Friday, 9 October 2015

Let's not be Grumpy about Pinktober

If you've been following my blog you'll see that I've changed my profile pic to the poster produced by the fabulous ladies at Flat Friends: an online group of UK based ladies who have decided against reconstruction after breast cancer took one or both breasts.  I'm proud to be on there with such a lovely looking lot of ladies. 

Hopefully campaigns such as these will help women (and men...let's not forget that they get breast cancer too) to remember to check themselves in Pinktober and beyond and thus save some lives and some breasts too.  There is, however, quite a bit of grumpiness about Pinktober on the cancer blogosphere.  Survivors worry that all that pink fluffiness trivialises breast cancer or, even worse, makes it seem like a 'good' cancer.   There's a lovely quote I found somewhere (sorry, can't remember the source) that 'breast cancer is about vomit and finger nails dropping off.  It isn't pink and pretty.' 

That's certainly true.  And some campaigns, like the M&S 'show your strap' campaign, are rather insensitive given that many of us don't have breasts to put in a pretty bra any more.  They have missed a trick, I think, by failing to provide more post-surgery and mastectomy lingerie options in the range that they are advertising alongside the campaign.  On the other hand, what a good job it's done on getting the message out there about breast cancer!

I'm looking for a job at the moment and one position I considered was working with a charity that raises awareness of CMV.   Do you know what CMV is?  No, nor did I.  You will probably be as shocked as I was to learn that it is one of the main causes of children being born with permanent disability, more common than Down's syndrome, Spina Bifida or Cystic Fibrosis.  Simple improvements in hygiene like regular hand washing can prevent CMV and yet most pregnant women never have heard of it.  Think how happy that charity would be to land a campaign like the M&S 'show your strap' campaign.  So I think we survivors of breast cancer should not be too quick to criticise well meaning awareness campaigns even if they are sometimes rather pink and fluffy.  Let's just get the message out.

And while we're about it, let's be a little sensitive about the message we get out there.  Let's face it: we've been through a lot.  Vomit, finger nails falling off, scars and all the rest.  We might not want to sugar coat it, to let the world think it's 'just' breast cancer, but on the other hand spare a thought for the women flicking through magazines as they wait to see the doctor about the suspect results of their first mammogram.  Let's not terrify them.  Yes, breast cancer takes lives, it takes breasts and it takes months of horrible treatments.  But most of us do get through it, often stronger than we were before, and focusing on the negatives is a worse than making a first-time pregnant woman listen to endless horrific birth stories. 

That's why I love this Flat Friends poster.  Look at us!  We've all lost one or both of our breasts and we're not hiding that tough reality. And yet, aren't we beautiful and smiley?

Pinktober can be a difficult time for those of us affected by breast cancer.  By all means, let's make sure that the glossy world of celebrities doesn't water down the message.  But let's not go to the other extreme either.

Most of all, let's remember that all that really matters is getting the life saving message out there - whether you agree with Pinktober and the silly campaigns that run at this time of year or not, at least it's all publicity.  I wonder how many more women have finally booked in that mammo as a result of all the buzz on social media?  So pass it on: nag your friends to check their breasts!  And while you're at it, tell your pregnant friends to wash their hands regularly.  

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