Pink ribbons, pink t-shirts, and other pink merchandise. It’s that time of year again everyone: Breast Cancer Awareness Month. While many organizations will hold walks, benefits and other events, it is important to remember the survivors and fighters and all they’ve had and still have to go through.
While Breast Cancer Awareness Month has brought attention to the cancer that affects more than 200,000 U.S. citizens per year, it has become too feminized, over-sexualized and commercialized. The hardships that many survivors and fighters had or have to go through are overshadowed by the bustle of pink products, Free the Tatas events and phrases like “Save Second Base.” The reality of breast cancer is far from the cute and witty portrayals; it is scary, painful, and emotionally and physically draining.
It’s no secret that Breast Cancer Awareness Month is mainly focused on women. While women have 252,710 new cases of breast cancer per year with 40,610 of them resulting in death, men are also at risk for breast cancer, though it is rare. According to the American Cancer Society, about 2,470 cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in men throughout 2017 and 460 of them will die. While men are a minority in this disease, it is important to be inclusive to everyone dealing with the battle against breast cancer.
As the name implies, breast cancer forms in the cells of the breast and can cause painful and uncomfortable symptoms such as lumps, bloody discharge from the nipple and changes in shape or texture of the breast. Despite this, breast cancer has managed to be sexualized. In Free the Tatas events throughout the U.S., women forego wearing bras in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Phrases such as “Save Second Base” are printed on t-shirts, stickers, and more. While everyone is free to express their sexuality or preference of dress, using these particular choices to raise awareness for breast cancer can be in poor taste to some.
In a Facebook post made by cancer survivor Tracie Marie on Oct. 7, 2017, she describes the hardships she faces in her fight against breast cancer.
“Breast cancer is often very sexualized,” Marie said. “Showing models with fake scars, beautiful bodies and breasts with the strap so perfectly dangling from her shoulder. That’s not what breast cancer is. It’s CTs, surgeries, amputations, biopsies, MRIs, X-rays, radiation, chemo, IVs, blood tests, fear, worry, hate, anger, confusion, sadness, loneliness, medications, checkups, anxiety, depression, insomnia, pain.”
“We do not receive free boob jobs,” Marie continued. “We have reconstruction. Expanders placed to stretch your skin to fit the implants, complications, tram flap surgeries, sometimes our bodies reject the implants, some choose to go flat, some reconstructions are amazing and look fabulous, some look completely deformed … We amputated them and had foreign objects placed in our skin to resembles the breasts we once had. We tattoo our nipples on, we get prosthetic ones, or we go without … Save the Tatas, save 2nd base, no bra day with a bunch of nipples poking out in no way supports those with breast cancer.”
While some people use humor and wit to overcome trauma, it should be up to those battling the disease to utilize these options. Openly sexualizing a very serious and dire disease is not the best way to raise awareness to a disease that kills thousands of people every year.
Finally, the commercialization of Breast Cancer Awareness Month can have huge drawbacks. As it turns out, most of the money made for breast cancer awareness by big-name organizations such as the Susan G. Komen organization does not go toward breast cancer prevention or research.
According to the Popular Science’s website, many corporate sponsors have already decided on a donation amount, regardless of how many products they sell. Therefore, the money you’re spending is going right back to the manufacturers, not research or care.
Despite this, there are other organizations to support and donate to, such as the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation, and others who either give 80+ percent of their revenue to research, care and helping minorities with breast cancer. It is okay to donate to and support organizations that deal with breast cancer, but it is important to do the research on where your money is going and who it will ultimately be helping.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month is a time to come together in support, unity, and love. Most of us have known someone who has battled this disease and want to help in any way we can. One of the easiest ways we can help is to be conscious of the very real struggles that breast cancer survivors and fighters go through. By not letting the commercial industry, feminization, and sexualization obscure the meaning of the season, we can make that possible.