ADVOCACY, BREAST CANCER EDUCATION, LIVING WITH BREAST CANCER, RELATIONSHIPS AND DATING, RETHINK YOUNG WOMEN'S NETWORK
Changing Hearts + Memes
By Rethink Contributor January 23 2017
I’m staring at my Facebook feed, looking with rage at someone’s copied-and-pasted status update about breast cancer “awareness.” I walk away from my feed for a few minutes and pace my living room before sending a screenshot of the status to my best friend and expressing my feelings with colourful words.
This type of status is not helpful. It’s about making the person who posted it feel like they are doing something supportive while not actually doing anything substantive. It’s about making people without cancer feel better at the expense of people who do have it. The story turns a mirror on the non-cancer audience and says, “Make another person’s illness all about your own character development!” You also see this with memes involving disabilities: “Look at what this person with a disability is doing! What’s your excuse for not doing something-or-other?”
As someone who both has gone through breast cancer and is disabled, I am not here to be anyone’s special learning moment and character development catalyst. Reducing someone to one aspect of who they are is dehumanizing. I am more than my cancer. I am more than my disability.
Post an emoji on your Facebook status with no context. Post a selfie with no makeup. We should have a feeling that this is all in good fun, according to those who spread these types of memes. Awareness campaigns need to be careful to do more than making someone without cancer feel momentarily good.
I didn’t get the memo that breast cancer is supposed to be fun. This mirth eluded me during multiple surgeries, hospital stays, chemo, Herceptin, radiation, and infections. Breast cancer wasn’t fun as I stared my mortality in the face for nearly two years and wondered if I was going to live to see my son grow up.
I still get to wonder that.
This blog post was inspired by the people who chimed in on a recent conversation on Rethink’s Young Women’s Network Facebook community group about how problematic these memes are. The consensus was that breast cancer memes trivialize our illnesses. We find such supposed awareness aggravating, upsetting, and offensive as people who live in the slog of breast cancer treatments and reality. The sentiments rarely share actual information about breast cancer; they do nothing to help those of us with this disease. And the way these ideas are generally spread, via cis women (cis referring to someone whose gender identity matches their gender assigned at birth) leaves out the reality that many cis men as well as genderqueer, nonbinary, trans, and two-spirited folks also get breast cancer.
A piece of advice next time you want to share a meme or join the conversation about something serious: don’t be guilt-tripped into thinking that you need to re-post because 93 per cent of people—a statistic that is often quoted in memes but never given a citation—won’t do it. Those who do have the condition you want to raise awareness of may be critical of something you copied and pasted. A sentiment in your own words might be a better choice.
We are beyond needing simple awareness about breast cancer. We all know breast cancer exists, and there is hardly anyone whose life hasn’t been touched by it in some way. Instead of spreading awareness memes, what can you do instead?
If you can afford it, donate to breast cancer charitable organizations like Rethink to help with breast cancer advocacy, education, research, and support. Until there are cures, we need these things. Make specific offers of help to people who have breast cancer, and pass on messages to others of what they can do as well.
Finally, I’ll share my plan, credit for which goes to fellow Rethink Breast Cancer community group member Jill W. for suggesting it. Going forward, whenever I see one of those breast cancer awareness memes, I’m going to post a factual, educational article on a breast cancer topic in response. You should do the same because we need to share education about breast cancer and move away from awareness.
Beatrice Aucoin is a Calgary-based writer and breast cancer survivor. She is a mom to Sam and wife to Brett who is in the midst of a gender transition. Their journeys have tangled and intersected in unexpected but celebrated ways.