The Politics of Breast Cancer

Lisa B.'s picture

Discussion Questions:

Do breast cancer organizations promote group support or imply that those "who live "fight" harder than those who've died?"


When Ehrenreich posted on the message board under the subject "angry," she received replies that were not supportive of her frustration with breast cancer. For example, "Kitty" replied: "You need to run, not walk, to some counseling....Please, get yourself some help and I ask everyone on this site to pray for you so you can enjoy life to the fullest."  Is it healthy for cancer patients to reject feelings of negativity?


In the 1970s and 1980s, medicine was a patriarchy. How has US culture changed in 20 years to allow for women cancer patients to network directly?


Background Reading:

Barbera Ehrenreich's essay in Harper's Magazine

"Welcome to Cancerland: A mammogram leads to a cult of pink kitsch"


was a finalist for a National Magazine Award in 2003.



Anna Dela Cruz's picture


While looking at blogs dealing with cancer and how to cope with it I came across this:

Unlike it's name, the blog is really about finding hilarity in terminal illness. And written by a a women in her 20's dealing with a rare form of bone cancer, the blog seems like a support system for other young adults (20's-30's) dealing with cancer.

While looking at the blog, there was also mention of Planet Cancer: a "community of young adults with cancer. (You know, that age between "pediatric" and "geriatric," where no one knows whether to give you a lollipop or have a serious talk about your fiber intake.) It's a place to share insights, explore our fears, laugh, or even give the finger to cancer with others who just plain get it. We don't deny the dark side of illness and death here. But we also firmly believe that laughter and light can turn up in the strangest places."



Lisa B.'s picture

Realism in Cancer Culture


Barbara Ehrenreich recently expanded on her success from “Welcome to Cancerland: A Mammogram Leads to a Cult of Pink Kitsch” with a new book called Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America (2009). In “Smile or Die: The Bright Side of Cancer” Ehrenreich concludes that, from an evolutionary response, there should be no means to combat cancer through forms of natural healing. She reasoned that cancer tends to affect older people who have passed the age of reproduction and are of little evolutionary significance.
As an alternative to positive thinking, Ehrenreich proposes realism as a method for understanding cancer. She explained this new paradigm while a guest on the “Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” After Stewart asked Ehrenreich whether she believes there will be a happiness crash, the author replied that Americans need realism to figure out what can be done to change what is going on. In Bright-Sided, realism, unlike positive thinking, is supported by an evolutionary paradox. Since human survival depends on an ability to live in groups, people must check bad news with each other and decide what’s worth holding on to. Furthermore, she says science follows this logic, where scientists gather observations that are always subject to revisions from new observations.


ttruong's picture

Personal causes

I think the examination of the success rate of of our endeavors to manage or cure cancer is so interesting. It employs  moral reasonings that I've never had a chance to think about before. According to these articles, it seems that our efforts to prevent cancer-related deaths have not been effective, and the investment in resources have not generated proportionate results. If we agree that there are limited resources, then we cannot deny that resources diverted to cancer has precluded resources toward other diseases which caused much more deaths.

This begs the question: How does one choose which cause to devout oneself to, and which cause to garner other people's support for? If one chooses a "futile" cause and encourages others to do so as well, does that not take awareness and resources away from the more feasible, immediate results producing causes?

Lisa B.'s picture

New Recommendation from the U.S. Government


Since science changes over time it is difficult to determine which charities would benefit most from donations. For example, this past week the new recommendation from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force suggested that women in their 40s not get screened for breast cancer if they are not at high risk. This announcement could have prevented some people from donating to national breast cancer organizations, since many of them fundraise to increase the awareness of mammographic screenings. If science continues to complicate the goals of breast cancer organizations, then they could turn to more aggressive cause-related marketing to continue the delusions of some in breast cancer culture.


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