My secret to getting away from Pinktober madness is music, of course. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominations come out each October and I’m usually able to use those as a nice distraction. This year, there is the added bonus of the “Foo Fighters Sonic Highways” documentary series on HBO. I thank my lucky stars for Dave Grohl.
The series (and creator) was featured on Sunday’s “60 Minutes”, a show I generally do not watch. While waiting for the Grohl-interviewed-by-Cooper segment, I endured a piece about genetically manipulating embryos, in order to have a baby that does not have any faulty, disease-causing genes.
I’m not going to go into the “playing god” aspect, I’ll leave that to internet comments: “if your mother had done that, you would not have been born” arguments that rage around this topic. Not having ever desired kids, I’m a bit dim on this subject. But the woman featured in the segment decided to take this path after getting breast cancer at age 29, and yes she has the BRCA mutation. Of course that gene is one she sought to eradicate. The interviewer asked her if her goal was, “breast cancer ends with me” and the woman said “yes”.
Look, I understand that BRCA is a big issue in breast cancer discussions. But it is possible to get breast cancer without being BRCA positive—I’m one such patient. In fact, from my rather weak grasp of breast cancer science, it is my understanding that BRCA is not present in most breast cancer patients. So how can this woman be so certain that she has eliminated the chances of her progeny ever getting breast cancer? Not sure breast cancer has ended with her for her descendants.
Perhaps I am wrong to be annoyed, to think that this is irresponsible journalism? Generally, I do not watch these types of magazine TV shows. While I gather that something like “60 Minutes” is a bit more reputable than the morning entertainment & lies shows, I still do not think they are a reliable source of medical info. Sadly, most of the public think things like “60 Minutes” are perfectly reliable. Did the show spread more misinformation (I am vaguely aware there was a false reporting or something scandal with them earlier this year)?
I am so tired of these sort of “winning the fight against breast cancer, kicked cancer’s ass” type of statements: breast cancer ends with me. Do we really have as much control as we’d like to think?
Argh—I just wanted to watch something about one of my favorite bands, about a cool project that has kept me entertained, educated, and distracted this Pink season. Can I not get one moment’s respite from breast cancer bullshit?
I’ve been brooding on this topic for many months, just have not had time or energy to reach conclusions so I can write about it. The issue of whether or not those of us with scars from breast surgery should post photos of said scars on the internet pops up from time to time. Sometimes it is in the form of Facebook users objecting to the pics, or there is discussion about the “arty-farty” photo exhibits of women baring their chests or whole bodies after mastectomy—and whether this is a whole new level of objectifying “boobies”.
I’ve been contemplating and re-evaluating my decision to post my own picture recently, in light of all this discussion. I’ve wondered if I’ve objectified myself—certainly some of the comments I’ve received have been strange, but mostly I ignore it.
I’m still not prepared today to delve into my thoughts and feelings surrounding the objectification, the idea that this rash of photos of women baring their scarred breasts may be supplanting the image I hate: the bald, smiling, pink feather boa-wearing warrior woman—and I indict myself for my contribution to that. I’m still sorting out my thoughts and feelings on it.
But I was pulled into mulling it over today when I saw some disturbing comments on I Had Cancer’s Facebook posting of Stupid Dumb Breast Cancer’s photo of her bare chest, her scars. Most of the comments run the usual way—you go girl, badass, warrior, strong, beautiful, all that. But every so often one of those upsetting (to me) comments popped up. Someone said it was sad, a few others—weird. And the worst: a suggestion the image would scare women out of getting mammograms.
I strive to be compassionate, to have empathy, to always try to see things from others’ point of view. But this is one area in which I utterly fail in understanding another POV. These scars some of us chose to show—this is what happened to us, and what happens, and will happen to many, many women. It is a result of having breast cancer. Denying it, or wanting it to go away, just seems insane to me. Not looking at these images, wishing them away, will not stop the march of breast cancer, and the results of treatment.
