Breast cancer is serious business

Recently, the national Susan G. Komen for the Cure organization caused a controversy when it announced that it would no longer fund women’s health services at Planned Parenthood. After three days of public anger, the group reversed its decision.

“I think the reason this resonates so much is that women were going to lose health care that they depend on, and nobody really wants that to happen,” said Pat Elzy, public affairs director for Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, which serves Reno. “Basically, this outpour of support was people rising up to the challenge. It was really time to tell the truth about the issues and stop politicizing women’s health issues.”

Elzy said Planned Parenthood affiliates in Northern Nevada have been receiving funding from Komen since 2007, and have used that funding to provide more than 4,000 clinical breast examinations and education.

Since Komen’s initial announcement of its funding cuts, private donations for Planned Parenthood affiliates around the nation have risen dramatically.

“The day that the announcement came out, one woman emailed me and physically came to the office,” Elzy said. “She said, ‘You found a tumor when I had my breast clinical exam at Planned Parenthood, and early detection saved my life. I’m going to give you a donation. Here’s $50—that’s all I can afford.’ That, to me, said a lot.”

In the wake of Komen’s two big announcements, the public seems to have calmed down and resumed its support of Komen and other trendy breast cancer awareness organizations. But there still exist many problems with Komen and with the “trend” of breast cancer awareness in general.

Komen has previously participated in questionable activity, such as threatening other charities that use the color pink or phrases ending in “for the cure.” According to Komen’s financial reports, the percentage of its money that goes to research has been declining through the years. But the Komen group is certainly not alone in its dubious participation in what has been called “breast cancer culture.”

In recent years, public awareness of breast cancer has increased in conjunction with the rise in popularity of groups such as Komen and various campaigns intended to promote women’s health. The goal to increase awareness, raise money and encourage people to talk openly about breast cancer is great, but many of these campaigns are problematic.

Some popular slogans for breast cancer awareness include “save the ta-tas” and “feel your boobies.” Bracelets proclaiming “I Love Boobies” are sold in popular chain stores—mainly to teenagers. Although these things are well intentioned, they do not sit right with me because they make light of a serious issue and, even worse, sexualize a horrible form of cancer.

Breast cancer is unique. It is an awful disease that has been fetishized and feminized in popular culture to the extent that it now has connotations of cuteness, normalcy and even sensuality. Through campaigns that dwell on the commercialization of pink jewelry and catchy slogans, the focus has shifted away from what is truly important — that this cancer afflicts about 12 percent of U.S. women and also affects men.

The “I Love Boobies” bracelets are a part of the Keep a Breast Foundation. But in order to defeat breast cancer, many women are forced to remove a breast. Support for breast cancer research shouldn’t revolve around “keeping a breast” if the only way for some women to survive is to remove their breast. These campaigns promote the idea that women’s health is not as important as their breasts, which are seen as highly sexual, even in the face of life-threatening illness.

It has been inspiring to see the public come together to oppose Komen’s initial decision to cease funding breast cancer services at Planned Parenthood, and it has been even more satisfying to see the immediate response to this opposition. Hopefully, though, this will inspire the public to look more critically at breast cancer charities and how the cancer is treated in the United States.