This article appeared in the December issue of one of our local magazines, The Journal. It's about a local middle school's efforts to raise funds for a local breast cancer organization, Breast Intentions, that provides financial assistance to women in need who are going through breast cancer. In fact, the charity they support was founded four years ago by two local fifteen year old high school students, an admirable accomplishment indeed as well as a worthy cause. It seems clear that the purpose of this story was to congratulate these middle-schoolers on their fundraising accomplishments, as well as supporting the good work of the beneficiary charity.
And for most readers, the feel good story would stop there. Well done kids!
But, of course, I see things a little differently.
Middle-school involvement in the pink breast cancer movement, be it fundraising events like this, education programs within the schools, pink ribbon decorations, flags and signs, or indeed civil liberty legal actions to preserve students' First Amendment rights to wear "I (heart) Boobies" bracelets, certainly seems to be increasing, as does the associated media coverage. Rather than making me feel good, it's making me a little queasy and rather uneasy.
Firstly, I'm uncomfortable that breast cancer, the disease, has been elevated by slick marketing to a status that screams to the general public that it is far more important than other major killers of women, like heart disease or lung and other cancers. (See http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/lcod.htm)
And in reading this article I couldn't help thinking about all the kids, who took part in the pink parade in their tie dyed pink shirts, and whose parent or other significant person, was at home suffering from some other kind of cancer or catastrophic illness. How did these kids feel about all the attention (and money) being paid to breast cancer? Did they have a voice? Were they able to express their feelings of discontent and frustration? Did they even think about it? I really wonder. Do the schools have fundraising events and parades of this scale for other Health Observances? What kind of message are we really sending to these middle schoolers? That breast cancer is the only disease that matters?
In my limited research of this topic, I came across several charitable organizations that offer education programs for adoption by both middle and high schools. Here's an example of one program offered to Wisconsin schools by an organization called the Breast Cancer Family Foundation.
This particular organization educates young people on the premise of "proven risk-reduction strategies" that apparently may prevent many types of cancer, "not only breast cancer". The program, specifically aimed at breast and testicular cancers, focuses on "self-examination, diet and lifestyle".
Whilst I can certainly see merit in encouraging kids to maintain a healthy lifestyle for all manner of reasons and to be aware of their own bodies, but to suggest that these are proven ways to prevent breast cancer is just not evidence-based. The point being that we still don't really know exactly what causes breast or other cancers.
I'd make the same point about self-examination and early detection. These are methods of cancer diagnosis. They don't prevent or cure cancer or categorically save lives. So why are we pushing breast cancer education curriculums that have little scientific basis to school kids? Where's the value in that, other than perpetuating the cycle of misinformation all in the name of pink breast cancer awareness?
|For the horsey girl in your life|
On another note, in the U.S. there's an ever present debate about the extent to which there should be a mingling of church and state, particularly within the public school system. Readers, I put it to you that now we have the mingling of breast and state within schools, for better or worse. Whilst I applaud any school's efforts to encourage altruism within their student body, and I fully support including cancer as a topic within any health education curriculum, I'm uncomfortable with schools' elevating breast cancer to this pink extent. As Ronnie Hughes of the Being Sarah blog, so eloquently put it;
"Pink's not wrong. It's just not right enough."
And that's the problem.
So what do we want middle school kids to know about breast cancer, or cancer in general? What do they need to know?
Is it right to popularize breast cancer over other cancers and diseases within the public school system with events like the one in the article?
Is this even an issue?
Please comment, I'd love to hear your thoughts.