Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Dark Side of Pink Awareness

Breast Cancer Action, a grassroots advocacy organization dedicated to telling the truth about the breast cancer epidemic, run an excellent campaign called Think Before You Pink™;

Think Before You Pink™, a project of Breast Cancer Action, launched in 2002 in response to the growing concern about the number of pink ribbon products on the market. The campaign calls for more transparency and accountability by companies that take part in breast cancer fundraising, and encourages consumers to ask critical questions about pink ribbon promotions.

I am honored to be this week's featured guest blogger at the Think Before You Pink blog project, and I invite you to read my essay, "The Dark Side of Pink Awareness".

If you're not familiar with the work of Breast Cancer Action, I urge you to take a few moments to explore their website and familiarize yourself with their projects and campaigns.

If you're interested in making a donation to this highly effective organization, please click here.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Language of Breast (Cancer)

I've been reading a lot of things lately that make me want to run into the street, take all my clothes off, scream like a banshee, and then poke my eyeballs out with hot needles.

Here's a sample from a commenter at Uneasy Pink's blog;

The scream of the Banshee
"I'm sorry you find the words "boobies" and "ta-ta's" offensive but you know what? What you find offensive doesn't matter to me. That's your hang-up to get over... not mine or anybody else's. I have found that women who have had mastectomies are hyper-sensitive about the fact anyway (understandably so, by the way!!).... and have a hard time when anybody makes references to breasts that they themselves don't have anymore. That's understandable & I sympathize... but unfortunately that's another hang-up to get over or be consumed by it."


Get over it?

How does one respond to this kind of thinking?  Well,  others have done a much better job than I ever could in explaining how they feel about their breast cancer experience.  Molly Ivins, noted journalist, humorist and author, in a 2002 Time Magazine article famously said;

Having breast cancer is massive amounts of no fun. First they mutilate you; then they poison you; then they burn you. I have been on blind dates better than that.
Molly passed away from Stage IV breast cancer in 2007.  If she could send us a message from the grave I'm sure she would add to the above quote and say something like;

......Then on top of all that NOT having fun, the cancer goes and kills you. 

And perhaps in response to our apparent inability to "get over it" or deal with our breast cancer "hangups", which seems to imply that some of us don't have the kind of attitude that engenders positivity or indeed a sense of lightness and  fun,  Molly might have quipped as she does in the same article;

I suspect that cancer doesn't give a rat's ass whether you have a positive mental attitude. It just sits in there multiplying away, whether you are admirably stoic or weeping and wailing. The only reason to have a positive mental attitude is that it makes life better. It doesn't cure cancer.

If you've been following the current "boobies" debate in the breast cancer blogosphere,  proponents of using sexualized slang in the context of breast cancer will tell you that it's a way of making a serious situation lighter, more palatable and makes people feel more comfortable in talking about breast cancer.    That's nice, but as The Accidental Amazon points out in her latest post;

Knockers.  The Girls.  Cupcakes.  Muffins.  Tits.  Titties.  Melons.  Rack.  Bags.  Milk pails.  Tatas. Boobs.  Boobies.  Jugs.
Do these words tell you anything about the reality of breast cancer?  Me either.
Nor do they tell you anything about women.  What they do tell you about is how our culture labels women.  At best, what they tell me is that humans are fond of jokes, slang and euphemisms, and at worst, that humans are also prone to slurs, innuendo and objectification when they are afraid or hateful or ignorant.

But this idea of using humor to mask the seriousness of some aspect of breast cancer, for whatever reason, is not new.   I learned this as I was reading Siddhartha Mukherjee's tome, The Emperor of All Maladies.

And this one really boggled my mind.

The disfiguring effects of Halstead's
radical mastectomy
In the 1920's a young surgeon named Geoffrey Keynes posited the idea that certain breast cancers could be treated by more conservative surgery and radiation therapy, rather than the wildly popular radical mastectomy pioneered by William Halstead in the late 19th century,  in which at a minimum, the breast, chest muscles, and all of the lymph nodes under the arm are removed.

Halstead's radical mastectomy was a grueling operation lasting six to eight hours and left patients extremely disfigured and debilitated as a result,  It could also involve removal of ribs, cracking and excavation of clavicles all in the mistaken belief that breast cancers emanated and spread from the breast in a centrifugal pattern.

According to Keynes, a more local surgery to the breast could achieve the same outcomes as the radical mastectomy and save many women from the terrible after-effects of Halstead's operation.  In questioning the  surgical status-quo, Keynes also challenged the notion that breast cancer spread in a centrifugal pattern.

