A sickly-sweet, brand-policed, trivializing ad campaign cannot communicate the awful reality of breast cancer experienced by sufferers and their families. Naomi Horn on why she doesn't go pink.
As the fall sports seasons came to a close, high schools everywhere announced one of the most anticipated weeks of the year: Spirit Week. This year, my school's student government planned out the themes for each day far in advance. Monday was 'Murica Monday, in which everyone wore patriotic clothes. Tuesday was Family Day, where the freshmen dressed up like babies, the sophomores dressed up as kids, the juniors dressed up as adults, and the seniors dressed up like senior citizens. Wednesday's theme was "On Wednesdays we wear pink," which at first glance seems like a Mean Girls reference.
The fine print, however, revealed that it was also for breast cancer awareness. Naturally, I thought. It's October. And October means Pinktober.
Pinktober is such a widespread phenomenon that, as I am typing this, Google Drive drive doesn't put a red squiggly line underneath the word. Every October, everything becomes "For The Cure."
Almost any fathomable activity can be done For The Cure. "Sail for the cure." "Shower for the cure." "Sleep in for the cure." "A cruise for the cure." Everything we do is suddenly "for the cure."
I'm sure that most of the participants in these activities mean well. The problem (in addition to the Susan Komen Foundation, who trademarked the phrase yet doesn't give much of its proceeds to finding the actual cure for breast cancer and other things I won't get into) is that many of these organizations truly objectify breast cancer.
At school on Wednesday, I saw a lot of people wearing shirts that said, "Save the Boobies."
The more I thought about it, the more upset it made me. Why are we not focusing on saving the women attached to the "boobies?" Cancer patients who get mastectomies don't get them on a whim. Not only does the "Save the Boobies" campaign trivialize breast cancer, it twists the worth of these people's lives and takes the focus away from what people seem to forget: sometimes we have to sacrifice the boobies to save the person attached to them.
Naomi and her mom at a race ran in her honor.
My mom's breast cancer diagnosis came about six months before I actually started needing to wear a bra. The timing was somewhat traumatic. As a ten year old, one of my biggest fears became developing the very organs that endangered my mom. What if I suddenly got cancer too? I didn't want to go through all the angst of first time bra shopping only to have to get my breasts cut off later. I was terrified.
Looking back on it now, I know that my fears were mostly unwarranted. Luckily, my mom's cancer was not genetic, so while my chance of getting breast cancer is twice as high as the average woman, I am much more likely to live my life without breast cancer than with it. And besides, ten year olds don't exactly go around getting breast cancer.
Naomi's mom being sassy.
But with my mom's diagnosis combined with all the emphasis our society places on the breast part of breast cancer, who could blame me? In a cruel bit of irony, her diagnosis came in October, right when the leaves turn red and the ribbons turn pink. Everywhere I looked, pink ribbons hid on everyday objects, reinstating all my fears. A license plate or teddy bear with a pink ribbon on it wasn't going to make my mom get better. It only reminded me of her cancer and my powerlessness in the face of it.
So no, I don't think there's any value in a shirt telling me to "Save the Boobies." My mom survived, in part, because she got a double mastectomy. As hard and painful as it was, it was worth it, because she is still alive, five years later.
Do I wish that my mom hadn't gone through that? Of course. But in the end, what matters most is that she is here –– even though her "boobies" are not.
She's been a little scarred, a little beaten up, but all in all, she's my mom, and I don't know what I would do without her. Her worth is not in her breasts. We saved her, and that's what truly matters.
Tuesday night, I decided to not wear pink. I have nothing against the majority of the people at my school who did, whether it was for Spirit Week or because of a personal connection to breast cancer, just as I have nothing against people who participate in activities "For the Cure™."
Naomi with her brother and sister in winter 2010.
I just hope that we, as a society, can be wary of the emphasis that breast cancer receives in comparison to other important causes and think about how we can donate our time, money, and energy to people and organizations that are truly mindful of the way that they portray breast cancer, the people affected by it, and women's bodies.
On Wednesday, instead of Pinktober, I decided on my own variation. I've seen the true effect that breast cancer has on women, and it's not something that can be prettied up. Scarred, radiated, burned, nauseated, and fighting for their lives, these women are facing things everyday that most of us couldn't even bear to think about. There's nothing wrong with the color pink, but for those who have really confronted cancer, we know that there's more to it than what's fun to talk about. So from now on, I'll stick with my raw alternative: Punktober.
Naomi and her family at a concert in 2010.
Previously by Naomi Horn
What's right with Hermionie
The Fault in Our Stars' reviewed by young woman, 14, whose mom survived cancer