No Participation Award For You

I will try not to be harsh when I say to anyone out there doing the silly “awareness” selfies, doffing your bra (groan), or even buying useless products with ribbons, that you are not accomplishing much of anything. And therefore you do not deserve applause, gratitude, or the right to gloat, “I helped.” Stick with me, and I’ll suggest a few ways to rectify this. But first you need to understand what is going on here.


Since I do not have children, I don’t really have an opinion about the ongoing issue of so-called participation trophies or entitlement awards—you know, little do-dads given to kids just for playing a sport, showing up, etc. I am not a sociologist/psychologist, so I only have a vague idea of the effect these awards had on those kids—now adults. Apparently they are unable able to handle disappointment and other life issues, because they no longer get recognition for every little thing they do, successful or not. 

Now I must pause to say I do reward myself for the little things, especially these days after cancer. Hey, if I get dressed with matching socks, remember to get something at the store without it being on a list—that is an excuse for a party in my book, thanks to chemo brain. I give myself a mental smiley face sticker for remembering enough of my phone numbers, password codes, and etc. to get through a day. So maybe I’m just as bad here. I don’t know.

That guilty admission out of the way, I am going to criticize the culture of participation awards as I see it in current awareness campaigns. This is an idea that was a mere seed for a long while in my brain, and exploded recently with all the articles written about Wilkinson. I’ve touched on the issue in past posts, so I’m bound to repeat myself here.

(And no, I’m NOT picking on Millennials, I don’t care about that. I’ve seen the “anything for awareness is good no matter how unsavory it is” attitude displayed by people of every generation. So settle down.)

It has been stated many times by my own self and thousands of other cancer social media participants that we have reached awareness of cancer, especially breast cancer. So any time I see “awareness” stunts online, I AM going to call bullshit. True there is still some lack of awareness in under-served communities but I’m not sure a meme is the best way to reach out. If they haven’t become aware with the repeated yearly gimmicks, which only plays to the same target market, they will not now. So shut that shit argument down now.  

Now on to the tougher aspect–all those people who react to angry breast cancer patients’ criticism with these standard replies I’ve seen only about a million times in the past few years:

“Maybe we aren’t making anyone aware, but we’re showing our support for you,”  (see my post Supporting the Show) which leads to–

“Why are you so ungrateful–we’re doing this for you!! If it weren’t for the pink ribbons and races and yes even the boobies games, we’d still be in the dark ages where no one dared to even say ‘breast cancer’,” (see my post Burden of Gratitude) and sometimes this leads to the nastiest reaction of all–

“If you ungrateful breast cancer negative nancies keep complaining and criticizing how we show support, maybe we’ll just stop supporting you.” Interesting. A threat couched in the message that all support–awareness raising or fund raising–is contingent on the recipients showing gratitude for the crumbs of attention. More proof, as if I needed it, that some people support for self-display, not because it is the right thing to do.

Yes, I said crumbs. Because that is how so much of this makes me feel. That I should be “grateful” for the attention–any attention–my disease gets, even if that attention has not reduced the rate of death, the likelihood that I’ll have a metastatic recurrence.  There is a whiff of “take what little you can get and be happy about it” that just unsettles me.

So I ask, how does that braless selfie picture help me–in real, hard, factual terms? Yes, assign it a dollar value. No, I do not want vague explanations of how the spectacle raises the profile of breast cancer, keeps it on people’s minds, so they donate, so politicians assign funding specifically to breast cancer research when federal money is to be granted.

I don’t want the fuzzy intangibles. I want something I can use. I want metsters to NOT die, I want so-called “survivors” (still hate that term), like myself, to have a guarantee that recurrence will NOT happen, and I want future women to NEVER get it. No I don’t think I am asking for too much. 

Or in lieu of funding research, how about this? I’ll assign a different value to a selfie, to a bald cap, to a braless day. Instead of one selfie, one trip to the grocery store for your friend in treatment so they don’t have to go out with their compromised immunity. Yes, you’re buying. I trade one bald cap/solidarity head shave for one ride to the treatment appointment at the cancer center. Keep your damn bra on, and go clean her house.