So how did Halstead's followers respond? Rather than listening to Keynes theories and using his evidence to extrapolate and expound on his techniques, they instead chose to use language to trivilialize and denigrate Keynes' ideas.  Mukherjee writes;
"They retaliated by giving his operation a nickname: the lumpectomy.  The name was like a low-minded joke, a cartoon surgery in which a white-coated doctor pulls out a body part and calls it a 'lump' ".  Keyne's theory and operation were largely ignored by American surgeons..........his challenge to radical surgery was quietly buried."

After  fierce and sustained resistance from the entrenched Halsteadian beliefs of the medical fraternity, it wasn't until the 1970's - some forty years after Keynes had first hit upon the idea - for the lumpectomy to be regularly considered in the surgical treatment of certain breast cancers.

Illustration of one type of

Why? If we are to believe Mukherjee's historical account, then we can only surmise that the Halsteadian followers' resistance to clinical challenge, and the resulting institutionalized trivialization of Keyne's treatment theory by the use of jokes and euphemism, was the cause for this long delay in finally changing the breast cancer treatment status quo.

Too bad that the butts of this particular joke, uttered in the context of breast cancer, were the hundreds of thousands of women who were subjected to the horrors of the radical mastectomy in the time before lumpectomies, and less invasive forms of mastectomy became standard forms of treatment.

Interesting isn't it?  That one little joke could stagnate real progress in the treatment of breast cancer, for decades.

All because someone dared to question the breast cancer status quo.

Could a society hung-up on using fun "boobie-like" language to describe and sell the breast cancer cause,  end up ultimately forgetting about the seriousness of this disease? Forget the fact that so little progress has been made in stemming the number of deaths from this disease?  Forget about the need to continually question and recalibrate the messages in order to move the fight forward? Will the public simply grow weary of boobie fads and move onto the next fun cause du jour? Then where will we be?

In a 2001 article discussing the work of one of the first breast cancer activists, Rose Kushner, Barron Lerner M.D. writes;
"It will be the challenge of modern breast cancer activists to continually scrutinize their strategies and, when necessary, question dogma, as Kushner did so successfully."
I am one person who is prepared to keep questioning dogma.

I will never "get over it".

And as to my "hang-ups"? Only about breast cancer. For me, a truly frightening reality.

Do you see me laughing now?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Outer Limits

As you all know I am the creator and curator of the infamous "Pink Boob Awards Gallery", where I archive the most heinous and downright ludicrous examples of pink ribbon and breast cancer awareness stuff.

Now before I am accused of blatant hypocrisy in light of the current "boobies" debate, I use the term "boob" in my British English mother tongue as a colloquial descriptor of a serious mistake or blunder.  The double entendre as slang for breast is completely intentional and is used to highlight the lunacy and deep irony of many aspects of the pink ribbon culture which I am confronted with on an almost daily basis.

In my never-ending quest to collect examples to showcase in the Gallery there are certain items which I consider to be "holy grails". The most extreme and hard-to-find-or-imagine examples.  Those which cause the mind to terminally boggle in such a way that could only be cured by an immediate lobotomy.

There is one item on my holy grail list, which I periodically search for, really hoping that I will never find, but knowing deep down that indeed I will find it one day.

Friends, today is that day.  Upon finding this item I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, and I hesitated in bringing it your attention.  But ultimately this blogs theme is breast cancer and the ubiquitous culture that we find ourselves involuntarily entrenched in, so I decided it was important to let you be the judge.

I want to be clear, that I am not judging the woman who is at the center of this very sad story.  This was her choice and I respect that.  I also want to warn that some readers may find this story and related imagery upsetting.

But this is where we are.  Pink ribbon culture has now invaded and gone beyond the outer limits of what I could ever have imagined.

So take a look, and if you are so inclined, please share your reactions.

Click here for the story.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

I DON'T Love Boobies

In breaking breast cancerish news,  Judge Rules 'I Heart Boobies' Bracelets Are OK For Students To Wear, as reported by the Huffington Post.

"Boobies" has been a hot topic in the breast cancer blogosphere of late, and if you need to catch up with the discussion from my vantage point take a look at "Boobies". I said it. Now, May I Have Your Attention Please?" by Gayle Sulik.

Upon reading the Huffington Post article this morning, I felt my blood pressure rising, and the deep need to go and add my two-cents worth to the discussion.  I also posted on my Facebook page and asked my posse' to join me in my disruptive action.  Uneasy Pink and others heeded the call, and so we went to work trying to drill some sense into the debate.  The comment thread is worth a read if you have the time.

