Friday, April 25, 2008

Where's Monica's Pink Ribbon?

When my friend, Monica*, was first diagnosed with breast cancer in her early 30s, she expected to do what all breast cancer survivors are expected to do: fight it, stay positive, and, above all, never let down her peers by being diagnosed again.

But not long after her daughter was born, Monica's cancer came back. Every doctor's appointment brought more disappointing news about where the disease was spreading. And little by little the pink ribbons and chemo-comraderie that defined her first battle with cancer were gone. The word "survivor" was replaced with "tragedy," and a reporter told her that her story was too depressing for a drive-time audience. "I think it'd be better if you just stopped your story with the birth of your daughter," the reporter advised. Silence. "Is that out of line?"

Out of line? Perhaps. But whose fault is that? The "diagnosis-fight-happy ending" story is exactly the one audiences expect--and want--to hear. While feminism may have helped breast cancer surivors unite, fear continues to allow metastatic patients to be ostracized. And the universally upbeat tone of the breast cancer movement often fails to communicate the strongest message of all: breast cancer is a disease that kills. Indiscriminately.

(*Name has been changed to protect identity.)

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