I’ve mentioned in MANY posts my dislike of the warrior/battle language in cancer. I cannot help but notice the irony that for all the battle language that exists, I don’t think people actually know what it means. If a person has to “battle” cancer, a person must understand all the outcomes, the casualties, if you will. Does a general devise a battle plan without knowing and understanding the terrain and landscape into which soldiers are being sent? No, all possible aspects are considered: landscapes, dangers, projected life loss, captures…and I don’t know what all, I’ve never been a soldier. So why not know what is involved in the “battle” of breast cancer? I get that not everyone objecting to the pictures engages in warrior language, but I’ve seen a few comments from self-proclaimed warriors who do not seem to want to know anything other than happy, perky, pinky, positive stuff, because the “downer” facts make the battle harder. I just cannot understand this. That will always be a failing of mine, and I am sorry for my lack of empathy here. But I just will never be able to understand that mindset.
When I faced my surgery, I was still an internet idiot about social media in regards to cancer communities (I used the internet for work and hated using the computer in what little downtime I had, so no blogging back then). I only saw a few medical, informational pictures of what my result might look like. I had to deal with the emotional fall out on my own. I had no examples of the sort of “realness” Ann Marie’s photo, or my photo, provide. When I decided to get a decorative tattoo, rather than a reconstructed nipple with tattoo coloring, I had no idea there was this whole movement, like P.Ink, that did that kind of thing. I discovered it as I began researching ideas for my own tattoo.
And I felt so MUCH better once I found these websites, social media outlets, these pictures of reality.
While I still grapple with the objectification issue, the idea that topless scar pictures are being absorbed and used in the Pink propaganda, I cling to the notion—for now—that all these pictures are good. People who don’t want to see what happens to a breast when it gets cancer, well, look away. Keep your heads in the sand, that won’t change the reality of what really happens to breasts when a person gets breast cancer. My picture remains here for now, for the woman who is going through what I went through then—who needs an idea, an example of what her reality will be.
This post is where I am on this subject today. I will revisit it again, later.
As I’ve said before, I’ve never written that one post that lists all the things that I dislike about Pink, and all the Breast Cancer Awareness Month crap, and the many things I find wrong with the cancer patient experience/role we are expected to fill. It’s too overwhelming, so I just write posts about bits and pieces, one at a time. Many others have written excellent articles, posts, and books on the topic–I’d rather just let those do the talking for me. But none have come as close, so accurately and comprehensively as this Washington Post article.
I wasn’t going to write about No Bra Day, because 1) so many other blogs I read have said most of what needs to be said, 2) why should I give it more exposure and attention, and 3) I wrote an overly long, overly wordy piece this summer already, back when there was this other No Bra Day (how many are there?!). The earlier piece, I Don’t Want to See It, is mostly crap I wish I had not written, only the final 5 or so paragraphs are worth reading, and some of the sentiment of those will be repeated here.
I changed my mind because as I started mentally ranting I realized that ignoring it won’t make it go away any more than giving it more attention will (more on this theory, keep reading). It deserves all the outrage that can be had.
Who the hell organizes these No Bra Days? There is no organizational name on that graphic (everyone has seen it I’m sure), so I guess it is just some idea someone passed around on Facebook (sorry, I still cannot have a FB page for personal, non-cancer related reasons, so I’m dim on Facebook things). How the hell does it benefit anyone? Don’t bullshit me and say it raises awareness, especially when the top line of the graphic reads “support breast cancer”. Sounds like the purpose of the day is to increase the incidence of breast cancer—the graphic doesn’t even bother to discuss support for patients in any way. It’s just another excuse to sexualize a disease, and to be childish and talk about boobies. Again.
What I am saying is divisive and angry; I know and do not care. I am so fond of the quote “just because you’re offended, doesn’t mean you’re right,” (Ricky Gervais) and I know that just because this event and the participants offend me, I’m not right. Lots of folks, including breast cancer patients, think all this is just fine, so it is doubtful that this event will cease to exist. But I AM offended and right or wrong, I’m going to gripe about it.
Setting healthy ta-tas “free” doesn’t support this breast cancer patient, again, not that this event even bothers to pretend to support any patients, it is supporting breast cancer, remember? It just reminds me of what cancer did to my breasts, and to other breasts. The scars, the ugliness, the pain and surgery. Need I go on? While I can begrudgingly accept that people who donate or participate in Pink have good hearts even if I hate Pink, I have NO appreciation for anyone involved in No Bra Day. Do NOT expect any gratitude or applause for the participation from me. I’m glad that these women are still healthy, still have breasts unmarred by cancer, but I really do not want to be reminded of what I lost. To those who organized this No Bra Day, I consider you insensitive, thoughtless jerks.
