Resisting the Heritage of Breast Cancer

“Those of us who stand outside the circle of this society’s definition of acceptable women; those of us who have been forged in the crucibles of difference know that survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled, and how to make common cause with those others identified as outside the structures in order to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. For the ‘master’s tools will never dismantle the ‘master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the ‘master’s house as their only source of support.” Audre Lorde, Cancer Journals (pg. 112)


The Breast Cancer Industry has become a power house, a ‘master,’ at utilizing tools provided through medicalization enabling the silencing of women through ‘advocacy.’ Subverting women’s mental, physical and emotional expressions and needs unintentionally or intentionally, women may or may not consensually comply and consent is rarely informed; informed as having all the options available and easily accessible through education. Exploring how this is accomplished through the intersectional qualities of nationalism, medicalization, and marginalization we begin to see how the barriers are blurred, effectively distracting from the reality of any true boundary. Treatment options appear limited and confined to the ‘master’s tools’ of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation while in reality there are a multitude of successful treatment options and preventative measures that remain unexplored and unacknowledged by conventional western medicine, the ‘master.’ “Expert knowledge creates the conditions for measurement, surveillance, and calculation as means of managing and regulating populations as forms of governance.” (Nichter, pg. 6) Prevention remains an afterthought to diagnosis and denial while detection and treatment remain the sustainable focus given to women in the United States. “The judgment of ‘who is better qualified’ is fraught with complex and subjective assessments.” (Harris, pg. 1770) Women experience breast cancer as bystanders, patients, victims and or ‘survivors’. Efforts to wage a national ‘war’ on breast cancer are facilitated though investment and visibility of ‘viable’ options that have been predetermined by the ‘master’ and reinforced through medicalization. The function of medicalization marginalizes alternatives, their ‘viability’ and those who seek them. It is these marginalized women searching for their own options that deserve a voice to uncover options allowing their stories to be discovered by others who may be marginalized themselves and in need of alternative options.


Women maintain an ideal of nationalism defined by motherhood and nurturing manifested symbolically through breasts and breast health. The ‘traditional’ nuclear family consists of a heterosexual, white, middle to upper-class ideology. “American motherhood and family must be protected from a disease that threatens not just individual lives but also the normalized socioeconomic identities and relationships that constitute a nuclear family.” (King, pg. 45) Physical impairment assumed or real threatens the ideal nuclear family, home, community and feminine nationalism. Female nationalism standardizes values and reproduction of norms, beliefs and practices. A ‘good’ family is a healthy and productive, by working and reproducing, adding to the population and value of a state through human capital. If the visual symbolic source of reproduction is damaged or stigmatized the home, family and community are degraded. The symbolic nature of feminism, motherhood and motherland produced by the landscape of healthy reproductive women is destroyed by breast cancer. Stigmatizing and transforming the normal, healthy and pure into the abnormal, unhealthy and polluted. “The concept of social norm, an important element in labeling theory, has never been denotatively defined.” (Scheff, pg. 444) The normal or nuclear family epistemology is not sustainable within the reality of breast cancer. In order to save the nuclear family, breast cancer and the symbolic nature of the breast was transformed into heroic survivorship. “The process whereby a social representation is accepted and absorbed by an individual as her (or his) own representation, and so becomes, for that individual, real, even though it is in fact imaginary.” (de Lauret, pg. 12) Gayle Sulik sociologist and author of Pink Ribbon Blues: How Breast Cancer Culture Undermines Women’s Health, defines this imaginary woman as a ‘she-ro’, a battle hardened woman who maintains her femininity while surviving the brutal onslaught of a breast cancer ‘war.’


National feminism informs and shapes the space that women inhabit. “Woman’s place in human social life is not in any direct sense a product of the things she does (or even less, a function of what, biologically she is) but the meaning her activities acquired through concrete social interactions.” (Mohanty, pg. 68) Women are placed in the domestic space; it is this space that creates complicated socialization in the arena of breast cancer. Help that is offered especially by another ‘aggressive’ woman who refuses to take no for an answer is acceptable assistance while asking for help is a social taboo and weakens the ‘nation.’ A true ‘she-ro’ would not ask for or accept help, she helps others while miraculously healing. Women colonize each other, monitoring appropriate behavior and decorum, allowing for the ‘she-ro’ model to prosper. Breast cancer walk-a-thon participants are discouraged from negativity by posted no whining signs on walk-a-thon route as observed by Samantha King the author of Pink Ribbons, Inc. and associate professor of physical and health education and women’s studies at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. “To be ‘colonized’ is to be subjected to modern regimes of measurement and surveillance at the level of the body, which is subject to notice at the moment of its difference (insane, deaf, dumb, and blind) from a whole and well body.” (Hong, pg. 80) ‘Good’ women must therefore maintain their own healthy body projecting appropriate qualities to sustain the nuclear family as a ‘good’ family and capable of exemplifying the state of nationalistic prosperity.


