While still a child, I lost a cousin to breast cancer. She epitomized the brave cancer-fighting patient. Boisterous, active and forever a smile planted on her pretty face, you would never have guessed that she was going through the unimaginable.
In the last few months of her life, while she was mostly bedridden, her cheeriness remained unfazed. It was almost as if she had disconnected herself from her body which was literally rotting away. When she did pass away, people remembered her for her pluckiness in the face of such a merciless disease.
‘Breast Cancer Awareness Month’ is observed worldwide in the month of October (aka Pinktober). This awareness drive is carried out to educate women on various topics such as the importance of early detection, treatments available and palliative care for the patients.
In recent years, the pink ribbon has come to symbolise breast cancer awareness. In fact, pink becomes the de facto colour for the month of October globally. Pink ribbons are pinned on sports player’s jerseys, TV channels will change their logo to pink and TV show hosts will present the shows in, you guessed it folks, pink garments.
Yet I am not the staunchest supporter of ‘Breast Cancer Awareness Month’. This might seem strange to you given that I have lost a family member to breast cancer. However, to me, breast cancer awareness campaigns nowadays seem far removed from their objective of raising knowledge about this disease.
Case in point the ‘CheckMate’ campaign carried out by Colors FM in 2016. The campaign had recruited Naila Nayem, who had started a discussion previously on her Facebook page with a video where she promises to reveal something. The campaign was a massive hit. Thousands rushed to watch her videos and it did start a conversation around the much-needed issue of breast cancer in Bangladesh. Yet all this happened at expense of sexualizing a disease and that is exactly where I have a problem.
Because breast cancer is not about breasts and bras.
Breast cancer is not pink. And most certainly, breast cancer is not about plucky young models using suggestive innuendos to talk about a disease. It is, however, about real women who have to undergo mutilating operations. It’s about chemotherapy, nausea and hair loss. And last but definitely not the least, it is about the unbearable pain borne by the patients and their loved ones who see them suffer.
What these campaigns are getting wrong is associating perky breasts with raising awareness. It seems to give out the message that it is acceptable to objectify a woman’s body to garner knowledge about an awful malady; that women somehow need breasts to survive. It dismisses the fear and agony that is the reality of breast cancer and replaces it with this fake, plastic image of a nubile model.
But the purpose of this article is not only to badger these poorly constructed campaigns, it is also to tell the female population that they need to obsess about the wellbeing about their bosoms just as much as their male counterparts.
In a report published by ICNN (International Cancer Nursing News) in 2015, 69% of the cancer-related deaths for women is because of breast cancer. This type of cancer had the highest prevalence amongst Bangladeshi women, with cervical cancer coming in second. Another article posted in the South-Asian Journal of Cancer in 2013 stated that the incidence rate was 22.5 per 100,000 females in Bangladesh. In other words, out of the 14,836 women who contracted cancer in 2012, 7142 of them lost their lives according to Dr. Habibullah Talukdar Raskin who quoted from GLOBOCAN 2012.
This uncommonly high number can be attributed to several reasons. Factors such as financial incapability, lack of disease awareness, lack of confidence of the medical treatment, improper screening tests and maltreatment of early metastasis have all contributed to the high death rates.
Hence while we do raise awareness about breast cancer on Pinktober, perhaps we should go further than just slapping on a pink ribbon. Maybe we should put more emphasis on reaching out to our loved ones to get a mammogram or doing something as simple as talking about breasts in general. Because, if not us, who? If not now, when?