Selected Publications by BCC Members


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I’m Not The Perfect Cancer Survivor. But I’ve Learned To Live With That

by Adam Bessie, Marc Parenteau, and Gayle Sulik, Narratively, Feb. 16, 2017.

Years after successfully surviving a malignant brain tumor, I still feel guilty for not being the hyper-athletic, diet-conscious superhero we’re told every survivor should be. Read More

Radical Objects: ‘Cancer Sucks’

by Grazia de Michele, History Workshop Online, July 11, 2016.

Photo Credit: Ken Fisher

Photo Credit: Ken Fisher

In September 1995, Lucy Sherak was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 43. A mother of two, she was an occupational psychologist living in Marin County, California. She had previously worked as a recording engineer and was a trained composer. After a mastectomy, Sherak decided not to have a reconstruction or wear a prosthesis. Instead, she chose to wear a button made out of white metal and bearing the words “Cancer Sucks” stamped in red capitals on her amputated breast. Lucy designed the button herself. She had drawn a sketch in the journal she had started to write after her diagnosis and had a dozen printed in a shop.

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If You Really Want to Help Cancer Research, Don’t Give Money to the NFL

nfl-charity-body-image-1454019889by Gayle Sulik, Broadly, on VICE, January 29, 2016.

Despite the National Football League’s contributions to the American Cancer Society through its official “Crucial Catch” campaign, the league is not really a breast cancer philanthropist. Sure, players wear pink cleats, halftime shows feature pink ribbons and breast cancer survivors, and clubs host events or reach out to select breast cancer charities, but data analysis shows that the NFL is first and foremost a major corporate entity that acts in the interests of themselves, their stakeholders, and employees.

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How should we address breast cancer when norms continually change?

by Gayle Sulik, The Guardian, October 20, 2015.

The norms surrounding treatment and diagnosis have been slow to change, and new research can upend decades of conventional wisdom. When it comes to breast cancer, it can be hard to know what to think. Do I get screened or not, starting at what age, and for how long? If I have breast cancer, how aggressively should I treat it? What if I do nothing? I can’t answer those questions definitively, and neither should anyone other than a well-informed member of a person’s healthcare team. But I can help put these decisions in perspective and explain why breast cancer is such a moving target.

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OUPblog Tenth Anniversary Book: Ten Years of Academic Insights for the Thinking World

whitehouse“The Teal Before the Pink” by Gayle Sulik, Oxford University Press, pp. 41-46.

The OUPblog Tenth Anniversary Book: Ten Years of Academic Insights for the Thinking World celebrates the incisive works that made the OUPblog an unrivaled source for sophisticated learning, understanding, and reflection. Thirty-four (of over 8,000) blog articles have been hand-picked by Oxford University Press editors and regular OUPblog contributors to represent the Press’s commitment to excellence in research, scholarship, and education.

The e-book, an excellent reader for college classes by the way, is available in: PDF, Kindle, Nook, iBooks. Google Play and Kobo e-books still to come.

Here is a quick link to an updated version of “The Teal Before the Pink” published in Psychology Today, September 2, 2014.

NFL, pink ribbons not enough to win over women

by Linda Rubin and Gayle Sulik, CNN, October 16, 2014.

NFL Ribbon FieldDoes anyone doubt that the NFL’s support of breast cancer awareness is mainly a strategy designed to give the impression that the NFL cares about women, and generate more female football fans? After all, from a public relations perspective, the pink ribbon is worth its weight in gold. But there is another women’s issue, domestic violence, that touches many women and men, some of whom are professional football players. And as it happens, “Pinkotober” is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Might the NFL throw the power of its brand behind this problem?

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3 Questions We Need to Answer for Breast Cancer Awareness Month

by Gayle Sulik, Chronicle of Philanthropy October 13, 2014.

Breast cancer is multibillion-dollar industry tied with a pretty pink bow. Companies strategically use the Mother-of-all-causes as a vital component of their marketing portfolios. Sometimes they just use the color, now so seamlessly entwined with breast cancer that it’s barely perceptible. Advertisements encourage consumers to buy pink, do pink, and think pink, all in the name of “awareness” and ending breast cancer forever. I’d like to see the end of breast cancer and all other cancers. Who wouldn’t? I’d also like to see real awareness.

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The Difference Between Cancersploitation and Art—According to a Cancer Survivor

Films about cancer, such as 'The Fault in Our Stars,' can offer a new understanding of humanity.

by Lani Horn, TIME, June 9, 2014.

Whether we view cancer films as outsiders or insiders, the best movies in the genre provide catharsis.

In The Fault in Our Stars, Hazel, the story’s teenage protagonist played by Shailene Woodley, wears a t-shirt imprinted with Magritte’s famous painting of a pipe, ceci n’est pas une pipe (“this is not a pipe”). She explains the picture to her confused mother, saying “All representations of a thing are inherently abstract.” Art, in other words, imitates life: it is not meant to be life itself.