The boundaries and intersections between individual, family, community and state become blurred in the mechanism of nationalism informed by neoliberalism. “The emergence of a reconfigured ‘neoliberal’ state formation in which boundaries between the state and the corporate world are increasingly blurred as each elaborates the interests of the other, often at dispersed sites throughout the social body and through practices that misleadingly appear to be outside the realms of government or consumer capitalism.” (King, pg. xi) Blurring allows misdirection and distraction from the reality of mortality relations to breast cancer. The mortality numbers are no longer daughters, wives, sisters or mothers they become collateral damage, faceless. She is a heroic soldier lost in the ‘war’ against cancer leaving her compatriots behind in a state of ‘she-roic’ martyrdom. Sulik defines the ‘she-ro’ as a hybrid between acceptable feminine and masculine qualities that perform nationalism. The ‘good’ ‘she-ro’ has a feminine appearance, conciliatory behavior, emotional sensitivity, social restraint and is adorned by feminine accoutrements. She is a successful soldier returned from battle victorious and a shining example for others to follow. “Although women are considered to be peace-makers, they have no voice in arbitration, and in times of ‘war’, more civilian women and children are injured, tortured and killed than are men in combat.” (Wetzel, pg. 207) This is true of ‘real’ ‘war’ and the ‘war’ on breast cancer, where the male deaths from breast cancer are also outnumbered. The nuclear family does not exist in reality here it is only an imagined space. Breast cancer in our society allows for minimal arbitration and the ‘master’s tools’ are forms of torture that must be survived to claim your space as a ‘she-ro’.


Proper nationalism has stigmatized breast cancer and even though the ‘advocacy’ movement is alive and well so are the stigmas, they have not been erased or forgotten. “Denial of [breast cancer] had been ingrained in the culture for so long that resistance to it had become second nature. Any woman drawing attention to her own cancer brought disgrace not just on herself but on everyone else with the disease….Shame itself proved to be contagious. Given these obstacles, the surprise may not be that it took so long for women to speak out about it rather that they ever had the courage to do it at all.” (Leopold, pg 214) Leopold’s statement could be shrunken to become a nationalistic motto of: ‘Drawing attention brings disgrace not just on herself but on everyone.’ Nationalism does not advocate or accept sustaining polluted burdens or nuisances of the weaker sex. “Within social fields (networks of social positions), perceptions are structured by repeated and reinforcing practices and sanctions that lead one to acquire predisposed ways of thinking, classifying, acting, and feeling, from his position within local worlds.” (Nichter, pg. 4) It is here that women have the preformed foundations of acceptable social nationalistic qualities of accepting breast cancer. “Women have learned to see our resentment and despair about our social place in the social structure, as an individual problem, and emotional disorder. Women are trained to invalidate our own experiences, understanding and feelings and to look to men to tell us how to view ourselves. Ideas, concepts, images and vocabularies available to women to think about our experiences have been formulated from the male view point by universities, professionals, industries and other organizations.” (Murphy, pg. 291) The current electronic technological resources are being utilized for questioning the relevance of practiced ideals, demanding information, and creating individual agency to determine personal relevance and irrelevance.


Past training provided the production of ‘good’ soldiers, women who occupied the space given to them and followed the ‘correct’ protocols. Women turned to men for these answers and trusted that their best interests were being protected and maintained. The ‘good’ soldier did not question her orders, she did as she was told and continued to uphold to the best of her ability the ideology of the nuclear family. “The logic of rationalized, categorization, measurement, and classification is that of Fordist capital, which is portrayed as having its own self-perpetuating existence. Rather than validating the human will, it subsumes the human as merely another component of the factory. Human agency is pointless and nonexistent.” (Hong, pg. 67) The breast cancer industry has implemented Fordist protocol utilizing women’s bodies as spaces to manipulate and capitalize on through detection, treatment and consumerism. “Corporations, politicians, and consumers alike use the purchase of breast cancer-related ‘good’ and services as a proxy for ‘good’ will and responsible citizenship.” (Sulik, pg. 112) Responsible citizenship is propagated from the individual, family, community up to the corporation unifying the national image while going global. Volunteer participant purchases of breast cancer-related products also osmotically transposes to consumer the ‘good’ nationalism female characteristics from the corporation associated with pink ribbon branding. Qualities of innocence, ‘good’ness, decency, morality, dependence, virtue and optimism just to name a few are for sale.


Marketing visually reinforces the national feminist image. It, however, maintains the first wave feminist image, supplying us with a majority of representatives that are heterosexual, white and middle to upper class. “The popularity of representations and the rationalities they propagate beg examination given cultural heterogeneity, unequal distribution of knowledge and power within societies, contests of meaning, and the subtle and not so subtle agendas of stakeholders.” (Nichter, pg. 3) The stakeholders are in reality the women who are sustaining the image of nationalism and productive citizens, yet the capital stakeholders are the corporations that have sprung up around a disease that has turned a considerable profit from anything incorporated into the pink ribbon space. The ribbon is the ultimate symbol of female nationalism, projecting generosity, inspiration and hope while suppressing the pain and death experienced through breast cancer. “The pink ribbon is an instantly recognizable set of meanings and values related to femininity, charity, white middle-class womanhood and survivorship.” (King, pg. xxiii) The pink ribbon is protected by philanthropy, the standard of ‘good’will towards all men, the surface projects ‘good,’ the ‘good’ motivations of the corporate stakeholders are profitable.


