The Antidote

Counterspin for Health Care and Health News

Saturday, January 09, 2010

What color is my what?

The whole Facebook bra-color thing. It started out as a silly meme, someone apparently tried to legitimize it by attaching it to breast cancer awareness, breast cancer groups tried to weigh in, and the Washington Post wrote up the whole kerfuffle.

I think the best thing to come out of the phenomenon, which was over and done with in not much more than 24 hours, was not increased breast cancer awareness - I mean really, aren't we aware enough? - but awareness of and attention to the concept of awareness: What does it mean, where does it get you, and where do we go from here?

Breast cancer awareness needs to go way beyond a mass adolescent giggle about the color of underwear. The timing coincides nicely with the release of Barbara Ehrenreich's new book, a polemic against the feel-good-about-cancer movement. You can read an excerpt of it in the Guardian. She has this to say about awareness:
The first thing I discovered as I waded out into the relevant [breast cancer] sites is that not everyone views the disease with horror and dread. Instead, the appropriate attitude is upbeat and even eagerly acquisitive. There is, I found, a significant market for all things breast cancer-related. You can dress in pink-beribboned sweatshirts, denim shirts, pyjamas, lingerie, aprons, shoelaces and socks; accessorise with pink rhinestone brooches, scarves, caps, earrings and bracelets; and brighten up your home with breast cancer candles, coffee mugs, wind chimes and night-lights. "Awareness" beats secrecy and stigma, of course, but I couldn't help noticing that the existential space in which a friend had earnestly advised me to "confront [my] mortality" bore a striking resemblance to a shopping centre.

A lot of breast-cancer awareness focuses on unproven buddy-check programs and mammography promotion. How about more awareness of what we mostly don't know about breast cancer - what causes it and how to prevent it, not just detect it earlier?


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