So I revisit the question I asked at the beginning. Am I being harsh? Yes. This is a topic that makes me as angry as I was in October of 2012, having just finished treatment and dealing with depression when the enormity of how awful Pinktober first REALLY hit me (I was never a fan before, and the first 2 Octobers I spent as a resident in CancerLand, I was just overwhelmed with diagnosis and treatment). My, OUR, needs are tangible, and games, gimmicks, and sexualization that isn’t even original is NOT working. So how can anyone expect me to applaud useless gestures, when those gestures won’t guarantee I make it to 50 or 60 years old?

When I see those comments that if we don’t stop complaining about gimmicks that maybe all support will be pulled from under us like a rug, I just…I’m still astonished. We are telling you what we need, what is better, and you will not listen.

Do the tasks I suggested. Or if you want to simply donate money, look up a reputable charity that actually puts money into science rather than marketing more awareness events. You can do it, if you’re reading this, you’re on the internet with information a click away. Start treating charitable giving like investments, like car-buying. Think!

Am I harsh? Yes. Look back on 4 years of this blog and look at what I call myself–what did you expect? Cancer is not a barrel of laughs, neither am I. Why did you think “fighting” it would be one?

The time for coddling the public is over. Awareness is more or less achieved. It is time to graduate school/college, to roll up the sleeves and get to work. To adult. Yes, I find adulting hard too, even now, after having to adult during cancer. But it must be done. We are grown up now. No more games and silly frat party crap.

Children who got participation awards apparently learned a harsh lesson when they entered the workforce, or were even unable to do so because of a bad economy. They learned there was no trophy for trying–but failing–to get that job, or to succeed. Likewise, there is no “you tried” award ribbon for a useless “awareness” gesture. I hate to be over-dramatic or use the hyperbole so often used in cancer slogans. But cancer can, and often does, lead to death. Or at least to a life with some shitty side effects that last FOREVER. It is a zero-sum game for too many. So I don’t have time for someone’s hurt feelings when I point out that taking off a bra doesn’t help us.

Am I harsh? What the hell do you think cancer is?

Author: Cancer Curmudgeon

Oct 2010 diagnosed with Stage 3, HER2+ Breast Cancer. Completed treatment Jan 2012. Waaaaaay over pink. Applying punk rock sensibility to how I do cancer.

4 thoughts on “No Participation Award For You”

  1. Let me start by saying that the image you chose is hysterical! Got me and my guy laughing.

    This was a perfectly straightforward post and one I totally agree with. I don’t think you are being harsh, but that’s probably because I feel the same way you do, and I am also seeing it from a patient’s perspective. There’s a lot of frustration built up inside. And it’s becoming more and more challenging for me to always fall back on the “they mean well” response to try to make myself feel better about the situation.That stuff is getting old.

    I just asked my guy, “why do all these people showing up at the cancer marches and pinktober parties disappear when it comes to doing simpler, more personal tasks to help individual patients.” His response was that it’s probably emotionally easier for people to join a party full of positive energy or to donate money to an anonymous program than it is to make a personal investment and help carry the actual burden of a real person. There’s a risk of real pain and emotional responsibility there. It’s more tolerable and happier for most people to feel a connection to millions of anonymous patients in pink ribbons than it is to share in the actual, personal difficulties of one close person.

    I agree that all these distractions (bra off day, free the tatas, wear pink for a month and whatever else) take away from the seriousness of this disease and send an unrealistic message.

    Thank you for another excellent post and for always keeping it real! xx


    1. Bad confession time–I made that image from a combination of using Fresh Paint and Publisher. I am VERY behind when it comes to graphics. I can see in my head what I want sometimes (and that is rare, really), but cannot create them. So I stick to my crude methods. (My anarchy symbol over the pink ribbon gravatar was made entirely in Microsoft Publisher–and I did it out of spite because I was told I should buy adobe or something it was the only way to create what I was describing. Nothing like using one’s stubborn curmudgeoniness to get stuff done!)
      I think you guys are right about the personal–the anon quality of the madness. I still do think it is about self display too. It is likely a big unpleasant soup of these things.
      I am very troubled tho’ when even cancer patients say the thing about being careful or support will be withdrawn. I am thinking specifically of a guy with pancreatic cancer criticizing Wilkinson’s mastectomy scar selfie with rude hand gesture. His worry that people expressing this anger, this calling out of how the selfies were not benefiting–when he even conceded that the selfies RW was reacting to were useless–I just…there is an undercurrent of the kingdom of the sick being inferior to those in the kingdom of the well, and it bothered me.
      But maybe my perception of it is off!


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