Breast cancer is scary. The number one predictor for having breast cancer known thus far is just being a woman. Though this may sound obvious to some, the fact that we do not know enough about this disease to be able to find any other conclusive causing factors is strange, given the amount of time in which it has been in the public focus and the billions of dollars of research money that has been donated in that time. One of the reasons that we don’t know much about the disease is because the money we spend when we purchase pink products goes to research for a cure, and not towards research to determine the cause. Finding a cure is important, as it allows us to be hopeful. But it cannot be our only focus.
Instead of focusing in equal parts on understanding the cause and the cure, we are inundated with pink bike helmets, hammers, teddy bears, and spatulas that promise donations for a cure. So far, this has been unsuccessful. In the meantime, companies looking for a competitive edge can slap a pink ribbon on something and watch it fly off the shelves as they count on the philanthropic pockets of their consumers to open for the cause. Why is breast cancer the cause you see marketed the most? It’s a safe disease to market as it is perhaps the only non-stigmatized disease that has the potential to affect half of the population. In fact, not only women get breast cancer. Though less frequently, men are also disagnosed with this disease, though they are often ashamed as it is seen as a “women’s disease.” Because it is so well known and so poorly understood, breast cancer is the sweet spot for marketing as research will always need funding.
So why don’t we know much about breast cancer? Well, what we do know isn’t pretty. One can read about breast cancer restoration in Scottsdale, guidelines for those recovered – and that information is verified and well presented. At the same time, though no major risk factors have been identified for women to watch out for, we know that we ingest and come into contact with many products that are carcinogenic, meaning that they cause cancer. In fact, many of the companies who sponsor research for the cure continue to sell pink products to us even though they are known to be carcinogenic. Though they are pocketing off of our collective desire to find a cure for this disease, these companies have no incentive to stop selling their carcinogenic products. As long as they continue to urge us to buy cancer-causing products that fund research for a cure, no one is focusing on their contribution to the cause of our cancer. We are effectively placated and literally buying into their scam.
And what about all of those pink products? Why is that pink ribbon the face of breast cancer? Putting this pretty face as the mask of a disease that is devastating to those it affects doesn’t make us think about how scary breast cancer actually is. Instead, we think of the empowering walks and runs in which we participate that evoke so much hope in us. Though mobilizing collectively like this is important, without coupling our search for a cure with a drive to find the cause, we are allowing these corporations profiting off of breast cancer to define our movement to cure it. Products marketed to promote breast cancer awareness are usually either infantilizing women by selling childish things to represent a disease that impacts grown women, or objectifying women’s bodies through marketing focused solely on women’s breasts, even though many with the disease have to have mastectomies. When considering what the disease really looks like for those who have it, who is the pink campaign about boobs really supposed to represent?
Even the words that we use when discussing breast cancer point to the problematic way that we think of the disease. We frequently talk about breast cancer being a “battle,” calling those who live through it “survivors.” Though it is important for those who have lived through breast cancer to have empowering language to describe what they have gone through, it is equally important to consider the implications of that language.
Positing breast cancer as the enemy conveniently allows us to focus all of our anger on the disease. We are angry because we don’t know why this is happening to so many women. We are angry because the only treatments available to us are the “slash, burn, and kill” methods that leave our bodies sick and scarred. We are angry that we are told that early detection is our best hope, when in reality many types of breast cancer cannot be treated even when they are detected early. We are angry because the money for research that we have been funding has yielded little results in the decades since we have begun walking and running and buying for a cure. And we have been handed rhetoric that encourages us to direct our anger at the disease, instead of at the culture that tell us that if we only buy enough pink teddy bears, our own diligence should be enough to save us until we have bought a cure that no private or medical company seems to have financial incentive to find; rhetoric that implies that the women who have been diagnosed with untreatable breast cancer aren’t “survivors,” aren’t “warriors,” didn’t fight hard enough against the most famous disease that we inexplicably seem to still not understand. We are angry, but maybe not at the right people.