Sexy breast cancer campaigns anger patients

A wonderful article by Liz Szabo in USA Today on "I heart boobies," "save the ta-tas," and all those other horrible sexualized breast cancer campaigns that raise dubious funds for dubious goals and leave those of us who have the disease feeling demeaned. There is nothing sexy about breast cancer, and Szabo does a fantastic job in this piece explaining why. Above, one of the worst such campaigns I have ever seen.

"All of us are really fed up," my friend and fellow person-with-breast-cancer Lani "Chemo Babe" Horn says in the article. "Save the tatas? No, save the women. A lot of us had to give up our tatas to live."


When diagnosed with aggressive cancer at age 38, Horn says, saving her breasts was the last thing on her mind. All she could think about, she says, was staying alive for her three young children. "Every time I thought, 'I can't climb back into that chemo chair,' I thought, 'I have to be able to tell my kids, 'I did everything possible.'"

The new breed of ads is especially cruel, Horn says, because breast cancer strips women of many features associated with femininity and beauty. Chemotherapy and surgery to remove the ovaries can both improve a woman's odds of survival, but at the cost of plunging her into instant menopause.

Chemo can make women lose their hair, eyebrows and eyelashes. Radiation can leave women's chests feeling, as one survivor has described it, like "a raw piece of meat."

And beyond the chemo-induced nausea, diarrhea and vomiting, Horn says, long-term hormonal therapy can cause severe vaginal dryness, making intercourse too painful to contemplate. While many cancer survivors want more information about preserving their fertility and alleviating sexual side effects, very few get help, Horn says.

Read the rest, and forward it to everyone you know. Man, I'm so glad Pinktober is almost over.

Below, another horribly-conceived sexualized breast cancer campaign, this one from @letsfcancer.

I'm sure some of the people behind some of this stuff have good intentions, but then, why do they ignore the voices of breast cancer patients (myself included) who see this shit and say publicly and repeatedly, "What the actual fuck?"


  1. Thanks Xeni, have fwded to my wife, who will possibly repost/write about it herself.  This is horrible horrible stuff – a really clear example of a functioning patriarchy.
    Marc Hudson, Manchester UK

  2. I don’t think it’s fair or appropriate to group a) companies trying to make a buck by producing a “pink” item, b) non-profits like “feel your boobies” run by survivors with perceptible educational goals, and c) pornography and overt sexualization of the affected organ all in the same boat.

      1. With respect, this demonstrates that you are offended by this material. That doesn’t mean that all women or breast  cancer survivors are offended. I asked 3 family members who have lived through breast cancer how they felt: One was ambivalent, and wasn’t sure if this was appropriate. The other two felt that anything that raises awareness, education, and financial resources to tackle this problem was just fine.

          1. Not what I said. I was pointing out that opinions differ, even among cancer patients & survivors. Xeni was appealing to her status as a cancer patient as part of her justification for her claim that this is inappropriate. Her personal experience adds a lot of weight and credibility to her opinion on this topic. However, it is then beneficial to advancing the conversation on the propriety of this type of media campaign, I believe, to point out that other people in a similar position think differently than Xeni. 

            Presenting a different point of view should not be over simplified and taken to mean that my opinion is to condone this activity. It means only that different people, all with personal experience in this issue, have different opinions. As such, as final determination on the propriety of these types of media messages should be informed by both sides of the argument.

            As such, I am myself somewhat ambivalent: My self image as a “man” is not strongly connected to this part of my anatomy, and my risk of breast cancer is significantly less than a female might face, so I am skeptical of any initial “gut” reaction I have on an issue that I am less likely to be able understand from the inside. I recognize the potential negative gender stereotyping in this issue, but I balance that with the idea that women are beautiful, and why should celebrating that beautify in connection with a campaign to combat breast cancer automatically be a negative thing? But is this type of media “celebrating” or “exploiting”? I’m not sure. To me, it seems like a grey area, as typified by the differing opinions of those who suffer form this disease. Hence my own ambivalence.