Of course we got the usual responses to our comments:

"Lighten up"

"Why are you so bitter over this?"

"I Love Boobies" 

"Very serious situations are often made light via jokes.  It's not an attempt to belittle the situation, but rather a way to ease the pressure"

"Using the word boobies, which obviously jostles the sticks in some people's mud"

As I tried to explain in varying language forms:

I guess the word "boobies" when used in the context of BREAST CANCER does "jostle the stick in my mud".....especially since both my "boobies" were surgically removed along with my "Babymaker " all by time I was 37...... all because my "boobies" are now killing me at the ripe old age of 40. 

But I soon realized that my rational arguments were not being heard by the boobie-obsessed majority so today I have decided to take an attitude of "if you can't beat 'em join 'em".  I have an idea that I hope you will all share with your communities.

Since we're all so comfortable with the term "boobies" as a way of  "raising Awareness", "easing the pressure" and "using humor"  in talking about a deadly illness I propose the following adjustments to  The Cancer Dictionary:

  • Breast Cancer = BOOBIE Cancer
  • Ovarian Cancer = HIGHBALLS Cancer
  • Uterine Cancer = BABYMAKER Cancer
  • Testicular Cancer = BALL Cancer
  • Scrotal Cancer = NUTSACK Cancer
  • Penile Cancer = DICK Cancer
  • Anal Cancer = BUNGHOLE Cancer
  • Rectal Cancer = POOPCHUTE Cancer
  • Colon Cancer= POOPMAKER Cancer
  • Bladder Cancer= PISSER Cancer
  • Vaginal Cancers = I can't decide whether I like PUSSY Cancer or just plain CUNT Cancer

Is anyone offended now?

Because I'm seeing HUGE fundraising $$$$ if we can all get on board with my proposals.

And I know the kids are going to go ape for the "I Love PoopChutes" bracelets.

As for the schools?  Well not so much, but praise the Lord for our First Amendment rights to free speech.  And so long as the kids are happy, right?  And the retailers.

Monday, April 11, 2011

New website: KomenWatch

There's an exciting new website doing the rounds of the breast cancer blogosphere: KomenWatch.

I received a press release late last week, and was going to blog about it in more detail after my review, but Katie at Uneasy Pink beat me to it.

Read Katie's post "KomenWatch" which I think articulates very well why this website is going to be one to watch.  I really couldn't have said it better myself!

In my humble opinion,  the website looks to be a fantastic resource for Komen-related discourse and contains an archive of many critical articles written about Komen since the early 1990's, including my "Komen By The Numbers" series!  I particularly like the "Agenda for the Future" section which lays out a vision for what the breast cancer advocacy movement should look like in a perfect world,  and what Komen could do to align itself with that vision.

It's good to know that there are many other people asking questions of the Komen organization, and let's just hope that someone at Komen is listening and taking notes.

Check it out when you get a moment, and be sure to read the opening blog post on the home page,  "What We Still Don't See".  Brilliant!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

"Good News"

I just got back from a post-operative follow-up with my newly acquired thoracic surgeon, who shall be forever known as Dr Cuteness.  The man looks like he literally stepped off the Grey's Anatomy set, or the cover of Cute Doctors Monthly.

Even my beloved seems to have developed a deep DoctorManCrush on the guy, even going so far as to Googlestalk him to see what he earned, his career history, where he was born, whether he was married, social security details, type of car he drove, all in the vain and pathetically desperate hope we might somehow be able to engineer a new friendship with him.   That's not weird is it?

But let's get back to business.

Good news!  I survived a major pericardial effusion,  the likes of which Dr Cuteness seems to think is some kind of medical miracle.  In his words, "I don't know how you're not dead". Because you saved my life Dr Cuteness.

Even better news! The major pericardial effusion was not caused by malignancy!

Probably some kind of infection, given the speed at which it took hold, but who really knows?

And that's the crazy world of cancer.  Where a suspected infection of the heart is GOOD news.

The kind of news that makes you want to break open a bottle of bubbly, go spend a lot of money on something really frivolous, go skydiving or bungee jumping, kiss your enemies, dance through the woods all Disney-like, frolic on a white sandy beach somewhere warm and tropical, get another dog,  count your blessings and find religion, give away all your worldly possessions to go live in that dream off-the-grid cabin on the side of a mountain somewhere, get that vintage Red Karmann Ghia, shout to the world your joy to be alive.

But wait, the BAD NEWS is you still have Stage IV breast cancer.

To hell with it.  Maybe I'll just do all that stuff anyway.