Lots of folks are up in arms about the Komen video featuring a woman with Stage IV breast cancer, with all the invoking of the fight and “beat” cancer language and message. I’ve been trying to figure out why I’m not as fussed about it.
When I first started blogging and finding others who expressed the same views I had about cancer (as I’ve said in older posts, I was reeaallly in a cave while in treatment, back in 2010-12), I saw a phrase often invoked that went something like: only the positive stories reach the podium. I think it referred to the fact that all the women asked to speak at those endless walks and races for breast cancer (and other cancers maybe?) were usually early stage, had beaten cancer, and were spreading the message of think positive, early detection, blah blah blah. Therefore, those with Stage 4 were not invited, because of the anticipated unhappy ending in store for the speaker.
I’m not in the position to say if more metastatic patients are being asked to podiums these days. I am vaguely aware of the Today show hoo ha last October. This patient with martial arts in the video, is she the first Stage 4 patient featured in Komen ads? I don’t know. If so, it seems only the stage is what makes this ad any different. It is still the same old message of fight and be positive, because that is the only acceptable way to be a cancer patient. I tend to hate that message regardless of who is saying it, their stage of cancer, and whichever Pink organization is putting it out. I respectfully point out I have the advantage of not being Stage 4, so maybe my view is skewed.
I can’t say I dislike Komen any more than some of the other organizations with their save the ta-tas, be positive to win, and cancer is a sexy party attitudes. I’ve mentioned in previous posts I tend to get blinded and unable to discern one organization that pisses me off from another. Komen is just selling a message as a product: positive patients who are fighting, not giving up, are worthy of your investment dollars. Only the strong survive, or at least get invited to the podium. This martial arts video just seems like more of the same. Therefore the fight/I’m a winner speech was no more and no less annoying to me than any other. I cringe at the fact that I’ve heard that stuff so much I don’t even think of it as original. In my opinion, this is not a new low for Komen—just business as usual.
Perhaps some will think I am being crass to reduce this ad, and by extension the woman in it, to a product worthy of donation dollars. But I remember reading some back and forth in some comments on one of those endless Pinktober articles last year. One woman used the usual “don’t be so ungrateful” line in her comments, and in her argument pointed out that it was the positive messages that put Komen on the map, and got all those dollars that benefit even the Komen critics. Komen needed and still needs positive representatives to get those donations because no one likes a grumpy survivor! I don’t know if this commenter realized how much she was turning patients into objects for sale. No, wait, she was not doing that—the organizations do it. And maybe we patients do it to ourselves?
This is not a new thought to me. I’ve often thought that if I should get a recurrence and need to use some crowdsourcing site to pay for my care, my Curmudgeon shtick would not rake in the donor dollars. I’m too pragmatic with my “hey, the treatment might work, but there is/was always the chance of metastasis, of death.” Like, “hey this blender might work, but it might totally fall apart.” The difference is the blender is cheaper and the buyer can get a warranty and replacement. There are no warranties with treatment, only odds of the treatment working, of survival. Of course, that is the very reason dollars are needed for research—to create those guarantees. (Is that irony? Paging Alanis Morissette!) But that is a point too hard to sell in a catchy video with t-shirt.
I’ll stop there. I’ve thought about this topic often and have stopped myself every time. I’ve been too chicken to write about this treatment-as-investment concept, and maybe I’ll never address it again. It is repulsive to think of and discuss, although that does not mean it should not be discussed. I’m just not sure I am the person to do it; it requires people with backgrounds in marketing, economics, sociology, etc. I am just a cancer patient who feels like a defective product, since I cannot shill the message the organizations want to sell.
So, to me, the martial arts video is no different than the dancing mastectomy woman, or the celebrity recently throwing a goodbye boobs party. They are doing cancer their way, which is their right, of course. It also happens to be the way the rest of the world wants to see, and to impose on ALL patients. And again, I balk at this persistent, ubiquitous image (I link to my old post about that once again). Meanwhile, I wrestle with my anxiety that should I need crowdsourcing, how do I turn myself into an attractive blender to get those donor dollars?