Ten Breast Cancer Advocacy Quotes to Love – Which One Is Your Favorite?

For a change of pace, I thought it’d be fun, and hopefully inspiring, to share ten of my favorite breast cancer advocacy quotes. I hope you’ll let me know which one is your favorite, share a different one you love or share some words of wisdom of your own. (You know you have some!) Just comment at the end of the post.

Now, let’s get to some of those inspiring words from some amazing activists!

I’ll start with two of my favorites – both from the late activist, Barbara Brenner.

Brenner was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1993. She died from complications of ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a progressive neuro-degenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord) in 2013. She was 61. Learn more about Barbara and read my review of So Much to Be Done:  The Writings of Breast Cancer Activist Barbara Brenner.

Being an activist is not for the faint of heart.

No kidding!

Another quote of Brenner’s that’s incredibly succinct and powerful (I’ve shared it in several posts) is this one:

If breast cancer could be cured by shopping, it would be cured by now.

Amen, right?

I love the following and unfortunately, I don’t know who first said it. I first heard it at a Living Beyond Breast Cancer event I attended a few years back, so it might be from one of the doctor speakers there. Important words with an important message for patients, especially those with metastatic disease:

Patients do not fail treatments. Treatments fail patients.

(If you know who first said this, let me know so I can give proper credit.)

I like this next one from my friend Gayle Sulik, author of Pink Ribbon Blues, so much I concluded my memoir with it. It’s powerful and so true. I love it.

Cancer is not a ribbon, a screening test, or a leisure activity. It is not a sassy t-shirt, a proclamation of survivorship or a gift worth giving. It is a disease process that ignites what is all too often a cycle of medical surveillance and interventions. For too many, it will be the eventual cause of death.They deserve better than this, and so do we.

Audre Lorde, writer, feminist, poet, activist and author of the Cancer Journals, offered many gems of wisdom in her writings. Lorde was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1978. She died from liver cancer in 1992. (I’m not sure if her breast cancer metastasized or if it was a new primary.) My favorite gem is this one:

Your silence will not protect you.

10 Breast Cancer Advocacy Quotes to Love, Which One Is Your Favorite? #breastcancer #breastcancerawareness #pintober #inspiration

So simple and yet, so powerful. I included it at the beginning of my memoir because it’s so meaningful to me. And not just regarding breast cancer activism.

Another Lorde quote I appreciate is the one below. Lorde was miffed after being chastised by a nurse for not wearing her prosthesis when arriving for a doctor appointment. Somehow by not doing that, she was undermining morale, according to that nurse anyway. Can you believe it? Shocking, not to mention darn-right insensitive, cruel even. Perhaps her experience with that nurse was behind the words below, or the ones above, for that matter.

If we are to translate the silence surrounding breast cancer into language and action against this scourge, then the first step is that women with mastectomies must become visible to one another. For silence and invisibility go hand in hand with powerlessness.

I simply MUST include the following words of wisdom about the normalization of breast cancer from Barbara Ehrenreich:

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.

And yet another favorite quote from Ehrenreich is this one below about forced positivity – a topic that you likely know by now is one of my hot-button topics. Ugh!

Positive thinking seems to be mandatory in the breast cancer world, to the point of where unhappiness requires a kind of apology…

If you haven’t read Ehrenreich’s book, Bright Sided:  How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America, I highly recommend that you do. Only one chapter is devoted to breast cancer. Not surprisingly, it’s my favorite one.

I’m not entirely sure who first said the words below, but Barbara Brenner says them in the movie documentary, Pink Ribbon, Inc. – a powerful film, if you haven’t seen it.

When ordinary people do a simple thing, it changes the world.

Pretty darn inspiring, right?

I love these words from my friend and fellow blogger, Lisa Valentine. Lisa blogs at Habitual Gratitude. Do check it out. She also wrote one of my favorite posts on the blog, The Sum of All My Parts. I love it. If you haven’t read it, you will too. This quote is from that post:

The sum of my parts makes me whole. I don’t feel less of a woman without breasts, just a woman less her breasts.

Profound. Beautiful. And so true. Thank you, Lisa.

I hope you enjoyed this post and the quotes from some amazing women.

I’ll wrap it up with a few words of my own, for whatever they’re worth:

Cancer was not a gift and it didn’t make me a better person. It’s a horrible disease not an enlightenment program.

Now it’s YOUR turn!

Which one is your favorite quote and why?

Do you have a quote that’s meaningful to you that you’d like to share?

What words of wisdom would YOU like to share? Again, you know you have some!

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Cancer was not a gift & it didn't make me a better person. It's a horrible disease not and enlightenment program. #breastcancer #breastcancerawareness #inspiration #advocacy #pinktober

21 thoughts to “Ten Breast Cancer Advocacy Quotes to Love – Which One Is Your Favorite?”

  1. Hi Nancy,
    I feel so much pressure is put on the cancer patient to somehow will themselves better which is why I like the saying “Patients don’t fail treatments, treatments fail patients”. I dislike when people are described as they “lost their battle with cancer”, as if they didn’t fight hard enough. I understand a lot of this is just sensitivity to words but it can many times gives the wrong message to the one who is suffering with cancer and not helpful. I was so afraid of how people would judge how I handled my breast cancer diagnois and treatment as though there was a scale to measure it by or a test to pass.
    Anyway, I hope all is well with you.

    1. Roberta, It’s sad when added pressure is put on a cancer patient to “do” cancer a certain way. I’m sorry you’ve felt judged about how you handle your experience. That’s just not right. Keep doing things your way. I hope all is well with you, too, and thank you for reading and taking time to comment.

