07 October 2010

Is Anyone Not Aware of Breast Cancer?

Last night three of my female friends posted unusual updates on Facebook about where they liked it.

I wanted to know what was going on, so I Googled it (I often find this approach less stressful than talking to women). It turns out it’s a campaign to draw attention to October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It’s an idea along similar lines to last year’s effort which centred on posting your preferred bra colour on your favourite online social network.

Like most men, I like breasts and I hate cancer. I would prefer it if the two came together as infrequently as possible. But I can’t help but wonder why breast cancer in particular gets a whole month’s worth of awareness. Yes, it’s a terrible disease that according to the Australian Cancer Council affects somewhere in the region of one in nine women. Yes, it is the second most common form of cancer in women behind skin cancer (although it also comes in behind lung cancer, stomach cancer, bowel cancer and liver cancer if you add men to the equation). But come on – a whole month?

Last month in my office we attempted to raise money for prostate cancer research by holding a weekly barbeque each Friday at lunch time. We gave up after the first week due to lack of interest and managed to raise a triumphant eighteen dollars fifty which just about covered the cost of the meat. And don’t get me started on the questionable symbolism of combating prostate cancer by holding a sausage sizzle.

Just this week in the same office we participated in National RUOK? Day in aid of combating the insidious rise of suicide, which according to a federal government fact sheet claims more than 2000 lives in Australia each year. The basic idea was to spend some time making sure your friends and co-workers were feeling okay. We also get behind Daffodil Day, Jeans for Genes day, Red Nose Day and Australia’s biggest morning tea.

They’re all great ideas, but my point is they’re all just for one day. Why does suicide get one day with an awkward acronym while breast cancer gets a month, a viral internet meme and pink lights or ribbons strung up all over the place? And when is it going to be national liver cancer awareness month?

I’m trying hard not to arrive at the cynical conclusion that it’s because breasts are much sexier than suicide. And frankly I’m failing. I know which one I’d rather talk about. I suspect any given group of Australians in any pub in the country could come up with as many distinct synonyms for ‘breasts’ as there are other varieties of cancer. The Australian Cancer Council lists sixteen broad categories of them on its website. The American cancer institute list several hundred different types. Cancer varieties that is, not synonyms.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be aware of breast cancer, or even that the awareness campaign itself is not a great thing. And I don’t mean to belittle the suffering and experiences of those afflicted with this terrible condition. All of us need to be aware of what can and is being done to combat and, more importantly, prevent this disease.

My point is that there’s got to be a more universal way of promoting the need for research and action; some way of drawing attention to the issue that focuses on the cancer, rather than the breasts.

When it comes down to it, I don’t care where you put your handbag and I have only a passing interest in what colour your bra is. If we’re really serious about taking on cancer, can’t we find a campaign we can take seriously?

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Garry with 2 Rs
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