Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Eight years ago, I received my breast cancer diagnosis. My prognosis was bleak. It was a diagnosis I never thought I would receive as I had dealt with breast lumps, and cysts since my 20s and was always told not to worry as I was a “cyst producer” (yes, I was actually told that). But I am here today because of the advances in breast cancer treatment and research. I am grateful and I want others to have success in early detection and accurate information. But I fear that sometimes the message and intent of Breast Cancer Awareness month gets lost in the pink ribbon or “cuteness” of it all.

As we head into October, I’d like to pose some questions (and share some thoughts) for you to ponder in this Pinktober. Let’s brainstorm new ideas on ways to engage in and support others during October Breast Cancer Awareness month.

Part of my motivation for sharing these thoughts stems from a couple of situations I encountered last year in middle school. The first rattled me and then grieved me. A young 6th-grade girl comes to school in a shirt that says, “Save 2nd Base” with a pretty pink ribbon. She was so proud to be supporting the cause. She had no idea what the shirt meant. She said it confused her but was for breast cancer awareness! (I hoped older students wouldn’t mock her or take advantage of an unfortunate slogan…this girl was teased about too many things already and certainly didn’t need this as well.) The second was a boy sporting a bracelet stating, “I love Boobies”. I hope I don’t need to spell this one out. I will say that he wasn’t wearing it for the right “cause” or “awareness”. 

This got me thinking that maybe we all need to assess our motivation and messaging around breast cancer awareness. It is treated much differently than any other awareness campaign. 



The aim of awareness-raising campaigns most often differs between contexts but generally includes increasing concern, informing the targeted audience, creating a positive image, and attempting to change their behavior. Climate Adapt

Here are some observations from where I sit.

We are making strides in breast cancer treatment and detection. 

Early detection absolutely makes a difference. 

Many people are living during and after diagnosis. 

People have the choice in what they carry with them and how. 

The cancer experience is different for each person. 

But Cancer still changes things. 

We are still, unfortunately, losing some amazing people to this disease. We still have research to be done.  

What isn’t helpful and might even be counterproductive:

Sexualizing cancer. It implies that your worth is dependent on your breasts, as is your beauty and attractiveness. It’s meant to be provocative and makes cancer seem more “palatable”, I understand. But it also feels demeaning and seems to say that if you can keep your breasts you are ok. Or that if you remove your breast(s) you’ve failed or are flawed. The reality is, nothing about cancer is palatable, and sometimes being uncomfortable is what is needed to prompt change.

Then there are the insensitive sayings: Save a life- grope your wife. Save the Tatas, puppies, or Boooo- bies. Save a rack. Save the headlights or keep the headlights on. Save second base. I even saw necklaces that look like breasts. 

Women and breast cancer are about more than breasts. 

The casual way that breast cancer is talked about can produce anxiety. 

Why do we feel we need to make breast cancer a joke or “fun”?

On the flip side, the slogans for testicular cancer are completely different. They are all geared towards guys and being strong and proactive about their testing and treatment. Conquerors! Warriors!

Here is a complicated fact, sometimes early detection still means loss of breasts or portions of breast tissue. A component we may be overlooking in these awareness campaigns is the dignity of women. Especially those directly or indirectly affected by breast cancer. 

What can we do?

Read up on current cancer information. 

Yes, encourage women to self-exam and get mammograms. 

Consider new slogans: Save your sister, brother, your own life. 

Share awareness, compassion, and empathy. 

Donate towards research. Participate in fundraisers that exude dignity and promote respectable organizations. 

Donate to groups that directly impact the quality of life for those impacted by cancer. Those that support women and their loved ones. 

One final ask-

Please leave your bras on. This misses the mark. Yes, it draws attention to your breasts- but in the wrong way. And please Don’t hang your bras on your mailboxes or trees. 

Alternative: donate money towards research or mastectomy bras. Donate supplies to a local cancer center. Bring a friend to get your mammograms. Add a (breast cancer) biography to your book club read this month. Go ahead and wear pink.

I have walked beside several friends with breast cancer and and have unfortunately lost a couple of amazing women way too young. I am hoping that we can all rally together to raise awareness, research funds and support for those who are facing this diagnosis.

I would like to hear your ideas or observations on cancer awareness. I would also love to hear your experience with breast cancer as it is important to honor one another’s stories.

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