Why cancer sucks (and so do awareness memes)

This is what breast cancer actually looks like.

In the last week or so, I’ve seen an uptick in the number of people posting the latest “breast cancer awareness” meme. I think I may have sprained an eyeball after reading them. I am honest-to-goodness sick and tired of “awareness” campaigns that do nothing to either raise awareness or effect real change.

It’s not because the memes are stupid, although they are that, too. It’s because to my knowledge, cutesy, cryptic Facebook status updates don’t actually change a single thing about breast cancer’s existence.

Not only that, raising awareness by virtue of telling people, “Hey! This crappy thing is happening!” doesn’t give anyone the tools they need to address it. It would be like standing on your lawn holding a sign that said, “There are starving people in the world.” Yes, but what do you want us to know, believe, or do about it?

You know what does make a difference? Doing something. Don’t just pass around a cute meme because you think people are going to magically understand that it’s meant to make people think about breast cancer. You want real “awareness”? Then do something about it. Give to a charity. Spend time visiting a hospice. Take care of your loved ones who are suffering from any type of cancer and the effects of treatment.

I have a friend who put it this way (not specifically about breast cancer):

Cancer sucks.

That’s really all she needed to say. And then she did something: She set up a way for people to donate for research. Several other friends have run charity 5Ks, half-marathons, and full marathons. Still others have given their time and their money to charitable organizations. Many have cared for loved ones who were at various stages of their cancer journey.

I don’t need a meme to remind me that cancer sucks. Breast cancer is in my family. I lost a friend to metastatic cancer this summer. So forgive me if I don’t care what color your bra is, where you put your purse, or your shoe size and hairstyling timetable. I care about the people, both women and men, who have lost their hair, their breasts, and their lives in their fight against this menace.

If you feel compelled to raise awareness, then don’t use hidden messages. Try something like,

This month we’re raising awareness about breast cancer. The best defense right now is early detection. Remember to do your breast self-examinations, see your primary care doctor regularly, and have mammograms.

You can follow that up with links for how to do a self-exam or your favorite charity.

If that doesn’t appeal to you, then go with a personal story:

Hey, everyone, I just want to remind you that cancer sucks. Here’s my [or my friend/co-worker/ relative’s] story. Please join me in the search for better treatment options.

My friend is right; cancer sucks. Let’s do something about it.

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10 thoughts on “Why cancer sucks (and so do awareness memes)

  1. Well Said Amy!

    I lost my Mother to Pancreatic Cancer, it was horrible and I was her sole carer. It was doubly horrible because I knew EXACTLY what was going on at the cellular and sub-cellular levels (I have a degree in Pathology and was at Bristol when the first ‘onco-gene’ was discovered).

    The upshot of this is that ‘cancer awareness’ memes on things like Facebook are not only bloody pointless (save that they probably allow the terminally unaware or stupid to feel all gooey inside having ‘done their bit to raise cancer awareness’ – yeah right!), they are not only bloody useless in achieving their stated aim, they bloody HURT!

    EVERY time one of these memes is plastered across my Facebook wall it reminds me of the last few weeks of my Mother’s life and the hurt therein.

    So please, as Amy says, if you CARE, get out there and do something about it. If you are merely going to spam Facebook I, for one, will be relegating you to the place for lazy, stupid people – the world of IGNORE!

    • Yes, that’s exactly how I feel about those memes–that they are a way for people to believe they have done their part. All the actual people I know with cancer (and other serious medical conditions, too) refuse to repost them.

      I was thrilled to see that my “cancer sucks” friend has met her fundraising target. So there are people out there doing good things.

  2. Yes cancer sucks, and breast cancer really sucks. Recently I witnessed one of the worst case scenarios of this disease. A young patient came to us with necrotic tissue all over one breast and open bloody sores where the other had been. People think of cancer as something that is causing damage on the inside of your body. On the outside we only see the hair loss from treatment,a missing breast and or weight loss. The fact is you can suffer great outer damage too. The patient who came to us was a gory mess we will never forget.As women, this patient hit close to home. Her suffering and passing made us weep in anger, deep sadness, and great relief her suffering ended. There are no words to describe the horror that this disease can cause. I do hope that people not only become aware; but feel a call to action.

    • Thanks for sharing this. You’re right, we often only see the media-friendly images of breast cancer: people who are otherwise fairly healthy-looking, or those who are long-term survivors. People might feel more compelled to act rather than post silly things on Facebook if they were exposed to images of the devastation cancer causes.

  3. I hate those guilt trip “take a minute to repost this or you’re a mean, horrible person who believes cancer is good” status updates. So many of my FB friends post that non-sense. Don’t try to guilt trip me! I’m fairly certain I can come up with ways to be proactive and actually try to help someone or some organization.

    It seems like the past few months have revealed so may people I know (maybe not directly, but within 2 or 3 degrees of separation) who have been blindsided by various types of cancer. It leaves me feeling sad and full of hopelessness. You know the route I’ve taken as a result. And thank you so much for your support in that regard.

    And whlie I appreciate and support October as breast cancer awareness month, there are so many more aggressive forms out there; when will they get a month dedicated to raising awareness?

    • Yeah, it’s the guilt trip that keeps on giving.

      You’re right, breast cancer isn’t the only one out there. And in fact, the “typical” form isn’t the only kind of breast cancer there is. Another friend pointed out that some of the other cancers actually DO have awareness campaigns but go ignored because the breast cancer awareness thing overshadows everything else. I wonder how much of it is the feeling that with breast cancer, since early detection/screening can have such a huge effect on outcome, that it’s the one we can “do something to fix” easily. No one wants to think about the kinds that swoop in, devastate people, and have no cure in sight.

  4. Not to mention Prostate Cancer in men.

    This always seems somewhat overshadowed by the Media attention towards breast cancer. Perhaps if we wish for TRUE equality we should be raising awareness of this amongst our menfolk to the same degree that we screen for breast (and cervical) cancer amongst women?

    • Absolutely. I have a friend who is working on a project to that end.

      And of course, we can’t forget that although men can’t get cervical cancer, they CAN get breast cancer.

  5. Thank you for sharing this! I hate the Facebook memes. They are demeaning, objectifying, and as you said, do nothing to actually raise awareness, or DO anything. I recently heard about a different kind of campaign that is incredibly refreshing, if not haunting. It’s called The Scar Project. I wrote about it on my blog here: http://unladylikemusings.wordpress.com/2012/10/03/breast-cancer-is-not-a-pink-ribbon/. I found it kind of triggering since breast cancer is a very real part of my life but triggering in a good way if that makes sense. It is good to know that one is not alone. Again, thank you for sharing this post. It’s great to know that I’m not the only one who gets irritated come October. 🙂

    • I feel my rage meter going off every October; you’re definitely not the only one.

      Thanks for sharing your blog post and the Scar Project. Those images were indeed haunting, but also beautiful. So much strength and pain and courage and life in those photos.

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