Changing the conversation on breast cancer in Italy – reflections by Dr Grazia De Michele

The first word I managed to utter upon hearing the news that I had breast cancer was ‘why’. Why breast cancer, at such a young age, with no family history or risk factor? It was November 2010. Four months had passed since my thirtieth birthday.

I was living in the UK at that time, but I decided to be treated in Italy, my native country. I kept asking the same questions to all the doctors I met. The answer – ‘it’s impossible to know’ – was always the same and raised a further question: ‘how can a disease whose causes are unknown be cured?’

As I have learned to accept, there is no cure for breast cancer at the moment. The most one can hope for is a NED (No Evidence of Disease) status. According to Cancer Research UK, breast cancer has the highest mortality rate among women dying of cancer worldwide. More and more cases are diagnosed each year. Treatments have long-lasting side effects and may even cause other types of cancer. The quality of life of many of those living with metastatic disease is poor. Yet, the public discourse on breast cancer is dominated by the stereotypical image of the She-ro, the inspiring survivor who has fought with energy and optimism and has won her battle thanks to her ability to take the illness as an opportunity for personal improvement. A dreadful disease, killing thousands of women and whose causes are still unknown in spite of decades of research, is turned into a macabre Pygmalion.

Read more on Centre for Medical Humanities »

Grazia De Michele, Researcher (International Partnerships – Italy and U.K.)

Grazia De Michele, PhD is an Italian-born researcher and historian currently living in the United Kingdom. Her doctoral thesis, “‘At the gates of civilization’: Southern children in Turin primary school from the 1950s-1970s,” analyzes the social construction of Southern migrants’ children during the post-war period. Grazia was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 30, during the final year of her doctoral work. She had no family history of the disease or genetic predisposition. As an historian she is skilled in analyzing dominant discourses. Following her experience with breast cancer, Grazia is particularly committed to unraveling those surrounding the disease. In May 2011 Grazia started the Italian blog Le Amazzoni Furiose (The Furious Amazons) to raise awareness among Italian women about the need to change the conversation on breast cancer and promote research into the systemic issues contributing to the epidemic. She also contributes regularly to the twitter hashtag #BCSM – breast cancer social media. Grazia De Michele finished her PhD in August 2012. Grazia De Michele and Cinzia Greco are co-editing a special issue of the BCC newsletter, Demystifying Breast Cancer, which highlights compelling stories typically missing from the broader breast cancer narrative. Read Grazia De Michele’s Portrait »

Be Sociable, Share!

Articles & Posts