            So, you see, not just a flat “Oh it must be okay then”. Thinking that based on my original comment is too pat and over simplified. It is easy to attribute the opposite opinion to anyone who may disagree with your own stance, but in this case the truth is much more nuanced.

        1. “The other two felt that anything that raises awareness, education, and financial resources to tackle this problem was just fine.”

          But this is just a variation of “the end justifies the means”, and I do not agree with that. At some point you start to sell short. And is there really any awareness raising in any of the posters above? Seems more like just cheap shots to me.

          I don’t have breast cancer (as far as I know), but I as a woman am offended by posters like the ones above. Especially the last one. I’m also going WTF, it’s seriously offensive and wrong on so many levels I don’t even know where to begin. “So keep them safe, you lucky bitch.” What… the… FUCK!?!?!?!?

          But most of all… they seem to imply that what is important in a woman are her breasts. Not all women are born with massive honkers, not all women are able to keep them, and apparently that makes them non-interesting. But who cares about the women anyway… what is important is the boobies… massive ones… for men to oogle and touch (2nd base and that pile of shit of “If I had boobies” poster). Poor men… cancer threatening the female boobies. (How about a poster, once in awhile, raising the awareness of male breast cancer?)

      2. Thanks for the reply, Xeni. I had already read the entire article, and a lot of the other #pinknausea items as well.
        In general, I think awareness of where money from “buying pink” or drinking at a certain bar on a certain day goes is <<<< "awareness" of breast cancer, although I do believe there are pockets of at-risk patients not captured by current screening guidelines who probably do benefit from non-traditional public health education efforts*. I think this also highlights the idea that not every person who receives the same diagnosis automatically becomes a person with the same needs, wishes, and feelings (since "Feel Your Boobies" was started by another woman with breast cancer, it's reasonable to view that as a representation of her feelings). 
        I realize the article you linked to was primarily about overt sexualization and objectification, and I wanted to point out that not all of these should be lumped in the same category.
        To summarize, I think: suggesting that the only thing tragic about breast cancer is the loss of breast tissue is bad, using pictures of headless women's breasts to generate business under the guise of breast cancer "awareness" cheapens real educational efforts and is bad, educating people to help them make decisions about where/how to donate money for cure efforts is good, being accepting to a wide range of feelings and experiences on the topic (both survivors who crave and abhor levity) is good, using the (dubious) cancer support card to justify any means (exploitation of women's bodies) is bad, and lumping everything that uses the color pink or a word other than "breast" together is probably not fair or appropriate.Thanks again.*this is controversial; happy to discuss "what conclusions should we draw from available evidence" and "where should everyone who is not an NIH funded researcher put their time and energy" another month

  3. Yeah, that’s pretty damned offensive.I wonder how prostate cancer victims would feel about an ad that said “Care for the package” or if testicular cancer patients would like “You have two balls so don’t strike out”? There is nothing cute or fun or comical about cancer and I would never give a red cent to an organization that raised money in that manner, no matter how lofty or pure the goal. 

    1. I would not try to draw the comparison across genders. Lots of guys think taking about the balls is hilarious. Just leave it as it is and it stands on its own.

    2. Not a good comparison. I’m a guy, I actually find the breast cancer stuff really tacky, and your suggestions are kind of funny. I’m not certain humor is the way to go with cancer, either, now that I think about it.

      1.  Maybe I should listen to morning radio from time to time to remind me that most men never grow up emotionally past age thirteen or so.

        1.  I’d just like to mention that the “men never grow up” concept is also a message from the patriarchy so they can continue to act like children and respond to any criticism with “But that’s they way men are! We never grow up! Tee hee!” It’s the same mindset that blames women for rape because men “can’t help it”. It’s an idea that is insulting to both men and women.

          I just wanted to say that.

          (On the topic at hand these kinds of campaigns are horrible.)