So it is with cancer films. These stories are not meant to be literal representations. What it means to watch them depends on whether we come as outsiders, wanting to understand an experience beyond our own, or as insiders, coming to see our own lives reflected.

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Time to Debunk the Mammography Myth

by Gayle Sulik and Bonnie Spanier, CNN, March 18, 2014.

111018012923-mammogram-breast-cancer-x-ray-story-top(CNN) — For decades, belief in some version of “early detection cures breast cancer and saves lives” has shaped our view. In the 1970s, when women like Betty Ford and the late Shirley Temple Black were lifting the veil of secrecy and shame surrounding breast cancer, finding the disease “early” meant being alert to symptoms to find a tumor before it got so large it poisoned the body. In this context, it was logical to try to find tumors before they got to this point. Today “early detection” means something very different.

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#RethinkPink: The Changing Social Landscape of Breast Cancer Advocacy

by Gayle Sulik, keynote Sociologists for Women in Society Feminist Lecture, Gender & Society, 2014.

The breast cancer landscape has always been shifting terrain. Though the most tenacious groups and individuals were silenced for a time beneath the voices of those with the loudest and pinkest megaphones, they continue to support the diagnosed in meaningful ways while addressing the systemic factors that affect breast cancer as a social problem. These activists diverge in the problems they tackle and the methods they use, but the critical stance they share fosters new thinking about breast cancer. Now, largely through the misconduct of breast cancer charities and profit-driven industries, growing numbers of citizens and advocates alike are calling for transparency, accountability, and alternatives.

Link to publisher »

See Excerpt: “How This Work Started, Why It Continues” — It all started with Cathy. Then after Rachel came into my life I knew the critical stance I had taken on the culture and industry surrounding breast cancer would keep going until meaningful change became a reality. Neither of these women could have known how much influence their lives would have on breast cancer activism or how their voices would continue to matter after they were gone.

Psychology Today

Perilous equations? Empowerment and the pedagogy of fear in breast cancer awareness campaigns

by Ana Porroche Escudero, Women’s Studies International Forum, 2014.

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.

Link to Publisher (PDF)

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

by Gayle Sulik and Edyta Zierkiewicz. Journal of Gender and Power, 2014.

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.

Read full article (PDF) in the Journal of Gender and Power, a scholarly, interdisciplinary and international journal, which features articles in all fields of gender studies, drawing on various paradigms and approaches.

Pink Ribbon Campaigns

by Gayle Sulik and Edyta Zierkiewicz. In Cultural Encyclopedia of the Breast, edited by Merril Smith. Alta Mira Press, 2014.

In the last two decades pink ribbon campaigns have, perhaps inadvertently, forged a profitable pink ribbon industry in which breast cancer awareness has given way to pink ribbon visibility. Investigations into products, companies, and charities have found little transparency, accountability, or evidence-based practice. Yet the industry spends billions to promote the pink ribbon while marketing products and services, some of which involve the production, manufacturing, and/or sales of products linked to the disease (i.e., “pinkwashing”). With the general populace still unaware of the complexities of breast cancer or barriers to ending the epidemic, many pink ribbon campaigns profit from hope while selling the image of the courageous warrior to anyone who buys, displays, or thinks pink. Strains within the breast cancer movement continue to resist commercialization and promote evidence-based information and analyses of the systemic factors influencing breast cancer.

Breast Cancer Support Groups and Advocacy

by Gayle Sulik and Edyta Zierkiewicz. In Cultural Encyclopedia of the Breast, edited by Merril Smith. Alta Mira Press, 2014.

For over a century women in the United States have worked to become empowered when dealing with breast cancer. In 1920 Barbara Mueller wrote letters to her surgeon, William Halsted – the father of the radical mastectomy (a standard but invasive and debilitating treatment for breast cancer into the 1970s). By the early 1990s women’s organizing resulted in a successful social movement with hundreds if not thousands of community-based organizations across the nation. After two decades of advocacy breast cancer was out in the open, support systems were in place particularly for early stage women, screening programs were widespread, research programs were infused with money, patient advocates influenced research agendas and medical practice, the pink ribbon became the movement’s official symbol (1992), awareness activities such as the popular Race for the Cure were common, and breast cancer awareness became part of the American mainstream as well as a profitable item of popular consumption.

Aspects of the American approach to breast cancer have gone global. Yet the extent to which the American approach applies to other settings is a crucial consideration. Breast cancer as a social cause is highly contested in the United States, particularly in terms of the commercialization of a disease and the role of social movements and culture in promoting or resisting medicalization. American Influences in Poland provide an illuminating counterpoint.

What Cancer Survivorship Means

by Gayle Sulik. Virtual Mentor, American Medical Association Journal of Ethics, 2013.

