Friday, June 5, 2009

What Am I ?

In an earlier post, I mentioned the issue of identity within the cancer culture, something which seems particularly significant within the so-called breast cancer community.  Since my original diagnosis I have struggled to maintain and shape my identity within the breast-cancer realm.  On the one hand, I feel angry that I have to some extent lost the identity of the person I was before diagnosis but on the other hand I continue to struggle to determine my identity now. Mostly, I just feel like an ordinary normal person dealing with extraordinary circumstances the best way I know how. But the cancer culture that I inhabit seems to want to constantly label and identify me in a way that just doesn't seem to fit me as an individual.  

The breast cancer community has  adopted it's own vernacular, for which the usage of certain words appear to seek to make the disease more palatable  and marketable as a cause to the rest of the world.  Pink has also become the color of choice to symbolize the cause and underpin the (mostly) feminine nature of the disease.  Too bad if you're a man with breast cancer I guess.   At this point,  I don't really wish to engage in a debate on the for's and against of the apparent commercialization of the breast-cancer cause,  except to say that there are certainly aspects which I find quite disturbing as an unwilling bystander in the circus of Pink. (Further reading on this particular subject is listed below).

The well-known activist author, Barbara Ehrenreich, wrote an extremely enlightened and honest article for Harper's Magazine in 2001, entitled "Welcome to Cancerland".  In this article, she points out that there is no single noun to describe a woman with breast cancer.  She is either a patient, a victim, or a survivor.  She also never suffersstruggles or endures but instead bravely battles or  fights with the disease and then emerges a victorious soldier worthy of donning the esteemed mantle of survivor to proudly display to the world at a dizzying array of pink-colored events.  Other cursed women become sisters, part of a larger sisterhood who are inherently expected to provide unending support and impart wisdom and hope to the latest additions to the sisterhood.  As Ms Ehrenreich points out: 
"it is the survivors who merit constant honor and acclaim.  They, after all, offer living proof that expensive and painful treatments may in some cases actually work."

Well what about the rest of us ?  Those of us who live with cancer everyday because current treatment protocols simply aren't curative. Where do we fit into all the pink hoopla and pageantry ?  If we are not survivors then what are we ?  Are we  failuresdisappointments, inadequate letdowns, useless , etc ?  

I don't really have an answer to this question but I do know that I just don't identify with the pink ra-ra chanting sisterhood of survivors which the rest of the world seems to want so desperately for me to be a part of.  It's not okay that I have cancer.   Having this thing in me doesn't make me a hero and I don't wish to be cast as an inspiration to anyone.  And most of all,  it certainly isn't cool or glamorous in any way shape or form and I don't wish to adorn myself, my house, my neighborhood, or my office in tacky, sappy, syrupy pink merchandise.   It sucks and I'm angry and pissed off about it but this doesn't mean that I need to find solace in the arms of a well meaning support group or counsellor.  I just want to get on with it and I don't want to do it wearing a pink t-shirt emblazoned with the word "Survivor".  

Further reading:

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