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It's Breast Cancer Awareness month....

...but the pink ribbon glosses over unpalatable truths, says Liverpool author Sarah Horton

Published on October 11th 2010.


It's Breast Cancer Awareness month....

IT'S hard to escape the fact that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Do we need any more awareness? Doesn’t everyone know that breast cancer is everywhere?

When I see breast cancer charities and companies selling pink ribbon products I think it puts a gloss over the terror of breast cancer, promoting cheerfulness and acceptance in the face of this mutilating disease which now affects one in every nine women.

If the breast cancer movement aligned itself with worries about the environment, it would link the pink ribbon with anti-corporate social movements, something the pink brigade don't seem to want to do

And as far as I can see, it seems to be breast cancer month all year round, making the need for this October “festival” almost redundant.

There is always a fundraising event going on for breast cancer, usually a load of women in pink, cheerfully and bravely doing their bit to “beat” the disease. And yet, the disease statistics continue to rise. Awareness on its own is simply not enough.

When I was diagnosed, everyone I spoke to knew someone who’d had a breast cancer experience. And mostly their response was not shock, no, it was just a sympathetic nod. Oh, so it’s my turn now is it?

And during breast cancer awareness month we’re told that a “cure” is just around the corner. So, how does that make me feel? Well, I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007, aged 43, and I will never hear that word spoken to me by any of my doctors – “cure”. Because we can’t cure breast cancer. Even successfully treated, it will carry the chance of recurrence, forever.

Breast cancer continues to be simplistically portrayed by the media. In fact this disease is a range of different types of cancers, all with diverse characteristics and treatments, It would therefore need several different cures – not one catch-all, nice and simple “cure for cancer”.

The media portrays breast cancer as a treatable disease. But the reality of treatment is far from pleasant. I’ve has six surgeries, at the hands of my brilliant NHS doctors, including mastectomy, oophorectomy and breast reconstruction, and spent hours of my life in hospital, and my treatment is still not finished.

I have been terrified, feared my own death, an early death. I have felt ill and exhausted and mentally drained. All of this, and felt like three years of my life has been lost, lost to this disease. Breast cancer kicked a hole in my life that’s so big I can’t see the edge.

That’s why I would much rather stop the disease happening in the first place. Put the focus on prevention. Because if we don’t, and if breast cancer incidence continues to rise, as it has done for the last 60 years, then it’s going to be even more common. That’s not the future I want for our daughters and granddaughters, our sisters and mothers.

There are now clear arguments about the causes of breast cancer, pointing to suspicions about carcinogens in the environment, food, alcohol and cosmetics.

Other writers have suggested that if the breast cancer movement aligned itself with worries about the environment, it would link the pink ribbon with anti-corporate social movements, something the pink brigade don’t seem to want to do. The cheerful pink gloss is covering up the reality of this killer disease.

After diagnosis I felt I was on a conveyor belt, just being processed as yet another one of the 46,000 women in the UK who are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. I fiercely resisted the ‘accepted route’ which tried to ensure my experience of the disease was feminine and palatable. I felt rage. I felt anger. And yet it did not seem that being angry was supposed to be OK. Anger should have an important place within breast cancer culture.

If we get angry then maybe we’ll finally get a breast cancer movement where there is real pressure to look for the causes of and prevent this disease.

Being Sarah by Sarah Horton, documents the Liverpool author's struggle to find choice and control over her treatment. It is published by Wordscapes (£8.99, 271pp) on 7 October 2010 and is available at www.beingsarah.com or to order from bookshops.

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AnonymousOctober 7th 2010.

when I first read this I i could not believe their was such a hidden history to the pretty pink ribbon, I along with many freinds have taken part in events sponsored by this motif with every good intention, the events are emotional for god reason but I cant help feeling they should not be full of glitter and feathers anymore but if all thos voices united we could make an angry difference to prevnting this vile disease. I have lost both an aunt and step mother to this disease in the last 5 years. Aside from this Sarah's story is remarkable...unbelievable in fact, everyone should read this and see things from another persepective....Good luck Sarah....

Fiona ShawOctober 8th 2010.

Wasn't Breast Cancer Awareness Month founded by AstraZeneca? The same AstraZeneca that makes breast cancer drugs Arimidex and Tamoxifen? And therefore presumably makes a shedload of money from Breast Cancer Awareness Month?

Sceptic with a small cOctober 18th 2010.

Excellent piece. I have long thought that the gushing product placement for breast cancer awareness was deeply cynical and rather distasteful while addressing nothing or nobody except the glossy displays in lingerie shops, Boots, and beauty and fashion editors' make up bags and wardrobes.

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