The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Breast Cancer Awareness

If you have ever seen a bunch of women posting Facebook statuses with a random color, or a location where they “like it,” and felt a mix of confusion and frustration, you are not alone.

These memes are part of an effort for breast cancer “awareness,” a word that I use cynically here and only in quotation marks. The color meme referred to women’s bra color, and the location one referred to where they like to put their purses. Of course, they made it sound sexual to attract more attention: “X likes it by the bed”, “Y likes it in the closet,” etc.

Now, an acquiantance of mine (who also happens to be the Director of Health Promotion and Wellness at Northwestern University, and therefore isn’t entirely ignorant about these things) has reported that this stupid trend still has not died.

Perhaps even less sensically, the latest iteration of this meme is people posting stuff like “is going to New York for five months” or “is going to Las Vegas for twelve months,” and this, too, is supposed to elicit friends’ queries and be met with the response that it’s for breast cancer “awareness.”

As anyone with even a modicum of critical thinking skills can tell you, such a status, when finally deciphered, tells you exactly one thing: “There is a thing called breast cancer and you should know about it.”

Yes, yes there is. But could we finally get beyond that?

For instance, here are some actual facts about breast cancer:

If you’d like to do some actual good, why not spread this information around?

Besides that, here are some other ways you can help:

  • Volunteer to provide support for people battling breast cancer. (This is even easier if you know of such a person. You can help by driving them to doctor’s appointments, making them meals if they’re too tired, babysitting their kids, or just being there to listen.)
  • Donate to charities that provide such support, or to organizations that fund research on breast cancer. Here are some to get your started: Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the National Breast Cancer Foundation, and the National Breast Cancer Coalition. With a quick Google search, you could find local charities, charities that cater towards a particular demographic that you belong to, and so on.
  • If you want to go beyond simply giving money, participate in charities’ fundraising events, such as Susan G. Komen’s Race for the Cure. That way you get to raise money while meeting other people who care and physically showing your support for survivors and people battling breast cancer.
  • If you’re politically liberal, be an activist for government initiatives that fund cancer research, education initiatives, support for cancer patients, expanded insurance coverage, etc. One good place to start: ask your representative to support H.R. 3067, the Accelerating the End of Breast Cancer Act of 2011, which proposes an initiative to end breast cancer by 2020.
  • If you’re studying medicine or biomedical engineering, consider making cancer research your focus. Or work as a research assistant in a lab that studies cancer.
  • Buy products from companies that donate to breast cancer research (but beware of pinkwashing).
  • Similarly, if you happen to own a business or want to start one (and I know many of you Northwestern students do), consider donating a percentage of your profits to breast cancer research.
  • If you’re going into journalism and you’re interested in health, consider writing about breast cancer. Not everyone has enough knowledge to decipher academic articles; you can be the one who makes that information accessible to those who need it.

As you can see, some of these require your time and money. Others do not. The few seconds that it takes you to type your stupid status could be better spent posting a link to an important recent article about breast cancer.

And now, I get it. Cancer is a terrifying thing. The amount of information available about it could fill books upon books, and some of it is constantly going obsolete or being revised. Even I felt a bit overwhelmed just looking at the few websites I looked at to research this article.
I also get that when your friends are posting oh-so-funny things on Facebook, you want to join in the fun. Trust me, I was in middle school once, I know.

But I have some unfortunate news for some of you: neither I, nor breast cancer survivors, nor families of breast cancer victims give a flying fuck what color your bra is or where you like to put your purse, cutesy sexual innuendo notwithstanding.

If you’re old enough to make sexual innuendo, you’re old enough to educate yourself and others about breast cancer (and, for that matter, anything else you think people should be educated about). Let’s stop selling ourselves short here.

*edit* Another reason I just thought of to hate these memes–they are generally restricted to women only, and women aren’t “supposed” to tell men what they mean, thus constructing breast cancer as a “girl thing.” Not only do men witness their friends, girlfriends, wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, etc. fighting breast cancer, but some men actually get breast cancer, so it’s not only a women’s problem.

Anyway, there is enough of a stigma placed on men who get breast cancer without its promotion through this meme.

Update (2/2/2012): In case anyone’s going through my archives and reading old posts, let it be known that I officially withdraw my support for the Susan G. Komen Foundation in light of its defunding of Planned Parenthood.

14 thoughts on “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Breast Cancer Awareness

  1. Thank you. I am so tired of “Breast Cancer Awareness” emphasis being placed on bras, boobies, and “ta-tas”. Yes, it is cancer of the breast, but it is first and foremost cancer. It is devastating to the patient and to the families and loved ones of that person. I understand that people are trying to be supportive and help in anyway they can, but you’re right, the support should be emphasized via things like cancer prevention and volunteering.

  2. Excellent post, Miriam! I get very annoyed at the requests to share the color of my bra or the location of my purse for exactly the reasons you’ve outlined: they don’t do anything to actually bring awareness. Moreover, they often make people think that they’ve “done something” and therefore they don’t need to do anything else to raise awareness. But stupid FB updates aren’t action. They aren’t enough. Breast cancer is not the number one killer of women (that’s heart disease — thus the Red Dress Campaign). But most every one of us knows someone affected, whether a relative, friend, colleague or acquaintance. And as Jewish women, we are especially susceptible to breast cancer because of the high occurrence of the BRCA gene among specifically Ashkenazi Jewish women (it increases one’s lifetime risk of breast cancer to 80% and risk of ovarian cancer to 45%).

    • Really? I didn’t even know about the BRCA gene. See, that’s something one could make a status about. Except NOOO, that’s SERIOUS, and we don’t like SERIOUS things! (Not even when talking about a serious illness.)

    • Heh. One thing that radical feminists are right about is that, if you dig deep enough, you’re going to find problems with basically everything.

      I’m quite sure that SGK is an imperfect organization. If I were to decide to donate to breast cancer research, I would research it much more thoroughly. However, I am aware that any organization needs to use at least part of its funds for administrative costs and to pay salaries, and since I’m not a business owner, it’s not really my place to presume how high those expenses ought to be.

      Personally, if I were to donate to breast cancer research, I would do it through local organizations, or perhaps through donating to individuals who need help covering expenses.

  3. THANK YOU! I get these messages fairly regularly on Facebook and what gets me the most (although I’m not a huge fan of the phenomenon at all) is at the end where it says “let’s keep the men guessing.”

    As you say, men can get breast cancer too. What’s more, just because men don’t get breast cancer as much as women doesn’t mean they don’t need to be aware. I can assume that most men know at least one woman and that they would want to help the women they’re close to if they do have breast cancer.

    • Exactly. I can just imagine how a man who’s close with a woman battling breast cancer would feel upon seeing this.

      Just imagine if the LGBT community started a meme like this to bring “awareness” to the problem of bullying and suicide, except they made it secretive and refused to tell straight people what it’s actually about. How about all the straight allies who’ve watched their friends and family struggle? How about the straight people who are “presumed” to be gay and bullied for that?

      Exclusion is basically never a good thing when it comes to promoting a cause.

  4. Pingback: Mama, Memes and Breast Cancer | Kakak Killjoy

Leave me comments!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s