It’s that time of year again–October, which is breast cancer awareness month. So I get to experience, once again, my ambivalence toward the whole Pink Stuff issue. Like, aren’t we “aware” enough already? Why must they keep beating us over the head with it? Plus, there are so many other cancers which don’t get nearly the same amount of attention, but are equally deserving of attention and research money. And not to mention other diseases, like CFIDS, which don’t even rate in terms of money and publicity. This makes me cringe.
But, I kind of understand it. Because it was not that long ago that it was impolite to mention the word “breast” or the word “cancer” in public, and the two together were like unthinkable.
But I think I know why and how that changed. It was the book Our Bodies, Ourselves. First published in 1971. It’s now in its 9th edition (published in 2011) and its focus has changed somewhat. In 1971, it was revolutionary, and was open warfare on doctors by women.
At that time, the standard of care for a diagnosis of breast cancer was radical mastectomy: removal of the breast, the muscles of the chest wall underneath that breast and most of the lymph nodes under the arm. This was a case where the treatment was nearly as bad as the disease.
And even then it seems, the state of knowledge was that that probably wasn’t necessary. But the authors of the book said, practicing doctors (who were mostly men) don’t really care. After all, it’s only women, so who cares? The whole point of the book really was for women to advocate for themselves and to stop buying everything doctors told them. They succeeded.
Which falls into the category of “Be careful what you wish for”. For the most part though, it worked. The standard of care now is: radical mastectomies are never done at all. And a “modified” radical is: remove all the above except the muscles of the chest wall. And it is now the last choice, not the first. The downside is that women who may actually need that are more reluctant to do so. Plus you get Pink Overload every October.
And yet. I have relaxed a bit about the issue now. Even if breast cancer hogs all the attention and a lot of the money, a rising tide lifts all boats.
This month, the local newspaper is sponsoring Go Pink! An awareness effort that other cities are apparently participating in also. It kicked off on Thursday, October 4th. That day, driving to work, pink was everywhere. I have never seen an entire city do something like this. Eventually I had to suspend my embarassment and cynicism about it, and just be amazed. It made me cry. A rising tide lifts all boats.
A pictorial history:
The next photos are from the newspaper, the Tallahassee Democrat.