wrong too, of course. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  9. It is time for our culture to evolve in discussing all cancers. Time to grow up. I don’t know how many posts I’ve written about Pink, or about aspects of ALL cancer I dislike (the rah rah warrior talk, the avoidance of the word death). But I am tired.

    1. CC, I agree with you completely. I think I even have a post called, It’s Time for BCAM to Grow Up. It’s understandable you feel tired. You aren’t alone. Thank you for the comment.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

    1. 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…

    2. 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.

      1. Cathy, Oh good grief. Just when I was starting to think things were getting better. I think your perspectives are spot on. It seems we still have much work to do. Thank you for sharing about some shenanigans still going on in your area and thank you for your kind words too. November will be here before we know it!

  12. 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.

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