        2. That’s quite the blanket statement. I thought we had decided as a civilized world that blanket statements about any reasonably large group of people are a bad thing. 

  4. I’ve got to comment further and just say that only the most superficial kind of guy would say something like “Save the ta tas!” as if the rest of the woman is just a life support system for what a male finds attractive and pleasant. These kind of slogans seem to indicate that the very most important thing is for the breasts to be healthy, attractive and available for men to ogle, for men to toy with, for men to gratify themselves all over. Sorry, don’t mean to be graphic but I used to do research in the field of prostate cancer and not once did it ever cross my mind to think, “what a shame that he’ll probably be impotent after his radical prostatectomy”, no matter how hot he was. We were concerned first with saving patients. How can anyone be that shallow? Sheesh!

    1. I’m unclear on why you wouldn’t think “what a shame that he’ll probably be impotent” whether he was hot or not.

      Seems sort of lacking in empathy. I’m pretty sure the patients mind the impotency, even if it’s a result of a life-saving treatment.

      1. She answered that question already.  “We were concerned first with saving patients.”  Perhaps she was busy enough that it didn’t occur to her to think about the patient’s sex life rather than the patient’s life in general.

        Come to think of it, maybe that was her point in the first place.

  5. So there’s an obvious trade off here: this sort of approach almost certainly raises more funds to fight the disease than a more prosaic campaign would.  Should the people behind this adopt a less effective approach – thereby undermining the overall goal of combating the disease – to avoid offense? 

    1. The goal should be helping people who get breast cancer, right? So if this approach makes things harder for them, as the article explains, it’s inherently not effective.

      1. This response ignores the distinction between helping in the sense of funding research and other concrete efforts to combat the disease, and “helping” in the sense of avoiding hurt feelings.  One is more important than the other.

        1. I agree with you.

          Telling a segment of the population, male and female, the ones who are going to respond to this sort of advertising that you don’t want their money is jim dandy and all, but if that money helped research treatment or ideally a cure then would future cancer sufferers really thank you for taking a stand on their behalf?

          Also, this may be the most effective way of parting that particular segment of the population (I reckon they’re probably known as “the majority” but I have little faith in humanity) and if you can’t have their hearts and minds, you may as well have their wallets. 

    2. That might be a tiny, yet valid point if the funds were actually used to do useful work. But it’s way overshadowed by the insensitivity of the message it conveys.

    3. this sort of approach almost certainly raises more funds to fight the disease than a more prosaic campaign would.

      Do tell. (emphasis mine)

      1.  ALMOST CERTAINLY raises funds large enough for huge executive compensation packages, teams of brand defending lawyers and expensive marketing campaigns to ensure RINSE and REPEAT on the formula

    4. I don’t think the trade off is that obvious. I think there’s a laziness to this approach. The correct answer is to come up with a non-offensive campaign that is still clever and thought-provoking. It may take more work, but so does every real solution.

      1. There’s an expression that fits well here: the perfect is the enemy of the good.  Obviously the best conceivable outcome is a campaign that is massively effective and offends no one.  In the real world, the utopian outcome is rarely realistic.

        1. There’s an expression that fits well here: the perfect is the enemy of the good.

          Given that breast cancer charities have been around for decades, that’s absurd. There’s no reason to have campaigns run by frat boys from some late 80s SNL sketch.

          1. Yes, charities have been around for decades, and still there are gaps in awareness as well as research funding. So perhaps the long history of charities is not the best justification here.

    5.  this sort of approach almost certainly raises more funds to fight the disease than a more prosaic campaign would

      Assumes facts not in evidence. Got any data on that, or just an ungrounded gut feeling?

      1. There’s a reason sex is used so heavily in marketing: it works.  There is a substantial body of scholarly work substantiating that conclusion.  Your challenge to the empirical basis for the question posed exposes your own bias: you want the campaign to not be an effective one, so that there’d be no cognitive dissonance in your view that it is wrong because it offends, period.  The real question here is, assuming that this sexual approach is more effective than realistic alternatives, would the fact it causes offense nonetheless warrant its rejection?

