I am particular aware of breast cancer this year. My mother was diagnosed and treated this summer as was b's aunt. More recently a blogger buddy of mine was diagnosed and has just had surgery. In addition my research assistant is struggling to accept her mother's recent diagnosis of a brain tumor not yet five years after her treatment for breast cancer. Breast cancer is the second most common cancer among women (non-melanoma skin cancer is #1) and the second leading cause of cancer death (lung cancer is #1) for women in this country. It is the seventh leading cause of death among women. I say all of this as a caveat for everything else I'm about to say in this post. I recognize, personally and statistically, that breast cancer is an important health issue for women, yet I am anti-pink ribbon.
I'm not going to go into all of the reasons why the pink ribbon itself or campaigns such as "Save the Ta-Ta's" or "Feel Your Boobies" bothers me because there is an excellent book already written on the subject of breast cancer and cause marketing. Barbara Ehrenreich's Welcome To Cancerland also describes much of my frustration with the culture of breast cancer.
My mother, after surgery and radiation were over and life was--relatively--back to normal, was feeling very blue. The reality of living with a cancer diagnosis was just sinking in. What she was telling me reminded me of a post I had recently read, so I shared it with her. But it also made me wonder if, due to all this awareness, it has become too normalized? When I first moved down to SouthLite a colleague was diagnosed and undergoing treatment. I met many women across campus and in the community who, in discussing this woman's situation. talked about their own treatment. The manner in which they presented it sounded like it was a rite of passage. I wonder if this acceptance of breast cancer as a common event has made it easier or harder for women to process the gravity of the diagnosis?
My mother's treatment was seamlessly coordinated and she was handled with both respect and care. I am thrilled that she had that experience and I think we can thank the awareness campaign, in part, for the fact that these systems are now in place. However breast cancer also has huge disparities by race and class that are not highlighted by the awareness campaign. For instance, more White women are diagnosed with breast cancer but more Black women die from it. As I sat in the doctor's suite with my mother, I couldn't help but wonder if everyone has the same access to this type of care. This isn't a subject I hear much about in the campaign. Perhaps this could be the next step in promoting "awareness"?
As I mentioned, there are a lot of awareness campaigns out there because there are a lot of issues that need our attention. There are more campaigns than there are months, so they are forced to share. Breast cancer awareness shares the month of October with domestic violence awareness. The domestic violence awareness campaign is symbolized by a purple ribbon. Pink symbolizes femininity and Ehrenreich's piece has a lot to say on the feminization of breast cancer. What does purple symbolize? b says bruises. I prefer to think of the purple heart, but neither is a very satisfying thought.
The statistics on domestic violence are staggering. As prevalent as breast cancer is, domestic violence reaches into the lives of women and families at a far more alarming rate. One in four women experience domestic violence in their lifetime and, unlike breast cancer, the support system for treating the effects are seriously underfunded. Another blogger buddy, jo(e), has been seeing the effects play out very close to her home. These stories happen in every town but rarely get told.
While I don't think it is helpful to make social problems compete with one another and that is not my intent with this post, I do think it is important to question why we can be comfortable supporting and talking about breast cancer but not domestic violence.