October is the month of my birth. It is also the month for breast cancer awareness and a time when it seems impossible to escape from the sea of pink that engulfs the internet, the grocery store and pretty much anywhere else you care to look.
I feel quite ambivalent about this. On one hand, I recognise that promoting awareness and raising funds for research are valuable and important. Encouraging women to have their screening done and to investigate any breast changes is something I am happy to get behind. And I do think awareness can make things easier for survivors. Pink can become a convenient shorthand, a way of alerting people to think before they speak. I have a close-fitting lycra gym tank that does not hide my chest at all, and I think that the fact that it happens to be bright pink (very bright pink!) probably inadvertently clues people in on why I look the way I do.
However, I also really dislike the sexualisation of breast cancer. "Save the TaTa's" is not an empowering message for someone who has had to sacrifice their breasts in order to save their life. Neither is a "No Bra" day. Somehow the emphasis has become all about breasts and the cancer bit has been forgotten. Someone on the Facebook group Flat and Fabulous wryly observed that judging from all the media pictures that are shared, it would be reasonable to conclude that the top risk factors for breast cancer are being young and beautiful. I suppose the core of my unease is that slackivism and pinkwashing undermine the reality that, for many women breast cancer is about loss and disfigurement and pain and death. And how they choose to negotiate that reality shouldn't be dictated by the need of our society for them to be sexy. Or positive. Or strong. Or feminine. Or any of the other adjectives that seem to be compulsory for women struggling with this disease and it's aftermath.
So this month, I will donate to an organisation that supports breast cancer research and hope that women in the future have a better chance of surviving metastatic disease than we have now. And I will be wearing black. It seems to me to be a far more appropriate colour for this experience than pink.
True Colours by Cindy Lauper