Activism Opinion

The Only Breast Cancer Awareness Article We’ll Run

Airman 1st Class Ashley Reed
Written by Anna Geoffroy

I hate pink month. I hated it before 2012, but in the years since I’ve grown to hate it with the fury of a thousand suns. I hate pink, I hate “awareness,” and I hate fucking cancer.

In November, 2012, my mother died from breast cancer. She didn’t like doctors and hadn’t been to one in years, so we only found out it was cancer when she was in the hospital dying. I got a call on Sunday and she died on Friday, and it was the worst week of my life.

That month, 5 Hour Energy started running their breast cancer charity promotion. A pretty blonde woman sings with a pink guitar and pretty pink lipstick about how you can ingest some caffeine and vitamins and a small portion of that dollar will go to some charity or other that will spend some fraction of that fraction on something vaguely related to breast cancer research. Maybe.

That’s not what breast cancer looks like. It’s not pretty, it’s not happy, it’s not hopeful and it’s not pink. Cancer fucking kills people. Cancer eats them up from the inside and destroys their lives. My mother never even went through the nightmares of chemo and radiation, but she was still barely recognizable in her hospital bed, all jaundiced and incoherent. She never even lost her hair, never needed a walker, never lived with the terror of questionable remission, with the threat of a new tumor hanging over her head for months or years.

Breast cancer awareness doesn’t do shit. Early and aggressive breast cancer screenings don’t save lives or improve outcomes. It’s bullshit, stop spending money on it. Focusing on “a cure” for breast cancer leaves the women and men currently living with cancer and their families with fewer resources. And “a cure” is a sad, simple-minded misunderstanding of how cancer even works.

What actually saves lives is improving health across the board. Improving access to medical care, improving food, water, and air quality. But that’s hard and slapping a bunch of pink crap on the NFL and yogurt cups is way easier.

My mother would not have been saved by more awareness. One of her close friends died of breast cancer years before she went to the hospital. Her friend fought for years, through chemotherapy and three remissions, until finally the cancer spread to her brain and she lost the fight. When we cleared out my mother’s jewelry drawer, there was a fucking pink rubber bracelet with a breast cancer awareness ribbon on it. From a charity event.

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Some women like having the pink to fall back on when they are diagnosed with breast cancer. It can give them a sense of hope and community. I have no problem with these folks, you do what’s necessary to survive as long as you can. But I have no patience for any of the companies that pink-wash their brand every fall and think that makes them good corporate citizens. I have no patience for charities that think raising awareness of breast cancer is a worthwhile goal in and of itself.

What would have saved my mother, strangely enough, had nothing to do with breast cancer. She had neurofibromatosis, a rare genetic disorder that results in lumps throughout the body and fibers in the brain. There isn’t a lot of funding for it, because it doesn’t affect many people, and it’s not a sexy disease. But the fact that my mother was used to her body being a little lumpy, and doctors tend to shrug when someone with NF has another lump, and she had spent so much of her early life being poked and prodded by doctors, meant she didn’t see the cancer coming.

Awareness of breast cancer didn’t do anything, but public awareness and research dollars for her rare disease could have changed things.

Rare diseases like hers affect 30 million people in the US, and are responsible for 35% of all deaths in the first year of life. Treatments are rare, because the cost/benefit ratio just isn’t there for big medicine. There are over 7,000 rare diseases, any one of which could really stand for a month of “awareness.”

It’s coming up on three years now. My mom now has a grandchild she never met. She missed out on her youngest child finally leaving home, missed out on my dad getting back to work in the industry he loves, missed out on visiting my brother in Hawaii. We all still miss her like it was yesterday.

Pink month did nothing for her, so we’re doing nothing for pink month.


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About the author

Anna Geoffroy

I put words and pictures to use. Sometimes, I yell at buildings.

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The Only Breast Cancer Awareness Article We’ll Run

by Anna Geoffroy
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