        1. Okay, so how did you conclude that advertising for, say, Pepsi or the new tv show on NBC is similar to fundraising for a charity or other non-profit? Specially, cancer? Even more specifically, breast cancer?

          AND you’ve yet to provide any actual, real evidence to support any of your claims.  Just some blathering on about how “SEX SELLS! DUH! We all know that!”

          Let me guess. You got your learnings on the interbutts.

          Please excuse me as I roll my eyes.

        2. “assuming that this sexual approach is more effective than realistic alternatives”

          We do know what assumptions make us, don’t we?

          1. Well, one things assumptions can make us is closer to a useful answer, by providing us a framework to base our experiments. If you want to know if sex sells, you start with assuming sex sells. And if sex sells, how do you sell sex?

            The other sort of assumption you can do is jump to gut conclusions and say that sex doesn’t sell because that would be repugnant, and throw it out the window. But that seems counterproductive.

        3. There’s a reason sex is used so heavily in marketing: it works. There is a substantial body of scholarly work substantiating that conclusion.

          Do please link to a study that shows that it works in health-related charities. Because what works to sell shoes to teenagers is not automatically transferable.

          1. Maybe, but is it worth trying to find out?

            Actually, I can think of an example where it is known to have worked: Promoting condoms in Africa. That’s probably a bit of an obvious example, but the nonprofits that tried to push condoms to slow the spread of HIV did indeed find that sexy condoms were a lot more effective than healthy condoms (I’m simplifying it slightly obviously). I’m sure that doesn’t make you feel any better if you’re dying of AIDS, but it’s good for all the people without it.

            But like I said, is it not worth doing a sexy breast cancer campaign to fund breast cancer research? I can think of good reasons why not, some of which Xeni pointed out and some of my own. But I’m not dead certain the ends don’t justify the means, at least here.

    6. [citation needed]

      Seriously, what the fuck are you talking about, and where did you get your information?  I expect details.

  6. Thanks for posting this.  I’ve found this kind of marketing repulsive for quite some time, but it’s hard for a guy who’s never had cancer not to look like an ahole for complaining about the actions of supposed cancer charities. 

  7. This is surprising?  Anything that gains sufficient attention will become commercialized and exploited.  Look at music, art, religion, patriotism, and even breast cancer.

    1. Who said it was surprising? To people with breast cancer, and to people who have loved ones with breast cancer, it’s not merely unsurprising, it’s mindbogglingly fucking tedious.

      The article is not “oh my gosh, look at this thing we just realized is happening” it’s “here’s a thing that’s been happening and increasing for some time and many people are REALLY FUCKING TIRED OF IT”.

    2. You know, just because someone posts something on the internet, does not mean they find it “surprising”.  Why do people always say this?  It just makes you look like an ass.

  8. Imagine a similar campaign for testicle cancer.

    I’m jealous of your nuts. If they were mine I’d touch them all the time. Jump up and down. Show them off. Squish them together…

    1. A decade or so back a cancer charity in the UK ran ads featuring jean clad male models from the waist down with the slogan “The most common form of cancer in men under 30 is testicular. If that doesn’t make you reach into your pocket, what will?”

      Note that test-canc is pretty rare, and rarer yet it young’uns — but it was effective in its impact and garnered a great response, monetarily.

      Yes, it was a cheap shot. But it worked.

    2. Seriously….it doesn’t work that way.

      I’ve seen men driving lifted F250 trucks with a pair of nuts hanging off the hitch.  I’m betting they’d find anything referencing testicles as nuts to be pretty damn funny.

  9. “Keep them safe?” Jerk, they’re trying to kill people with cancer. If the tits wanted to be safe they wouldn’t metastasize.

  10. I think the ad at the bottom works well. It is clearly tongue in cheek. I wouldn’t call it offensive or in bad taste.

