Many don’t like the truth about breast cancer. So, in order to avoid or deny the ugliness of this disease our culture has invented at least two mythologies — two narratives if you will — about those afflicted with breast cancer.
During August 29’s #BCSM Twitter chat, one participant brought up the insightful point that when it comes to breast cancer, people only want to hear and see stories of strong women who beat the disease. Oh, and lots of pink ribbons.
I completely agree.
But there are yet other pervasive breast cancer narratives that are equally noxious — the myth of women who die of breast cancer quietly, courageously, and nobly, as well as the myth that those who died are somehow to blame for their deaths.
Society glosses over breast cancer more than any other cancer. There’s no other cancer — whether uterine, ovarian, testicular, and so on — that gets “prettied up” the way breast cancer is. Scores of women are losing their lives, and all many people think about is to pinkify and glamorize breast cancer.
Breast cancer is considered the sassy, sexy kind. I had that cancer. It sure didn’t feel so sassy and sexy going through this. I lost also friends to cancer, and it was anything but pretty.
Here are two types of breast cancer narratives pervasive in our culture:
The narrative of triumph and the hero: When I tell people that I’m a breast cancer “survivor” (for lack of a better word), they view me with awe and admiration. I’ve heard, “Good for you!” and “You beat cancer” more times than I can remember. As if my survival were totally in my control. As if my deceased friends fell short when it came to fighting breast cancer.
Truth is, whether a person “survives” cancer is partly due to random luck, not because the “survivor” fought harder than the person who died from this disease. The “survivor” does not have more value than someone who doesn’t survive.
The narrative of the person dying quietly, courageously, and nobly. Our culture wants to believe those people who die of this disease simply passively die. These breast cancer “victims” are either put on a pedestal for dying quietly with great courage and acceptance (If you don’t believe me, just watch the movie Love Story, the tear-jerker responsible for the nonsensical line “Love is never having to say you’re sorry”) or blamed for their own deaths because they didn’t think positively enough or they didn’t fight hard enough.
Nothing could be further from the truth. People who ultimately die fight just as hard against the disease as those who survive.
What’s lacking in our mainstream culture is the acceptance of diverse narratives. No two breast cancer experiences are alike. But society often typecasts those of us affected by breast cancer in one of the two aforementioned narratives.
And typecasting is the antithesis to truth-telling.
What do you think can broaden society’s exposure to the wide spectrum of breast-cancer narratives out there?
Feel free to share your story. Each story shared will help dispel the myths of the brave warrior or noble sufferer.