Women of courage..no thanks

Posted May 11th, 2009 by Jane

Nominations closed today for ‘Women of courage’.. a little competition for breast cancer patients organised by Breakthrough Breast Cancer in partnership with Prima magazine. The lucky winner can have a treat at Champneys Health Spa, and there are Avon goodies for the runners up (last year it was a washing machine.)

Breakthrough have removed the link for nominations now and several women I know are hoping its because we’ve complained loud and strong about this objectionable, but oh too familiar, bit of pink marketing.

Women with breast cancer, particularly those of us living with terminal disease, by and large don’t want to compete with each other for pink bravery points of any kind. Who on earth can decide or should decide that one woman is somehow braver, more courageous than another? This award is symptomatic of the enormus gulf between the representations of brave fighting ’survivors’ which are perpetuated through the media by UK breast cancer charities, and the lived reality of having breast cancer, particularly terminal/advanced breast cancer.

The two major UK breast cancer charities, Breakthrough, and Breast Cancer Care both do some good work. Breakthrough, the research and campaigning organisation is responsible for the long term Generations Study and for its innovative research centres. Breast Cancer Care offers workshops, a helpline and resources to support anyone affected by breast cancer. Some of these are high quality and some are not. Personally I’m not keen on their spending resources on making a video about tying headscarves when their information base has so many gaps in it. Both charities promote a particular kind of image of the perfect breast cancer ’survivor’. She is cheerful, positive, a fighter; she went through a hard time but is happy now…perhaps even happier as a result of her breast cancer. If you don’t fit this model of the ‘good survivor’ there isn’t really a place for you in breastcancercharityland, particularly if you’re dead..or dying.

I’ve already writen about the recent deaths of several women I know through the Breast Cancer Care forums. Its in this context that there’s currently a wave of deep anger and frustration about the patronising drivel which ‘bravery awards’ promote.

I think the idea is that the competition runs all summer. Nominees will compete with each other, there’s to be a photo shoot of the lucky short list, all culminating in a splash of publicity in time for pink October.

But it can be stopped. We can say ‘no.’ If you have a moment e-mail Breakthrough Breast Cancer and tell them what you think.