    I agree that there is nothing fun about cancer. But do you think just showing how terrible it is (like those anti-smoking messages depicting black lungs and congested arteries) would be effective as an advertisement?

    By using a little humour, the campaign/ad is so much more engaging and memorable. All it is saying is ‘You’re lucky not to have cancer. Let’s keep it that way. Remember to check yourself’. Nothing wrong with that. Perhaps some of you are taking the ad too seriously and reading too much into it.

    1. Yeah.  A headless shot of a young, white woman holding cancer-free boobs in a sexual manner is tooootalllllly new and original.


      It’s okay to be direct.  This is not about being direct.

      This is about yet more “SAVE THE BOOBS!” crap.
      Perhaps you should pay less attention to the boobs, yourself.

      1. I’ll admit, I found the last one okay – because I honest-to-god MISSED THE PICTURE FOR THE TEXT. I liked the idea of SAYING something forceful about it, and couching it in woman-to-woman terms. Now that you pointed it out to me I’m a lot less cool with it. 

        (Also, I evidently sometimes kinda fail at being society’s proper idea of a dude.)

        1. Or maybe you’re desensitized to seeing naked (headless) women, and that’s why you didn’t even notice.

          1. Maybe. But could it *gasp* have something to do with the fact that the photo is set at a low opacity in the background, and hidden by a block of text?

            This might sound crazy to you, but I think the text is the focus of the advert, not the photo, which you seem to find hugely offensive.

            You seem to have a particular issue with the lack of a head. Would it make you happier to see a head of a beautiful model on the ad? Oh no. You’ll say they are sexualizing women by showing someone beautiful. How about someone not so good looking and not at all sexy then? Oh no. They are portraying cancer patients as unfeminine and in a bad light. How about we have a range of women with different breast shapes and degrees of beauty? Unacceptable! Now they’re focusing on breast shapes, and who are they to dictate what is less or more beautiful? Maybe we could create a composite photo out of 1000 randomly selected women from different ethnicity, age and cultures. Yes, then we can use it in the background behind a block of text.  

            Wait. This is getting awfully complicated. How about we just crop off the head? Make the image anonymous, so that anyone can relate to it? Yeah, that sounds like a plan to me.

          2. Nice list of straw men you have there, man. 

            Also, you may want to actually do some research on the sexualization of women in advertising.  I can promise you that using headless women isn’t just so “anyone can relate to it”, nor was it an accident.

            I assure you I am far from the first to make note of this phenomena.

            Here, we’ll start with this:

            Attack of the Headless Women

            And what about a study that shows that people see men as a whole, but both men and women see women as individual parts:


            Taking those two links into consideration, re-read what you’ve stated:

            How about we just crop off the head? Make the image anonymous, so that anyone can relate to it?

            Women being treated as anonymous sex objects! That’s just fantastic!

            It’s astonishing that so many of you have opinions on a subject you clearly know nothing about.

            The picture takes up the whole damn advertisement! And yet you’re trying to claim it’s not the focus? Seriously?

            Why are you being so defensive? Do you *really* think you’re immune to the effects of advertising? ‘Cuz I assure you, you’re not.

          3. Here, some more information on headless women in media:

            Axe has yet another sexist commercial, this time featuring headless women! (Jezebel is currently offline due to Hurricane Sandy but I encourage you to read it when it is back up.)

            But, you know, I guess if you’re doing an advertisement for BREAST CANCER awareness, then doing a campaign similar to sexist Axe commercials is totally the way to go!

            Here’s yet another fragrance company using headless women on their advertising:


            Wait.  You mean to tell me this is a complicated subject that perhaps you really know nothing about?  Huh.

    2. Well, I would call it seriously offensive and in bad taste. It’s all about what a man would do. It has absolutely _nothing_ to do with a woman. Well, other than that the man wants to fondle female breasts.

      Do you see women doing what the advert says? Do you walk around with your hand in your pants. Wanking it, jumping around, squishing your nuts, fondling them all the time? (Hmm… why did I assume you were a male? Your text just sounded like there is no way in #!#”%# that a woman would have written it, but I could of course be wrong.) 