According to the National Cancer Institute Office of Cancer Survivorship, a person is considered a cancer survivor at the time of cancer diagnosis and remains so for the remainder of his or her life. By this definition there were about 13.7 million cancer survivors in the United States as of January 2012, a number projected to reach 18 million in the next decade. Sixty-four percent of the 2012 survivor population had survived 5 or more years; 40 percent had survived 10 or more years; and 15 percent had survived 20 or more years. But, contrary to the common definition of survival (i.e., to live), many cancer survivors do not actually survive cancer—according to an 18-year study by the American Association for Cancer Research, just over half of people labeled cancer “survivors” ultimately died of cancer. This contradiction creates confusion about the meaning of survivorship.

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130523190137-sulik-myriad-genetics-protest-story-topWhy Jolie’s cancer test costs so much

by Gayle Sulik, CNN, May 24, 2013.

Angelina Jolie, when writing about her preventive double mastectomy, did not discuss how much her surgeries cost, but she did mention that many women would not be able to afford the $3,000 to $4,000 test that led her to make the decision. What she failed to say was why the test costs so much. The reason is this: In 1998 Myriad Genetics patented two genes: BRCA1 and BRCA2. With its exclusive rights, Myriad developed a test for mutations on those genes trademarked “BRACAnalysis.” Because it essentially owns the genes, Myriad is the only company that can conduct the test, so it sets the price.

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Angelina_Jolie_by_Gage_Skidmore_2Angelina Jolie and the One Percent

by Gayle Sulik, Scientific American, May 20, 2013. (Picked up by Yahoo).

After learning that she had inherited a mutation on one of the so-called breast cancer genes, actress Angelina Jolie decided to have a double mastectomy to reduce her risk of developing breast cancer. She also plans to have her ovaries removed to reduce her risk of ovarian cancer. Jolie explained her medical decision in an op-ed in The New York Times, saying that she decided to be proactive and to minimize the risk as much [she] could. Since the Angelina Jolie story broke, there’s been a flurry of discussion. But we should remember an important caveat about Angelina Jolie’s situation. Namely, that it doesn’t apply to most women.

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bbren-face-300x206Barbara Brenner and the Road Less Pink

by Gayle Sulik, Ms. Magazine Blog, May 20, 2013.

I met Barbara Brenner in a book. In a collection of scholarly essays, she wrote the final substantive chapter, about women creating a breast cancer movement. I had just begun my own investigation of breast cancer culture, industry and advocacy. I re-read Barbara’s words many times. Today, as I gaze beyond the post-it notes, tabs and highlights that cover the book, I see how insightful and prophetic her words were.

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20121031_inq_sulik31-aBringing on the Pink

by Gayle Sulik, Philadelphia Inquirer, October 31, 2012.

Komen for the Cure’s pink-ribbon celebration marks Breast Cancer Awareness Month. But when a woman with breast cancer reads a Race for the Cure flier that says “Check out the merchandise now” or “enter for a chance to win a Gift Card from,” what is she supposed to think? In its efforts to expand the consumer base, Komen lost sight of the fact that consumers are people – people so committed to the cause they’ll turn away from its largest, wealthiest charity.

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Gayle Sulik and Rachel Cheetham Moro, 2011

Gayle Sulik and Rachel Cheetham Moro, 2011

Promises of Hope. Not Cure.

by Gayle Sulik, Girl w, Pen, September 27, 2012.

I too used to secretly look forward to October, when I would drape myself in pride with all manner of garish pink, survivor-emblemed merchandise and take my place in the Survivors circle whilst bopping out to “We Are Family” or whatever the cheesy designated anthem was for that year….But I’m not doing it this year or ever again.

Rachel Cheetham Moro used to write a lot about the bollocks of breast cancer on her blog, The Cancer Culture Chronicles, which she published from June 2009 until her death from metastatic breast cancer in February 2012. With snark-filled accuracy, Rachel catalogued how merchandisers blithely use the desire for cure(s) to lull well meaning supporters into a state of consumptive bliss. Shopping for a cure never felt so good. If only “cure” were part of the transaction.

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2104826441_3556fa39d0Is Susan G. Komen Cleaning House?

by Gayle Sulik, Ms. Magazine Blog, August 9, 2012.

In early 2012, the decision by Susan G. Komen for the Cure to cut ties with Planned Parenthood (and then the semi-reversal of that decision), sent the organization into a frenzied state of damage control. Attendance at Komen events declined, donations dropped and the organization immediately sought advice from a former White House press secretary in the George W. Bush administration and hired a consulting firm founded by former Democratic pollsters to assess Komen’s reputation.

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How Susan G. Komen for the Cure affects other cancer non-profits

by Gayle Sulik,, June 2011.

ribbons-runningIn response to publicity surrounding Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s trademark and marketing activities, Komen published an official statement: “Susan G. Komen for the Cure® Sees Trademark Protection as Responsible Stewardship of Donor Funds.” According to the statement Susan G. Komen for the Cure® has never sued other charities or put other non-profits out of business, and the organization does not have plans to do so. Knitters, sandwich makers, and kite fliers who want to raise money for a cure should breathe easier now! Of course, there are many ways to squeeze out organizations, large and small.

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