A few years ago, my friend Rachel and I became embroiled in a possibly ill-advised debate in the comment section of Huffington Post. The specifics I’ve lost, the essence remains. Rachel was jabbing at someone about all the juvenile booby fun people have with breast cancer “awareness” and he told her to lighten up.
(As I’m writing this, I am remembering more – I believe we were discussing those pink bracelets that were all the rage in 2011 and why “I heart Boobies” isn’t a particularly helpful rallying cry.**)
I don’t remember if I happened to be following the conversation of if she told me about it, but I let the dogs out on him.
Why did I care?
Because I knew Rachel’s story.
Because I knew Rachel.
In her early 30s, she was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer and had an excellent prognosis. She did everything “right.” Some six years later though, it returned as Stage IV cancer, metastasizing in highly unusual ways like to her skin and, in the end, to her spinal cord fluid.
Yes, I said in the end. To get ahead of the story, she died of it in 2012.
By the time I met her in 2010, her cancer had already metastasized but she was feeling pretty well. Unfortunately, I saw her decline precipitously as the disease crippled her. Fortunately, she was a generous person as well as a smart and prolific writer, so we can all read her story on her blog.
So when this HuffPo thing went down, I knew about her suffering and thought, How dare this total stranger tell Rachel to lighten up? She had already revealed her diagnosis to him and I couldn’t believe he could be so insensitive. That’s when the downside of all these positive “awareness” programs hit home to me.
No one wants to be told they’ve been played. And people behaving badly when they find out they have been.
We want to believe that we can wear silly pink bracelets and dumb slogans on shirts and cure cancer. But if we could, we would have already. It’s a swindle – exploiting people’s dual desires to help a good cause and to have a good time.
And when it’s exposed, you not only have the shame of realizing you’ve followed the wrong star home, but you also don’t want to believe it. So you blame the messenger, ironically that’s often the person you claimed to want to help in the first place. All because you don’t want to admit you were wrong.
It happens ALL THE TIME in the pink ribbon movement.
I’m now hearing the same shouts about the ice buckets. Sit down, shut up, lighten up, stay positive. Well, I’m here to tell you – people throwing up the caution flag are not trying to melt your ice. They are saying this: HOLD UP. Research. Don’t assume that your good intentions matter more than critical thought.
As I said last time, I have no idea if this ice bucket challenge is the birth of a new pink ribbon planet. But I do know that it is valid to ask that question. If you feel like you need to lay blame to for the buzz-stomping, don’t blame the questioners, blame those who have been shameless; those who will exploit anyone or any tragedy in order to make a buck.
** (1) Breast cancer that stays in the breast won’t kill you. It has to move outside of there and take up residence in major organs before becoming fatal. (2) Catching breast cancer early does not guarantee a cure. See: Rachel’s story above. (3) In an attempt to diagnose and/or stop the march of cancer, many of us insiders have had disfiguring surgery. To constantly hearken back to the societal supremacy of a nice rack as the pinnacle of female beauty is actually painful to many of us, deepening our already raw wounds of humiliation. (4) To put it succinctly, Forget the boobies; save the women.