      1. As I have said before, the ad is clearly tongue in cheek. It is not seriously suggesting that a woman would do that.
        If you think so, then you are taking it far too seriously.

        You say that it is offensive and in bad taste, I disagree with you. Very well, each to it’s own.
        I don’t see how my gender makes difference.

        1. What it has to do with your gender? It is clearly targeted to men. I may be a minority of one, what do I know, but I don’t find it at all funny as a woman (and yeah, I’ve seen that as a joke I don’t know how many times over the years… why would you fondle breast after the initial fun wears off when you can just go play with your penis? And you have breasts, go fondle them!).

          And in breast cancer context it makes it totally tasteless (well, at least to me). On the other hand, I would totally cheer for similar types of ads showing how a woman with mastectomy is still as sexy and womanly as before.

          1. You say it is clearly targeted to men? I disagree. Actually, it is clearly targeted to women.
            The message of the advert – ‘Keep them safe. Pledge to touch yourself this October’, is a reminder to women to check for breast cancer.
            Men… do not have breasts to check.

    1. Because they are unable to comprehend that girls and women are people, not just amusing, decorative, sexualized body parts for their enjoyment. Body parts that are young, heteronormative, desirable, and non-cancerous(yet). See: well, an awful lot of contemporary mainstream culture.

      They cannot connect the dots between the reality that their mothers, sisters, aunts, school teachers, neighbors, boss, etc.etc.etc. were all young once, but are now afflicted with this horrible disease. They don’t want to think about the breasts that are over 30 years of age ! Or the fact that these breasts are attached to actual women who have to endure a horrible struggle, surgery, chemotherapy, battles with their health insurance, bankruptcy, and devastation in their personal lives because of this rotten mutation.

      They want to feel like they are helping because hahaha boobies ! Tatas ! Posters with headless women with young hands clutching their nice looking pre-cancer breasts. Plus all that pink stuff that you can buy that is supposed to help breast cancer somehow, right ? And crappy bracelets made from toxic plastics that say stuff about boobs, too. That 0.05% of profits from the sale really adds up, right ?

      These stupid campaigns reveal a bigger truth about womens place in the dominant culture, and the truth is not at all attractive.

      1. Plus all that pink stuff that you can buy that is supposed to help breast cancer somehow, right ?

        This.  My guess is that the corporations raise quite a lot of money, even though they typically donate a relatively small percent of the gross.

        But at this point, I wonder if there’s enough public awareness that the campaign should shift more towards direct contribution.  I’ve stopped bothering with the corporate tie-ins, becuase I’d rather 100% of my donation just go to fighting cancer.  I don’t really need the special pink ribbon Doritos.

  11. Susan G Komen is a company trying to make profits, even if it used to be about a noble cause.  Slogans like this come from marketing brainstorming committees, and it gets people in the door.

  12. The primary question behind these ads is “What gets attention?”, not “Is this ethical, tasteful, or in the best interest of any of the parties involved?”.  

    Putting pink on your product makes your company look caring, potentially boosting sales.  Putting boobs and risque text on product also boosts product awareness, potentially to a demographic that would be missed by the pink alone (read: Dudes.  As in “Spike-watching-douchebag-dudes”, not just males).  

    I support the author & general feeling, but I feel like this is just what happens when you give the product “Breast Cancer” to a marketing group that is less than scrupulous.  It’s unfortunate, but these idiots would create the exact same campaign for energy drinks, cookies, clothing lines or anything else they get their hands on.  It’s their sad little misogynist “trick”.

    If you want to take issue with the fact that we’ve turned a horrible disease into a pink point on a marketing plan, I’m behind you all the way.  If we’re saying that American society and marketing often diminishes women into a pair of tits, I’m in full agreement and I think it’s worth protesting.  However, I’m not sure how I feel about mixing the two complaints.

