Breast Cancer International

Breast Cancer International: big news and big business in the United States, pink ribbon culture is also going global.

Numerous world landmarks have been lighted in pink in the name of breast cancer awareness –the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa, Ontario; the River Danube’s historical Chain Bridge in Budapest, Hungary; the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Sydney, Australia; the Le Royal Hotel in Amman, Jordan; the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City; the ancient Mayan pyramids of Chichen Itza, in Mexico’s southern state of Yucatan; even the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The statue of Christ the Redeemer is lit up in pink for the start of the national campaign "Pink October" to raise awareness for breast cancer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on October 5, 2010. (REUTERS/Sergio Moraes)

The statue of Christ the Redeemer is lit up in pink for the start of the national campaign “Pink October” to raise awareness for breast cancer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on October 5, 2010. (REUTERS/Sergio Moraes)

Despite the visibility of the pink ribbon in these locations, many in the international community reject a consumption-oriented treatment of the disease and the incessant advertising that frequently accompanies it. They call for a commitment to the prevention of breast and other cancers. They demand a focus on evidence-based information and its clear dissemination. They want timely screening results, economic security for the diagnosed and their families, and publicly funded research with long-term studies. They insist on full disclosure of potential conflicts of interest from breast cancer organizations and fundraisers, transparency about funds raised, and a refusal on the part of breast cancer organizations to accept funds from companies that produce or distribute carcinogens.

What follows are some of BCC’s analyses of breast cancer in the international community.

Remove the Pink Ribbon Blindfold and Ask the Big Question

Sixteen international organizations and national groups — including Breast Cancer Consortium — have signed on to the statement prepared by From Pink to Prevention campaign, which calls on breast cancer charities everywhere to remove their pink ribbon blindfolds and ask why, despite all the money raised, more and more of us are getting this disease? From Pink to Prevention was formed in 2013 by Deborah Burton from Tipping Point North South, Helen Lynn from the Alliance for Cancer Prevention, and Diana Ward of the Working Group on Primary Prevention of Breast Cancer. by Gayle Sulik, Breast Cancer Consortium, 2015.

Pinkwashing in the Middle East

When I began researching pink ribbon culture sixteen years ago, I understood that the scope of my project had the potential to grow beyond its initial focus on the United States. What I did not imagine was that my efforts to follow the expansive web of corporate and governmental investment in breast cancer would eventually lead me to confront the use of the disease to advance U.S. interests in the Middle East—a particular manifestation of pinkwashing that works in concert with military and market interventions, at the same time that it seeks to conceal them. — by Samantha King, Breast Cancer Consortium, 2015.

Relinking Cancer Treatment, Incapacity to Work, the Social Security System, and Patients Economic Rights in Spain

Beatriz Figueroa is a a journalist and lawyer by training who now leads a national e-campaign calling for a law to protect the economic rights of cancer patients. She is proposing legal reform to guarantee decent economic well-being for cancer patients and survivors. Her campaign – “Life is not the same after breast cancer”– is not about creating solidarity; it is a demand for social justice. by Ana Porroche-Escudero, Breast Cancer Consortium, 2015.

Documenting the Invisible Scars of Breast Cancer Treatment: Fieldwork in Spain

The “invisible scars of breast cancer treatment” are those treatment effects that impact many women’s lives but are seldom discussed. Two topics that emerged throughout Ana Porroche-Escudero’s fieldwork in Spain were the negative effects of treatments on women’s sexual pleasure, and the painful side effects of axillary lymph node dissection (the surgical removal of a large number of lymph nodes from the armpit). Although these issues came up repeatedly in her fieldwork, the “dominant biomedical and mass media tendencies to conceptualize survivorship as a transformative journey….through cancerland” have rendered them invisible, thereby silencing women and limiting their capacity for recovery. by Ana Porroche-Escudero, Breast Cancer Consortium, 2014.

Che: Managing Cancer and Self-Employment in Spain

Che represents one of the many hidden socioeconomic and other contextual aspects of breast cancer, one where certain women are not able to afford sick leave because they are their family’s main breadwinners, and because it seems as though the sword of Damocles hangs over their employment. Far more disturbing, as in the case of Che, is that the disabling sequels of cancer treatments present a grimmer fate for those who are self-employed and work in manual occupations. For people like Che, fortunes can easily take a downward turn with a cancer diagnosis. Her case illustrates well how dealing with cancer involves much more than eliminating cancer cells from the body. The social circumstances in which women live can be as scary as the treatments they endure. — by Ana Porroche-Escudero, Breast Cancer Consortium, 2014.

