Is Advocacy worth the effort?

The Pink Ribbon has steamrollered over breast cancer, and while its message might be reassuring and safe it is not the real message. The real message of breast cancer awareness is that Metastatic Breast Cancer still kills about 450,000 people globally each year. The real message is that even if the cancer is caught at an early stage about 30% of these people will have their cancer spread to other parts of the body, and when this happens modern medicine will not be able to cure them. A bit more sobering, and a bit more stark isn’t it. It is not reflected in the up beat message of the Pink Ribbon and that is why it is all but ignored.

The Pink Ribbon is not only synonymous with breast cancer, it is also synonymous with glamour and celebrity; with cosmetic companies and their pursuit of the perfect image. How can you be perfect when your body has been mutilated by the surgeon’s knife, poisoned by chemo and irradiated? Who do you associate with breast cancer? Liz Hurley, Katie Holmes or Angelina Jolie? Or someone less starry? At least Angelina Jolie tried to start some sort of awareness about the risks of breast cancer, but it was made to sound as though this genetic fault is the main cause of breast cancer. This is awareness and prevention at its most public and most glamorous; a real life ‘A List’, red carpet walking, partner of Brad Pitt, celebrity has spoken and the world has listened. The problem is that breast cancer is not that simple, and it sure as heck isn’t that glamorous. It also is not all about a lump, or a naughty gene; it is about the words ‘you have cancer and it can’t be cured’. It is also about being able to have that kind of screening and surgery at Jolie’s age, and about being able to afford the treatment in many countries.

Can’t be cured? But what happened to all that money that has been donated to find a cure, to raise awareness, and isn’t raising awareness the same as a cure? You mean actual people still die from breast cancer? Real, actual, people, die?

When Elizabeth Edwards died of breast cancer a few years ago the main focus of the coverage that I was aware of (I live in the UK so no one really knows her here) was that her husband had ratted on her, and should she forgive him. The fact that she died was secondary to her husband being unfaithful and cheated on her. It was about rescuing his political career and image as much as about the cause of her death. Why do we instantly become brave martyrs the instant we have a diagnosis of Metastatic Breast Cancer? I am sure as hell not brave and to me a martyr is someone who dies for a recognised cause. I don’t see that Metastatic, Inflammatory or Male breast cancer is yet recognised properly, or at least not by the powers that be. At the moment we are voices crying in the wilderness. They don’t see us as a challenge to their authority because they rarely even think about us at all. They do that because we don’t have a loud enough voice. And because our voices keep dying. Worst of all there are new voices that follow us and have to start at the beginning again, when they have enough to deal with already.

Advocacy is worth the effort because no one is coming forward to represent us. We have to do as much as we can until the Pink Ribbon tells the real story of breast cancer, and not just the easy slick public relations inspired message. It isn’t easy, but every time I try and do some advocacy I feel as though it is another drop in the ocean of reality and that eventually we will taken our place at the centre of the real conversation; the conversation about less toxic treatment, support and inclusion of Metastatic, Inflammatory and Male breast cancer.


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Health Communications and Health Advocacy

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