Saturday, 4 November 2017

Weekly Discussion Summary ~ Breast Cancer Awareness Month...more than a pink ribbon?

More than a pink ribbon?

In this week’s discussion, we explored whether Breast Cancer Awareness Month effectively communicated our physical and psychological struggles and the feelings it evoked in us as women who had been diagnosed with primary and secondary breast cancer.

For 25 years, the pink ribbon has been the symbol for anyone affected by breast cancer and there is no doubt it has been a force for change, helping bringing breast cancer into public consciousness and helping women to become more breast aware. But as a group, we were doubtful that it conveyed the complexities associated with our experience of breast cancer, its effects on our womanhood, and the after effects of diagnosis and treatment on our physical and psychological well-being.

It was clear that Breast Cancer Awareness month was particularly tough for those who were going through treatment and whose diagnosis felt raw as it means there is nowhere to hide. However, not only those going through treatment found it difficult to embrace the frivolity which we often see in the way the media represents breast cancer, and, in particular, some of the celebrity endorsements which capitalise on the beauty and sex-appeal of actresses and TV presenters in a way that some of us - but by no means all - found offensive.

We expressed our gratitude for the well-intentioned efforts of our family, friends and colleagues to raise money and awareness and who we know want to show their solidarity for us.

Some asked how raising awareness could possibly be a bad thing? Others suggested that it was a starting point for a conversation. We wondered how men with breast cancer might feel? The colour pink carries a lot of charm, we agreed, with an emphasis on fun and frivolity, with the chance to wear tutus and wigs; from bras to breast checking, from fund-raising to cake-baking. Many confessed that they had begun to detest the association with fun, fluffiness and frivolity when they had experienced or witnessed pain, suffering and the loss of loved ones. Some of us shared our distress about some of the ways charities raise awareness or engage the public but we found ourselves feeling churlish for raising objections; the so-called ‘pink products’ where only a fraction of money goes to charities was also a concern.

Whatever our very divergent views, we asked whether we had got any better understanding that:
breast cancer does not discriminate against age.
that you don't need a family history to get breast cancer.
that you can get it whilst pregnant.
that about 30% of those diagnosed with primary breast cancer go on to develop secondary breast cancer.
that clinical levels of anxiety and depression loom high in women with a breast cancer diagnosis, with fear of recurrence constituting a major threat to their daily lives for years post diagnosis.
that there are serious and long-term physical consequences of treatment such as lymphoedema, chronic fatigue, cognitive decline and menopausal symptoms.
the fact that breast cancer is a life threatening disease that can affect women at any age and is a highly complex and multi-factorial cancer with a heterogenous make-up can be lost.

We hear a lot about how early diagnosis can help, though our experience is that it is not at all that simple and there is emerging evidence that early diagnosis does not, on its own, always prevent metastasis or recurrence.

It is particularly disheartening considering the amount of attention that breast cancer does receive that it is still not widely known that no ONE factor CAUSES breast cancer. We encounter many people who are under the belief that diet or stress is the CAUSE of breast cancer. We have to explain what is meant by secondary breast cancer.

Prior to our diagnosis, many of us confessed that we hadn’t taken much notice of Pinktober. We thought it would never happen to us and surely the probability was minutely low. Yes, we can if we wish enjoy the charm, the fun, the dancing and the pink ribbons. We can be grateful for the funds that are raised. But Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and the efforts of charities to raise (much needed) funds can undermine our efforts to be resilient and we cannot always claim that we are any wiser.

If you are a woman with a diagnosis of breast cancer, you live in the UK and you would like to join our private group, please message us via

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