Starting a Movement: The Red Stroller in Italy

Belinda Silvestro is an environmental activist living in Brindisi, Southern Italy. With other women committed to taking action against the environmental pollution affecting her town and threatening the health of its inhabitants, she founded the association The Red Stroller (Il Passeggino Rosso). by Belinda Silvestro, Breast Cancer Consortium Special Issue, 2014.

Cancer Sucks: The Legacy of Tutu Tedder, the U.K.

Since meeting the showgirl, Tutu, in 1994 when she was performing at the legendary Madame Jojo’s in London’s Soho, we collaborated on many occasions. She was my friend, my favorite muse. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009, it seemed obvious that we would document the experience. Eager to break from the generic breast cancer tableau, those pink and fluffy images that fail to reflect the realities of the disease, we knew we would alienate mainstream outlets. Tutu endeavored to be true to herself. Appearing in photographs that were at times graphic, she refused to compromise on revealing truth. With the Cancer Sucks project, Tutu wanted to take back a degree of the control and autonomy that the prescriptive nature of treatment plans and frequent hospitalization threatened to strip away. by Ashley Savage, Breast Cancer Consortium Special Issue, 2014

Women’s Experiences of Breast Cancer: A Snapshot of the Stories of Women from Minority Groups in Australia

This organization report presents a brief account of the findings from a PhD research project conducted from 2011 to 2014 in Australia, which involved an analysis of Australian breast cancer websites and an interview study with women from minority groups who have had breast cancer. The focus of this research was on how information and support services were presented to women from minority groups, and how women described this experience for themselves. This information is directed towards the participating breast cancer organizations and any other community groups or organizations that aim to help women with breast cancer. — by Alexandra Gibson, Christina Lee, and and Shona Crabb, University of Queensland, 2014.

Woman Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 4.10.36 PMMammography Screening in Germany: Yes or No?

After living in the U.S. for 19 years I moved back to my native Germany. Shortly after my arrival, I received an invitation to be screened for breast cancer. The standard letter described Germany’s FREE screening program and conveniently came with an automatic appointment. It felt like an obligation rather than a choice. I’m not the only German woman who feels this way. When a political TV journal took on the issue in June, it generated intense discussion about mammography screening among experts and the public at large. — by Astrid Eich-Krohm, Breast Cancer Consortium, Aug. 15, 2014.

Gender, Power, and Feminisms in Breast Cancer Advocacy: Lessons from the United States and Poland (PDF)

The U.S. breast cancer movement helped transform breast cancer’s social and medical landscape domestically and in some ways internationally. However, differences in gender identities, power relations, and the role of feminism(s) cross-culturally also shaped breast cancer advocacy itself. After giving a brief introduction to the socio-historical context of the U.S. and Polish breast cancer movements, this article illuminates some of the linkages and divergences between the United States and Poland to demonstrate the role of gender and power in social movements that concentrate exclusively on women’s (health) issues, namely breast cancer. This comparison of social phenomena from two countries illuminates the impact of cultural patterns on models of activism as they relate to feminism and traditional gender roles. — by Gayle Sulik and Edyta Zierkiewicz, Journal of Gender and Power, 2014.

Perilous equations? Empowerment and the Pedagogy of Fear in Breast Cancer Awareness Campaigns in Spain. Link to Publisher (PDF)

Breast cancer awareness campaigns are the major strategy used by public institutions and private organizations to empower women about breast cancer. Yet mainstream campaigns are often unaware of, or oversimplify, the meanings of empowerment. Drawing upon my research and observations as an academic and activist over the past 9 years in Spain, I show how the goal of empowerment aims to persuade women to comply with biomedical recommendations rather than challenge them. Campaigns use coercive fear mongering tactics, including misleading information, the exaggeration of statistical data, fear of a horrible death, or stereotypical pressures about women’s moral responsibilities to subject themselves to medical interventions for the sake of the family. Some argue that fearmongering tactics are necessary for targeting women with a simplified, high-impact messaging. However, there is evidence that fear creates unnecessary social psychosis and, conflicting with the stated empowerment intent, distorts decision-making. I argue that there is an urgent need to stimulate debate about how to improve breast cancer awareness campaigns by using an alternative approach that is grounded in a model of critical health literacy in which patient-centered aims work in conjunction with critical consciousness of the social factors that affect breast cancer. — by Ana Porroche Escudero, Women’s Studies International Forum, 2014.

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