Breast cancer awareness: writing on the wall?

Breast cancer awareness: writing on the wall?

Are we unwittingly making boo-boos with funds raised through breast cancer awareness month?

As I’m sure almost everyone in industrialized countries knows, October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Countless noble people are running marathons, giving tea parties, climbing mountains and performing unimaginable stunts to raise money for the breast cancer charities and succeeding admirably.

Speaking as an, er, interested party, thank you. Thank you, thank you. But where is all this really leading?

At the same time as people are baking millions of cupcakes to help raise funds, countless commercial organizations are running pseudo-philanthropic campaigns to help raise breast cancer awareness while simultaneously, just by chance of course, promoting their businesses.

About as sensitive as an air raid

According to this article on Huffington Post by Joanna Franchini, the great US retail giant J C Penny has managed to acquire a lot of egg on its face with its breast cancer awareness campaign for this year…

“The company’s latest ad campaign, rolled out in October for Breast Cancer Awareness month, is a painful mess of mixed brand messaging, inadvertent sexism and cultural tone-deafness,” Franchini shares.

“…The worst aspect of the ad, of course, is the wink-wink positioning of shiny pennies where the woman’s breasts should be, along with the line, “let’s save more than just pennies.” Yikes. The long hierarchy of people who approved this ad believed it was cool or clever to conflate pennies and breasts, making light of the nightmares of breast screening, lumpectomy, mastectomy and breast reconstruction is very uncool and way, way out of touch.”

Really and truly, I am not a party-pooper. But speaking as someone who has been down the breast cancer route and got the T-shirt, I really would love to stuff those bright shiny pennies right up J C Penny’s corporate backside. Not funny.

And the whole breast cancer awareness issue yawns on

As I write this sitting in my home office in the UK, I’m still grateful for the help – medical, practical and financial – that was available to me when I went through breast cancer 9 years ago. OK, I’m a UK tax payer so sort-of pay for it. But with the way things work out in practice I think I got great value for money.

So much as we may bitch and moan here in the UK about the shortcomings of the NHS, when we sit back and look at what other countries – even other “developed” countries – have to deal with, we Brit-based BrC patients should thank our lucky stars.

Even in the great culture of the USA, realities are harsher.

Yet more breast cancer awareness – or time to move on?

I asked Pennsylvania-based freelance writer and cancer survivor Rodney N Warner, who writes and curates extensively on cancer-related matters in the USA, what he feels about this continuing focus purely on raising awareness of breast cancer.

Here is what he pointed out…

“Maybe the next step should be talking about the practical issues breast cancer patients and survivors go through. Everyone’s all gung ho about raising money for research (as they should be) but what about all the day to day issues and how they can be addressed?”

“In the US, medical leave is limited and unpaid. If you have to take time off from your job, there’s not always a guarantee you can get it back. Many people don’t have medical coverage and even if they do, they can still get bills that can leave them bankrupt.”

“There are all kinds of emotional issues as well, regarding the patient’s own feelings and relationships with others.”

“Maybe breast cancer awareness should be de-medicalized and more personalized and focused on helping people get through treatment while keeping their jobs, fiscal health and relationships.”

Good points, Rodney. So where next with breast cancer awareness?

What I am wondering is where we should take this concept next. On the basis that raising awareness in industrialized countries is nicely doing its job, with continuing exercises in fundraising and information gathering, sponsored and encouraged by numerous celebrities … is a perpetuation of these pathways still as useful as it was?

Or are there some further avenues we need to drive down?

Other breast cancer needs we need to meet

As I see it, here are four ways in which we could evolve and develop our striving – both verbal and financial – for the benefit of breast cancer patients worldwide…

1.Continue raising money for research, BUT ensure such funds are acutely and accurately sent into funds that are working directly with research projects that have meaningful bases and are striving towards (hopefully) achievable outcomes – not just less specific research efforts that may or may not amount to much.

2.Direct a valid amount of funds raised in this way into studies of reasonable alternative cancer treatments. This is in view of the fact that the big pharma companies have no interest in investing here, as such treatments tend to involve “natural” elements for which they cannot make money through patenting them as new drugs.

3.Direct a substantial amount of funds raised towards helping BrC patients cope not only with breast cancer itself, but the surrounding issues that can make it so hard – as Rodney N Warner describes above for patients in the USA. As I always say to the cancer patients I meet here in the UK, “OK – you may have cancer, but you also have a life.” Maybe more moneys raised should go towards supporting this element everywhere, to help ensure BrC and other cancer survivors keep living their lives to an acceptable standard. In the UK we have Macmillan Cancer Support which does just that with its donations, and very effectively too. But what about other countries?

4.Direct the awareness-raising activities into developing countries. Certainly there’s still a huge need for this. But what happens if the facilities for treating BrC in these countries is inadequate for the demand we could generate by increasing awareness? If so, what happens to those who can’t be treated?

Further info on breast cancer

HTWB PWW main in-post logoIn the UK: if you have any concerns about cancer, either as a patient, carer or family member, please contact the Macmillan charity. They are truly fabulous (and no, I don’t get paid to recommend them.) Breast Cancer UK is also a brilliant resource.

In the USA and elsewhere: there are numerous breast cancer organizations, many of which are local to you. Google them. But if in the meantime you need some excellent advice and comradeship irrespective of where you live, go … this is run, but not dominated, by doctors and provides really helpful discussion groups across all types, levels and concerns about breast cancer.

Don’t believe all the sh*t about breast cancer you read on the internet

If you are a breast cancer patient (or suspected BrC case) I’m sure your doctor or nurse will have told you to avoid Googling “breast cancer.” Trust me: this is not  because the doctor wants to stop you asking awkward questions!

It’s purely because there is a great deal of nonsense written about all forms of cancer available to read on the internet and unless you are already aware of the basics of your illness, some of these websites can scare the potooties out of you for no reason other than trying to sell you something, or even just out of malicious or ignorant mischief.

My own stuff

If you are looking for support online for whatever cancer you or your loved one is dealing with, come on over to my own community on Google Plus – Cancer Survivorship. We are a very supportive crowd, with more than 700 members worldwide. Please note the community is non-commercial: I moderate it very carefully and remove/report/ban as appropriate anyone trying to sell snake oil, raise personal funds, or promote unproven remedies, gurus, etc.

You might also enjoy the book I put together to track the funniest elements in my own cancer journeys. You can see more about that here

Now: please go forth and raise money for Breast Cancer Awareness month

…but try to ensure your fundraising and donations are going to what will help in the future, not in the past.

What are your views about breast cancer awareness and the activities it generates? Please share your thoughts here.
photo credit: jdawn- via photopin cc