I know this day, the participants, and whoever organized it will get praise from many corners—but a quick scan on Google and other blogs gives evidence of some criticism about this event. I wish there more outrage about it. While I have no hope these days of the Pink machine slowing down, I yearn for more concrete ways to express my extreme dissatisfaction. This No Bra Day is one of the most egregious examples of how a disease has become the plaything of an adolescent, boobies obsessed culture. If I were rich, I’d buy a million very covering and very supportive bras and throw them—well, somewhere, since there is no physical headquarters for this idiotic nonsense. Maybe I’d just scatter them about a big city street, to stop traffic and get everyone to see how at least this one breast cancer patient really feels. Sure, that would just be me throwing a childish tantrum—but the organizers have proven that they are not emotionally or intellectually adult enough to understand the lengthy, smart essays criticizing the event.
Why doesn’t someone come up with a “What Cancer Really Does to Breasts Day”, gathering and presenting all the pictures of so many bloggers (myself included, I would do this) in various stages of lumpectomy/mastectomy, reconstruction or no reconstruction? There are certainly plenty of said pictures on the internet. I get why established groups or projects cannot do this—with establishment comes the need to “play nice”. Being a socially awkward, complaining Curmudgeon—in real life and in the blogosphere—means I seem unable to play nice.
I’m sure many would find a “What Cancer Really Does to Breasts Day” objectionable and offensive (see this is where I can use the Gervais quote to my advantage). But here’s the thing: not wearing bras, or even those “tasteful” Pink ads featuring topless, strategically covered, healthy-breasted models for that matter, do nothing to make anyone understand the reality of breast cancer—other than show off what to those who objectify boobies will be “missing” should cancer afflict any of these women. The current socially acceptable image of breast cancer is the bald-headed woman in a pink t-shirt at a run or walk, smiling and being strong. To me it’s like a sick before and after scenario: women before cancer can be sexy and flaunt naked breasts for cancer awareness, women after breast cancer surgery need to keep covered, need to become unsexy soldiers to admire for bravery, but not to be desired.
Seeing what breast cancer is capable of, and what women who’ve had scarring surgery are capable of, seems more logical and helpful to me. On a personal level, it certainly would’ve helped me when I was recovering from surgery and follow-up radiation, wondering what to do. Instead I saw bikini clad women in ta-ta breast cancer ads, and felt horrible, my emotional wound constantly re-opened.
I loathe the battle language in cancer, as I’ve mentioned often enough throughout my posts. What I hate most is that it is used mainly to blame “soldiers” who’ve “lost their battle with cancer” because they “didn’t fight hard enough.” I rarely see war talk applied in terms of a grand battle plan. Why isn’t it applied here? A good general goes into battle prepared, knowing as much about the enemy as possible—their weapons, strategies, the size and the location of the enemy, and what the enemy does to prisoners. Would it not make sense to show what the “enemy”, breast cancer, does to these “soldier” women? How can this proverbial “battle” be fought if everyone is refusing to acknowledge the “battle scars”? Oh right, we’re not supposed to be victims or prisoners, cancer happens to us, but there should be no lasting mental effects, and no one wants to see the scars (as the summertime fracas with Facebook and the surrounding conversations proved)—we either win or lose, and it’s all on us, even if the weapons (medicine) fail the soldiers, no matter how hard we fight. Yes I’m being sarcastic.
This mass delusion of only showing healthy breasts in regards to breast cancer has got to stop. Yes, it is good to think positive, to dream, and to champion the bright side of life—even if a Cancer Curmudgeon just won’t do that. But to completely ignore the reality, to not face the ugliness or pain cancer brings, I assure everyone, it doesn’t make the ugliness or pain cease to exist. Furthermore, wouldn’t seeing pictures of women ALIVE after scarring surgery be, I don’t know, positive? I remember being told on HuffPo this summer that these scars should not be shown. Hope she never has to go through it, hope she never has to see that ugliness in the mirror, hope she never needs to see my example of one who turned an ugly scar into a triumph.
I prefer to know what I’m up against and I’m tired of a socially acceptable conversation about cancer in which everyone covers their eyes and ears, singing “la la la”, like nothing bad ever happens. Sometimes, ignoring the bad stuff only results in a sucker punch later.
Only three types of people tell the truth: kids, drunk people, and anyone who is pissed the fuck off.” –Richard Pryor
Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed. –Nietzsche