October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and things are about to get very PINK.
There’ll be pink ribbons everywhere, with ambitious brands professing their dedication to increasing Breast Cancer awareness by ‘going pink’ for the month – whilst, of course, lining up their products for purchase.
Those of us touched by Breast Cancer will likewise be enticed to show our commitment to raising awareness by purchasing everything from pretty pink fishing rods and work boots, to pink-labelled apple sauce or loo paper.
Social media feeds will be laden with cryptic word games involving bra colours, calls to ‘go bra-less for Breast Cancer’ and pink lipstick selfies, in the guise of ‘raising everyone’s awareness’.
Breast Cancer will be everywhere we look, dressed up to be fluffy, pink, feminine — and sometimes just ridiculous…the very antithesis of what this ugly disease actually is.
I’m all for spreading awareness: I work pretty hard to get the word out about the importance of regular breast examinations and knowing the normal look and feel of your (or your loved one’s) breasts. It’s one of the reasons I write so passionately on this little blog of mine.
It’s Time to Rethink the Pink
The ‘pinkification’ of Breast Cancer began more than 35 years ago. In that time, it has certainly increased the profile of a disease that had previously been taboo.
In the last 35 years we have seen survival rates steadily rise, and more and more people able to talk openly about their experiences. So it has done a lot of good.
These days, reducing Breast Cancer to a pretty colour or a cryptic status update trivialises a disease that claims the lives of more than 3,000 Australians every year.
It lulls people into a false belief that they have ‘done something’, when in actual fact it does nothing to improve the outcome for the 15,000 people annually diagnosed with Breast Cancer. I’d even go so far as to say it practically normalises this insidious disease and minimises awareness of its devastation.
Making people more aware about serious diseases like cancer is great, but at times the real objectives are lost in the sea of pink, and the seriousness of Breast Cancer is diminished.
So, after 35 years of turning pink, I believe we have had enough ‘awareness raising’. I think we all know this devastating disease exists.
While survival rates have increased, what hasn’t changed is the overall incidence of Metastatic disease, the real Breast Cancer killer.
I’m always surprised at how little people know about Metastatic Cancer. You see, no one dies from a diagnosis of Early Stage Cancer. Cancer that stays contained within the tissue it begins in, is usually very treatable. It is when cancerous cells spread to other parts of the body that cancer becomes almost impossible to cure.
Many, many women get diagnosed every year with Early Stage Breast Cancer, which doctors will treat very successfully with surgery, Chemotherapy and Radiation where required, and prognosis is deemed very good. Even my diagnosis of Stage 3C, where the cancer had invaded local lymph nodes, is considered curable by my doctors.
What many of you don’t know is that around 30% of people diagnosed with Early Stage disease will go on to develop Metastatic Breast Cancer at a later date.
Metastatic Breast Cancer occurs when Breast Cancer cells leave the breast via blood vessels or the lymphatic system and grow tumours in other parts of the body. There is no cure for Metastatic Breast Cancer, also known as Stage IV Breast Cancer.
My doctors are throwing everything at my cancer in the hope it is enough to cure me for life. But once active treatment finishes, it will become a game of vigilance and hope. I will try to get on with my life, all the while having regular check-ups in the hope my cancer does not recur.
My plea to you this October, is to thoughtfully engage with raising Breast Cancer awareness. Try to pull back from social media games that implore you to post ridiculous phrases or status updates that do nothing to lift the profile of what Breast Cancer really looks like.
Instead, talk to family and friends about my experience. I’m the perfect example of someone who knew the risks and was pretty in-tune with my body, but got caught out anyway.
Don’t get sucked into October’s pink hype. Many brands give generously to Breast Cancer research, but some market cleverly to piggy-back on others’ goodwill. Not everything that’s pink has Breast Cancer awareness or fundraising for research as their main objective.
And most importantly, do a breast examination every single month, not just in October. Maybe bust out Christy Amphlett’s ‘I Touch Myself’ whilst doing so, just for kicks.