October is coming. I hope it’ll be better this year with the big die-in on October 13, but it’s still gonna be a shitshow. I’ve been thinking a lot about why it drives me, personally, so insane, and I’ve come to a realization: it’s that awareness is stupid and practically pointless. Let me explain.
I feel like there’s a big difference between awareness campaigns and education campaigns. Education campains don’t just try to tell you some information; they also try to get you to do something. In the world of breast cancer, that includes getting people to go for routine breast cancer screening, ask their doctor about their breast density, and become familiar with their breasts so they notice when their breasts show symptoms of breast cancer. In short, there’s an ask explicit with education–it gives information that hopefully will lead people to take action.
Awareness, on the other hand, has no ask. It says, “Be aware that breast cancer exists!” It includes images of dogs wearing bras and pink ribbons on fireworks, because it’s not about educating people. It’s simply about making them aware that breast cancer is a thing. If all you want to do is to say “Hey you, there is a thing and it is called breast cancer” then yes, awareness is the right tool. But why in the fuck would you want to do that? What is the point of making sure people know that breast cancer exists? What does knowing it exists accomplish?
I can only think of one thing it accomplishes: some of it brings in money for breast cancer charities–but not all of it, because some of that awareness isn’t even related to charitable fundraising. Now, if all the money that awareness generates was being spent on education or patient support or research, then OK, I guess I’d feel OK about that. And there are many charities that are doing that, and I encourage you to donate to them. Unfortunately, there are too many (cough cough Komen cough cough) who aren’t. They’re spending it on more awareness. Which brings them more money, to be spent on more awareness.
This is why October drives me crazy: because all that awareness could be replaced with education, and then we’d really be getting somewhere. There are still too many people not getting the screening appropriate to their risk of breast cancer. There are still too many people who need to know what inflammatory breast cancer looks like. Imagine if awareness was converted from something stupid and practically pointless into something that actually DOES something. Wouldn’t that be so much better? Waste makes ne nuts. It just does. And seeing all these resources spent on awareness makes me want to stab a pen in my eye.
So, how about if we, as the breast cancer community, change the conversation from one of stupid and practically pointless awareness, to one of education? And maybe, just maybe, we can change the story for actual people with breast cancer.