Posted July 8th, 2009 by Jane

Vita, the breast cancer magazine, produced by the UK’s biggest breast cancer charity, Breast Cancer Care,drops FREE through my letter box. It is good to see a black woman who is living with secondary breast cancer photographed on the front cover.

Written in the style of Womans Own, a quick read and I feel lost, lonely and angry. As usual there are stories of women with breast cancer, and without exception they are living happy fulfilled lives. The implict message is that cancer has improved their lives. There’s a two page spread of a smiling woman fitting her prosthesis into her bra, another two pages on conquering stress and a lymphoedema piece which fails to mention that unusually (but not rarely) sudden onset of lymphoedema can mean a loco regional recurrence of cancer.

Breast Cancer Care is proud of its Secondary Taskforce so women with secondary breast cancer are increasingly featured in Vita. This is where my heart sinks furthest. Here is Pauline who “concentrates on the things that are important to her-spending time with her husband, helping others and getting the golf handicap down.”"

Pearline, featured on the front cover also says that having secondary cancer has made her focus on herself and the things she wants to do with her life…but in doing so she is also helping others with cancer.

Oh my goodness the usual stereotypes of caring women whose lives are enriched by advanced cancer. The shock of diagnosis, the harshness of treatments, the painful symptoms of advancing cancer, the terrible sadness of premature death,..all those things which are part of my life, are rendered as usual, invisible. Where are the women I recognise: angry, sad, funny, bolshie, reaching out hands of support but not in the manner of nineteenth century philanthropists.

Now I know that most people with secondary breast cancer have good days and weeks. Early shock changes to an uneasy kind of acceptance and yes there are always happy, golden days…but not every day. It is, to say the least, unpleasant, to have breast cancer. Grief, fear, anger and dispondency are part of the package but why can they not be mentioned? I feel inadequate in the face of these happy women whose real stories must be heavily edited, whose bad days are simply not there.

Cancer may have moved out of the closet of fear but these contemporary representaions are as unreal as the ones they replace. Is this the best that the UK’s leading charity for breast cancer can do?