Breast Cancer and Middle School

By Rachel Cheetham Moro (1970-2012)

RACH crop BWRachel Cheetham Moro was on the ground floor of the Breast Cancer Consortium (BCC). She died on February 6, 2012 of metastatic breast cancer at age 41, just 8 months before BCC’s launch. Rachel became a full-time blogger following a career spanning fifteen years in public accounting and tax consulting. In her main blog, The Cancer Culture Chronicles, she wrote about her personal experiences as a woman living with metastatic breast cancer, her observations of the surrounding breast cancer culture, as well as other important issues relevant to the breast cancer community. Hailing from Australia, she lived in coastal New Jersey with her husband and small dog. In a tribute to Rachel’s legacy, BCC member Lani Horn wrote a review of The Cancer Culture Chronicles, a compilation of Rachel’s blog posts in book form, edited by her friend Sarah Horton and mother Mandy Cheetham.

The following post “Breast Cancer and Middle School” is a Rachel Classic. It was first published on December 5th, 2011 on The Cancer Culture Chronicles and is still relevant today.

This article appeared in the December issue of one of our local magazines, The Journal. It’s about a local middle school’s efforts to raise funds for a local breast cancer organization, Breast Intentions, that provides financial assistance to women in need who are going through breast cancer. The charity they support was founded four years ago by two local fifteen-year-old high school students, an admirable accomplishment indeed as well as a worthy cause. It seems clear that the purpose of this story was to congratulate these middle schoolers on their fundraising accomplishments, as well as supporting the good work of the beneficiary charity.

And for most readers, the feel good story would stop there. Well done kids!

middle school CROP

But, of course, I see things a little differently.

Middle school involvement in the pink breast cancer movement, be it fundraising events like this one, education programs within the schools, pink ribbon decorations, flags and signs, or indeed civil liberty legal actions to preserve students’ First Amendment rights to wear “I (heart) Boobies” bracelets, certainly seems to be increasing, as does the associated media coverage. Rather than making me feel good, it’s making me a little queasy and rather uneasy.

Firstly, I’m uncomfortable that breast cancer, the disease, has been elevated by slick marketing to a status that screams to the general public that it is far more important than other major killers of women, like heart disease or lung and other cancers.  (See

And in reading this article I couldn’t help thinking about all the kids who took part in the pink parade in their tie dyed pink shirts and whose parent or other significant person was at home suffering from some other kind of cancer or catastrophic illness. How did these kids feel about all the attention (and money) being paid to breast cancer? Did they have a voice? Were they able to express their feelings of discontent and frustration? Did they even think about it? I really wonder. Do the schools have fundraising events and parades of this scale for other health observances? What kind of message are we sending to these middle schoolers? That breast cancer is the only disease that matters?

In my limited research of this topic, I came across several charitable organizations that offer education programs for adoption by both middle and high schools. Here’s an example of one program offered to Wisconsin schools by an organization called the Breast Cancer Family Foundation.

bcprogramjpgThis particular organization educates young people on the premise of “proven risk-reduction strategies” that apparently may prevent many types of cancer, “not only breast cancer”.  The program, specifically aimed at breast and testicular cancers, focuses on “self-examination, diet and lifestyle”.

Whilst I can certainly see merit in encouraging kids to maintain a healthy lifestyle for all manner of reasons and to be aware of their own bodies, to suggest that these are proven ways to prevent breast cancer is not evidence-based. The point being that we still don’t really know exactly what causes breast or other cancers.

I’d make the same point about self-examination and early detection. These are methods of cancer diagnosis. They don’t prevent or cure cancer or categorically save lives. So why are we pushing breast cancer education curricula that have little scientific basis to school kids? Where’s the value in that, other than perpetuating a cycle of misinformation all in the name of pink breast cancer awareness?

If this is happening on a wide scale in schools, then I hold grave fears for the future generation of breast cancer activists. Indoctrination to the pink party line is starting earlier and earlier. What’s next? Breast cancer programs for kindergartners? Don’t laugh, I don’t think it’s beyond the realm of possibility at this point, and we already have the toys!

On another note, in the U.S. there’s an ever present debate about the extent to which there should be a mingling of church and state, particularly within the public school system. Readers, I put it to you that we now have the mingling of breast and state within our schools. Whilst I applaud any school’s efforts to encourage altruism within their student body and I fully support including cancer as a topic within any health education curriculum, I’m uncomfortable with schools’ elevating breast cancer to this pink extent. As Ronnie Hughes of the Being Sarah blog so eloquently put it; “Pink’s not wrong. It’s just not right enough.” And that’s the problem.

What do we want middle school kids to know about breast cancer, or cancer in general? What do they need to know?

Is it right to popularize breast cancer over other cancers and diseases within the public school system with events like the one in the article?

Is this even an issue?

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