Breast cancer drivel

Posted November 17th, 2008 by Jane

Back in the 70s/80s I either loved or hated womens’ consciousness raising groups. Great when I found affinity and solidarity..other women who seemed to share my feelings, thoughts, experiences. But the flip side was coming up against women whose experiences left me cold and shuddering, distant and isolated. And so it is with cancer. I have found such strength and support in some breast cancer writing…in Ruth Picardies’ columns or Julia Darling’s poetry…but then such crass nonsense in other places.. One woman’s piece of cancer comfort is another woman’s poison.

And so in Saturday’s Weekend Guardian appeared one of those pieces of cancer drivel which make me want to shake the author with fury. In the Experience column Katherine Locke, recently diagnosed while breastfeeding, proclaims that; “I need a heroine, I need to find someone who has one breast and has made it cool.’ I read and reread this extraordinary statement several times. I don’t get it. Partly I don’t get it because for me having one breast has never been the most significant part of having breast cancer. I didn’t relish the idea of mastectomy, but afterwards getting used to one breast was relatively untruamatic…it was the cancer which bothered me..but ‘cool’? No I don’t think having one breast is cool. Ms Locke has had an epiphany, a moment of revelation. If she can’t find a heroine she’ll be her own. And so ‘As soon as I think this I have won….It doesn’t matter how long I have to live, what matters is how I spend (my life). I can spend it in fear or I can spend it powerfully with joy. I choose the latter’.


Well good for you Katherine Locke but frankly you are talking bullshit. I wonder why you feel the need to transform cancer into a joyous experience? You reckon because you can’t find the details of Kylie Minogue’s treatment on line that having cancer might still be shameful. No I don’t think now it is, but sadly the shame and secrecy which used to characterise public perceptions of cancer have been replaced by a superficial glorification, where to have cancer can be experienced, with ‘choice’ of course, as something rejuvenating and joyful. You’ve bought the line.

It is hard to speak or write of cancer in ordinary ways. Myths and metaphors tumble on top of each other and anything appears to go in the world of cancer drivel. It puts me off writing altogether. I don’t want to write cancer drivel.