Remembering BCC Member Marie-Laurence Waldelöf

 by Gayle Sulik

Breast Cancer Consortium member Marie-Laurence Waldelöf died of breast cancer on December 25, 2012.

Fluent in french, swedish, and british english, Marie-Laurence Waldelöf of Paris, France specialized in copywriting and communications. After her breast cancer diagnosis in 2009, Marie-Laurence began exploring the cultures and contexts of breast cancer. Triumphant survivorship did not represent her reality, as a patient, a person, or a woman. Connecting with other diagnosed women in France and beyond, she began observing and documenting the vagaries of “cancerland” from an outsider’s perspective. Sharing her observations, feelings and questions with others strengthened her convictions and commitment to challenging common assumptions about breast cancer culture, medical technology, research, and patient advocacy. Marie-Laurence was a woman I was destined to know. I am grateful to BCC member Cathie Malhouitre of “Au sein de sa différence” [Within our differences] for making our introduction.

Marie-Laurence was a member of “Au sein de sa différence” and a regular contributor to the organization. She helped to develop an on-line reference library called E-Bib to share information, bridge differences, and help people move forward “in a world that is not as rosy as we like to say it is.” Marie argued that breast cancer, “is a social challenge wherever you live, a global issue beyond nationalities and across borders.” Sharing this message, Marie wrote a 40-page synthesis the book, “Pink Ribbon Blues” in french, Le Blues du Ruban Rose.

For October 2012 Au sein de sa différence developed a communications campaign to spur discussion of pink ribbon culture in France. The campaign has a booklet entitled, “Questions Roses” (Pink Questions) and includes a dialogue between french senologist-oncologist Dr. Dominique Gros and me. Dr. Gros asked about the commercial interests in breast cancer awareness campaigns, the upbeat messaging that seems to hide private experiences that don’t match the trope of triumphant survivorship, and the lack of information about the realities of metastatic breast cancer. I asked him what role the medical community should play in advocacy, shaping public perceptions, and confronting the use of the Cause for commercial rather than public health purposes. “Questions Roses” (in french) was distributed to cancer centers in Paris. Au sein de sa différence also released a video interview with Dr. Dominique Gros in Strasbourg, France. [A summation of Sulik’s part of “Questions Roses” (in english) can be found here. Marie-Laurence was in the process of translating Dr. Gros’ comments into English.]

As Marie-Laurence and Cathie Malhouitre worked on Pink Questions, we were in the process of establishing the Breast Cancer Consortium. Both women enthusiastically committed to BCC’s mission and only in existence since October 2012, we already felt the significance of their contributions. In her tribute Cathie wrote that, for Marie-Laurence thoughtful communication was the essence of peaceful human exchange. Indeed Marie-Laurence was a smart, skilled, witty, and brutally honest woman. Her commitment to thoughtful thinking created a space for others to contemplate and grow. As we grieve the loss of our friend and collaborator, the legacy Marie-Laurence leaves behind fuels our commitment to continuing what we started.

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