     I’ll go with “No using breasts to advertise!” as a blanket statement, or “No using cancer as a marketing tool!” as a blanket statement, but just saying “No using breasts to advertise cancer as a marketing tool!” leaves me feeling a bit confused.  

  13. Nothing says breast cancer awareness to me more than some woman with two silicone grapefruits bolted to her chest showing how much she cares.
    It is a good thing we can have all of these awareness campaigns to we can gauge exactly how little people are still caring, turned off by the awareness campaigns.
    Millions of dollars donated, maybe its time to total how much is actually funding real research and real education as opposed to pink packaging on products and funruns with prizes.
    I’m sure Xeni is just overjoyed to know someone raised a bunch of money and won and iPod for doing it and 22 cents of every dollar raised goes into a fund that someday might help people actually fighting this horrible disease.

    Oh and don’t women still have heart attacks at a higher rate than breast cancer?

    Breast Cancer its a bad thing, what we as a society have turned it into is so much more horrible.

  14. So glad you posted this xeni…my wife has stage iv triple neg breast cancer…currently in remission for 6 months (who’s counting?) as part of a 4 year ongoing battle…we HATE these adds and slogans.  They’re not funny…cute…EVER…try having your breast(s) cut-off and re-configured to some semblance of what it once was…and for what?  Society’s vision of womanliness?  She is the most beautiful and precious person to me and no amount of surgery or scars will change that…she’s more beautiful now then she has ever been because her body is now a reflection of her fight and strength and love.  Another interesting factoid is that support groups sponsored by some of these groups are segregated along the lines of those with “survivable” types of the disease, and those who have a terminal illness…let’s not share the bad news with everyone who “has a chance”.  Good grief.  Although we sound angry, it’s really just weariness with how shallow some can be while believing they’re doing good.  Humans are interesting!  Much love and care to you and yours…it is not an easy road.

  15. I was diagnosed with breast cancer over 12 years ago, but I was sooo lucky compared to Xeni. It was caught so early that it didn’t even count as a stage 1. Nevertheless, I had a mastectomy. Just no chemo or radiation. At that time, in drs offices, hospitals, all these people wanted to hold my hand and sympathize, give me things like soap, and tell me not to cut my cuticles. I had phone calls from so many cancer organizations that I started monitoring my calls. I just wasn’t into it. The surgeries went on for 6 months, I felt like shit for longer, but during all that time I still had to work because the rent didn’t stop and the bills had to be paid and I had to eat. (I will not even talk about dealing with insurance). If all these groups want to help the people with cancer then these are the areas they should look into. The boring, everyday stuff. As far as those ads are concerned, well they’re just another kind of fake hand holding so I see them as an extension of the treatment I got. It’s bullshit. And you get embarrassed because you don’t really like it, but you want to believe that they mean well.

    1. I’m the treasurer of a local nonprofit support group for childhood cancer. I know what you’re talking about.

      We have a goal to help out families with that mundane day-to-day help, and we do some of that. However, it’s very difficult to get donors to pay for that sort of thing. They want to pay to send the kids to camp.

      We put on a camp, but we make it a family camp (because it affects the whole family) and we also pay electric bills and transportation costs as we can.

      Our biggest donor to the financial assistance program is a cancer survivor who gets it.

  16. Years ago I raised the point that breast cancer’s public mindshare was disproportionate compared to all the other cancers; primarily because people really like tits, which makes it easy and fun to market.

    I was called a cynical arsehole.

  17. I lost my mother to breast cancer over ten years ago. Every time I see those pink products I cringe. I get annoyed by the trend to make breast cancer sexy and devote tons of money to ‘awareness’.  I donate money to charities that provide testing and treatment to all women for little or no cost. (such as planned parenthood) 
    Thank Xeni for sharing your story and feelings. 

  18. Xeni, I was talking to my partner about this topic, and it occurred to me how nice it has been to read your words on this topic since your diagnosis. I love your authorial voice, and I also love how absolutely take-no-shit you are when it comes to this kind of nonsense.

