Sick and tired, in fact, of the blame game when it comes to breast cancer. Society’s message goes something like this: if you are unlucky enough to get breast cancer, it’s your fault. If you triumph heroically over the disease, however, you’ve done something right to combat it.
In particular, the message from many in the media and misguided medical studies are loud and abrasively clear to us touched by breast cancer — we own our disease. This means we are to blame if we lose our battle and we are to be extolled as heroes if we defeat it.
Here are some myths that studies, media, and society tell us. These myths seem designed to silence and marginalize women in particular.
1. Breast cancer is the best kind of cancer to get because of its high cure rate. Actually, there is no cure for this disease. Even those who are seemingly cancer-free can get a recurrence at any time. By the way, even though I have had a preventive double mastectomy with reconstruction, doctors have said I still have a chance of recurrence. Huh? Oh, and by the way, I watched my friend die of breast cancer, and I don’t think she would say that her cancer was the best one to get.
2. Early detection saves lives. Not always. If breast cancer is found before it spreads, one’s odds of survival are better, but not guaranteed. In fact, this “early detection” phrase puzzles me. What is early detection anyway?
3. Breast self-exams (BSE) are the be-all and end-all. I happened to find mine through BSE, but it was partially due to sheer luck. Some tumors cannot simply be found through BSE. Should we blame women for not finding their own tumors? How about blaming them for finding their tumors after the cancer has spread?
4. Mammography is always the gold standard for detecting breast cancer. Sure, mammograms find tumors in many women, but too many individuals are still falling through the cracks. If you have dense breast tissue, the chance of an accurate mammogram reading is slim at best. My breast tissue was so dense, that a mammography missed my tumor. Other diagnostic tools need to be available and widely used.
5. If one is eventually “breast cancer-free” — whatever that means — then it’s assumed the cancer treatments are responsible for that. Depending on the cancer grade and individual’s biochemistry, cancer can either spread or not. It’s common for some breast cancers to develop resistance to treatments.
How can we blame or exonerate women for a disease with so many random factors?
The following blame-games are general statements made in the guise of trying to help women understand why they get diagnosed with breast cancer. Instead they are designed to blame women for their disease.
1. We should’ve had children before the age of 35. I know way too many people in their 20s who have had children and then have had breast cancer.
2. Exercise and eating right will stave off breast cancer. While these are great lifestyle habits, they are no guarantees against getting breast cancer. I should know. Prior to my diagnosis, I was “fit” and ate right.
3. If we started menstruating earlier than later we are more at risk for cancer. Like this is useful information.
4. Breast cancer is sexy and cute and fem. Truth is, it’s ugly.
5. If one doesn’t have the BRCA gene(s) mutation, then one can’t get breast cancer. Like many, many people, I have neither mutation, and I got this disease anyway.
What I find particularly interesting is that the blame game doesn’t seem to be pointing its fingers at those who get other types of cancer: testicular, uterine, ovarian, pancreatic, etc. There’s something about breast cancer that encourages the blame game.
Maybe it’s all because of the sexualization of women’s breast cancer that make women with breast cancer subject to societal blame.
I’m tired — of those with breast cancer being further victimized by the blame game.