  2. Your quote at the very end is my favorite. Cancer was not a gift, I didn’t want it, and it has NOT made me a better person. It eroded by self esteem for a while and I had to pull out all the resiliency that I have (in spades, thank God). so when I first read your quote,it sent me to this website and your book. Thank you. Another favorite of mine is a bumper sticker that said Fuck Cancer. Exactly. It’s how I feel.

    1. Linda, Thank you for choosing mine as your favorite, and I definitely hear you regarding eroded self esteem. I like that bumper sticker statement too. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Well, silence will not protect you leads me into positive thinking seems to be mandatory. … . So many times i wished i had stood up better for myself when someone would make an unsenitive remark. I was often blindsided and not feeling brave or strong enough to think of a better response. Such as, ” You don’t need your breasts anymore, they’ve already done their job”. I would just sit there stunned. Today I would say,” How dare you tell me which body parts I need and don’t need!” And even now when I take control of a conversation, some see me as being a downer and somewhat negative when i answer honestly and don’t become a cheerleader and queen of pinktober. So i guess I’ve become a bit reclusive and I know that if my cancer returns I will be more selective about who I tell and what I say.

    1. Donna, I have wished I had stood up better for myself too, so you’re certainly not alone there. Gosh, I can’t believe someone would make such a crass, insensitive comment to you. I bet you were stunned! And yes, I’ve been told I’m too negative and too much of a downer too. Just this week in fact when someone unsubscribed from my newsletter. Oh well. Can’t please everyone. I will never succumb to sugarcoating what is a horrible disease. Thank you for sharing. And I love that BE quote too.

  4. I’m not sure I saw the word “journey” in those quotes, but it’s one I avoid using. Cancer isn’t a journey for me, and I cannot journey my way out of it. It’s a nightmare, from which I will wake up!

    1. Maggie, I’m not a fan of the journey concept regarding cancer either. If it works for others, that’s fine. I always call it my bc experience rather than journey. Thank you for sharing.

  5. My favorite…”If cancer is a gift I’d like to know where to return it for a refund”. Don’t know who originally said it but I heard it when I was going thru treatment.

  6. It was Barbara Brenner to say “Patients do not fail treatments. Treatments fail patients.” in the early 2000s at San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. This is what she said in an interview with Zalya A. Pluss for Smith College conducted in 2012:
    “One year, at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, a presenter said twice during his talk something about patients failing treatments. But patients don’t fail treatments, treatments fail patients. I got to the mike and said that to a scattering of applause. The presenter, whose first language was not English, asked me to repeat it so I did. What was astonishing afterward was that my comment was a topic for discussion for the next 24 hours. Some of the advocates thought I was being rude. Please.”
    The episode is also mentioned in the obituary that New York Times published after her death in 2013:

    1. Grazia, Thank you for sharing who first said that. Not surprising it was Barbara Brenner. She is missed, but her legacy and words live on.

  7. Hi Nancy , All those quotes resonate so much. I really liked the quote from Barbara Ehrenreich on the normalisation of cancer and it being considered a near rite of passage. Unfortunately that may be true for those who are lucky enough to be healthy but when it knocks on your door, it becomes an entirely different reality.
    Best wishes

    1. Catherine, Ehrenreich’s words really speak to me too. I love how she called out the pink bullshit and didn’t mince words doing it. And yes, that entirely different reality – no kidding. Thank you for reading and commenting too.

  8. Thanks for this blog cancer is an expérience of dis empowerment and confrontation of abondance.. after jour treatments you would need To overcome and is encounter with the face of death and the traces on your body but everyone is expecting you to reload as if nothing happened… but the meaning of your life is what needs repair now.

  9. Once I was over the shock of a Stage 4 breast cancer diagnosis, I decided to make the best of every day I was blessed with. My new mantra became, “If you can’t put more years into your life, put more life into your years.” I came up with this notion during the writing of my 1st book, ‘Metastatic Madness’.

  10. Nancy, I sure appreciated reading this post again, and the mention of my words. They are words I am really proud of and I remember how healing it was for me to arrive at them 2-3 years after my active treatment and surgeries.
    I love the other quotes you selected to include, and especially am reminded of the wonderful work done by Barbara Brenner with Breast Cancer Action. To be on a list with Brenner, Gayle Sulik, Audre Lorde, and Barbara Ehrenreich is an honor. Thank you!

    1. Lisa, You’re welcome. I love those words of yours, and I love that guest post you wrote. Your words belong on that list of great quotes! Thank you for reading and taking time to comment. Hope you are staying safe and well.

  11. Nancy, Thanks for a great site . I think the quote about positivity resonated with me. After 8 years dealing (no, not thriving) with cancer I tried to join support groups and was shocked to learn that metastatic bc patients were not welcome in groups for early stagers, “survivors “ or rehab programs. I was told flat out that it might frighten early stagers to hear what we go through. I get that actually— It’s appealing to think that you have successfully “battled and won” and you can now get back to your life . But my perspective is different now, and I wish there was a way to unite previvors, survivors and- well, the rest of us.

    Recently started a new treatment and my tumor markers dropped. Can’t tell you how many people said— well done! Much appreciated but when (not if) this 7 th line of treatment fails me— that’s when I could use the pat on the back and maybe a shoulder to cry on. At a safe social distance I guess…

    1. Amy, I am sorry a support group made you feel unwelcome. That sort of thing drives me crazy! I mean, come on. Support groups should be supporting all of us. Doing anything else is completely unacceptable. We have to be united. We just have to be. And yeah, those comments. Don’t be afraid to say what you said here to those people – if you feel like it, of course. Thank you for sharing your important insights. May your 7th line of treatment keep working for a long, long time.

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