  19. I had a radical orchiectomy, and I am glad there are no awareness campaigns full of truck nuts, or some other bullshit. I feel weird enough about it as it is. I am sorry you ladies suffering have to put up with this bullshit. “save second base”? That is pretty fn disgusting.

  20. From what I’ve read in the last couple of years I understand that Komen is probably not the best place to give money for breast cancer.  As someone who had been giving them a bill or two a year for a while before that, I’d like to know, what’s an actual GOOD place to give, someplace that gives a large percentage of their funds to research?  I would especially like to hear about ones who give to research that’s likely to be as open as possible, like universities or health systems in some country that is advanced and would share their breakthroughs openly.

  21. Well said, Xeni.  Also goes right to the heart of what’s wrong with the Komen Foundation and why they would think it was okay to withdraw support from Planned Parenthood:  for some reason, it’s not about the whole woman.   By the way, here’s a group to refer folks to, if they’re interested in preserving fertility during cancer treatment:   They work with women and men.  And … @yahoo-ZEJN5UXG44RE2FZDB36NGDKZCQ:disqus, you’re a rock star. 

  22. Wow, those are horrid campaigns.

    It’s like raising money for the partially-blind by going on about how awesome it is to have 20-20 vision.

    I’ve seen some light-hearted awareness campaigns that focus on the issue of examining breasts/testicles for lumps. I think they’re fine, since they have an important message that checking yourself for cancer isn’t dirty or disgusting.
    But making an anti-cancer campaign about maximising your sexual attractiveness… just no.

    1. The @fcancer:twitter  campaign isn’t about raising money.

      It is more like reminding you to take care of your eyes because it is awesome to have 20-20 vision. Nothing wrong with that.

  23. The last ad isn’t that bad. Sure, maybe it’s just a *bit* too sexualized. But it’s a common trope in advertising for diseases. 

    Here’s an example of an ALS commercial that does something similar:

    I’m sure lots of people with ALS don’t love being reminded of the fact that they’re now unable to walk, and it sort of trivializes the severity of the symptoms of the disease. But it catches the attention and awareness of the viewer. 

  24. The ends justify the means. It is extremely important that Komen for the Cure remain well funded, so they can persevere in their primary organizational mission, that is suing other non-profits who have ‘for the cure’ in their names.

  25. There’s so many comments here, I’m sure my voice won’t be that relevant, but when I’m seeing these campaigns, and the reaction to them, I’m loosely reminded of Scott Feld’s paper “Why your friends have more friends than you do”. Of course, the paper made a valid sociological point, but deeper, Feld wanted to make people feel better for understanding why their friends seem to have more friends than themselves. Of course, to anyone who read the paper and doesn’t have lots of friends, you know that even a rational explanation still makes you feel bad. It might be inevitable that your friends have more friends than you, but that’s no comfort.

    These ads are for healthy young men and women. They’re not really directed towards women with breast cancer at all. If you lose all of your feminine virility, these ads don’t exactly ring very true to you. But of course the point isn’t to get your money, you already lost all yours (and probably continue to lose it). The point is that the ads are for people who would otherwise be unaware of or not care about breast cancer. And for them, it’s very effective.

    I’ll draw the analogy to condoms. Condoms are sexy and slow the spread of HIV. If you’re an AIDS patient, do you want your cause being promoted with sexy couples having hot sex? Probably not. But people still can have sexy condoms. We’re talking about early stage prevention here. We’re telling nubile young women to protect their femininity. If you make mammograms gross and sickly, young women won’t want them. If you put pictures of dying AIDS children on condoms, people won’t want to use them.

    As Heinlein said: “The whole principle is wrong; it’s like demanding that grown men live on skim milk because the baby can’t eat steak.”

    Point being, it probably works. But for you, that’s no comfort.

    Man that comment feels so disjointed. But I said most of what I meant, even if disorganized.

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