Advocacy and awareness sells: “The assumption that quick, convenient, and relatively inexpensive acts of giving have nonetheless powerful effects and deep spiritual meaning constitutes a common theme in contemporary discourse on philanthropy.” (King, pg. 73) Nationalism encourages ‘good’ citizens to help their neighbors through donations and volunteering, corporations have invested and profited from this ‘good’will. The pink ribbon was débuted at a polo club by Nancy Brinker, the founder of the Komen Foundation. This reality lends to the perceived marketability of the product, the market being heavily defined in an upper-class white environment. “A broad cultural preoccupation with philanthropic solutions to social problems, the discourse of efficiency and cost-cutting in business practice, changing psychological conceptions of the consumer, and invigorated consumer demands for a more ethical form of capitalism have converged to produce the transformation of corporate philanthropy from a relatively random, eclectic, and unscientific activity to a highly calculated and measured strategy that is integral to a business’s profit-making function.” (King, pg. 2) The profitability has attracted association from automobiles to lingerie and stuffed animals. “Breast cancer became a philanthropic cause par excellence not simply because of effective political organizing at the grassroots level, but because of an informal alliance of large corporations (particularly pharmaceutical companies, mammography equipment manufacturers, and cosmetic producers), major cancer charities, the state, and the media that emerged at around the same time and was able to capitalize on growing public interest in the disease.” (King, pg. 111) The ‘war’ on cancer supports this growth, participation of the masses in the ‘war’ through volunteerism and generosity, qualities of ‘good’ citizens validate the process of nationalism through consumerism.


Feminism is associated to consumerism by the assumed ‘innate’ female need to shop. Consumerism facilitates production contributing to the ‘good’ citizen and productive nation. “The insidious gendered nature of cause related marketing that helps reproduce associations between women and shopping, and of a more general tendency to deploy consumption as a major avenue of political participation.” (King, pg. xxv) Thus coupling of shopping with political volunteerism and generosity associated with philanthropy was perfect for the successful flourishing of a breast cancer industry and the pink ribbon. The nationalism imbedded in the success of a ‘good’ cause is rendered invisible by the emotional connection, satisfaction and the desire to do ‘good’.’ The Fordist model is apparent here. The industrious assembly line worker mentality limits the worker from being involved or having knowledge of what happens beyond that particular moment or space, this is apparent in popularity of consuming pink ribbon culture. The purchase is a satisfying and limiting experience with the consumer alleviating guilt towards an ‘afflicted’ woman through donation, as a final benevolent act with no desire to follow-up or impose any accountability upon the corporation selling ‘good’ in regards to the ‘afflicted.’ “The character’s will and desire have nothing to do with their eventual outcomes. The character’s collective inability to become cogs in the machine is not portrayed as the individualized faults of these flawed characters. The irony of evacuating agency and will from human subjects is that their failings are not their own either. Rather, the process of being incorporated into labor discipline produces the material histories of difference at the very moment these differences are supposedly being erased. Capitalism must attempt to perform the impossible trick of using these differences in the service of uniformity and standardization.” (Hong, pg. 104) The act of generosity is enough for the donor, the donor trusts that the stakeholders will utilize his or her donation in the spirit that the donation was made. These assumptions of ‘good’ uses of money donated to ‘good’ causes had varying definitions between donator, intermediary and promoted beneficiary. Ford and Tayor models ensure the continuation of uniformity and standardization of the advocacy message supporting breast cancer.


Prevention through screening is not prevention. The breast cancer industry purports that screening and mammograms save lives, this is under criticism. “Angie’s mother had died from the disease; she already knew that early detection was a misnomer for all breast cancers.” (Sulik, pg. 258) Angie’s mother had followed all the ‘rules,’ participating in frequent screening that never found her cancer: “for every 2,000 women screened in a 10-year period, ten women will be treated unnecessarily and only one woman will have her life prolonged.” (Sulik, pg. 20) Suggestions for screening aggressively begin at the age of 40 and earlier if you have a family history. Breast tissue in this age group is dense and the success of mammograms significantly decreases. “Mammograms frequently provide insufficient information to reach clear conclusions about the presence of tumors, and suspicious areas on a mammogram may or may not indicate cancer. The Institute of Medicine reported that 75 percent of all positive mammograms, upon biopsy, were ‘false positives.’” (Sulik, pg. 181) False positives are not the only mammography mistakes that are missed, masses undetectable in denser tissue fall into a false negative category. “Mammograms on average miss 25 to 40 percent of tumors that are actually cancerous.” (Sulik, pg. 181) The American Cancer Society states “only 2-4 mammograms of every 1,000 lead to diagnosis of cancer. About 10% of women who have a mammogram will require more tests, and the majority will only need an additional mammogram. Don’t panic if this happens to you. Only 8% to 10% of those women will need a biopsy, and most (80%) of those biopsies will not be cancer. The oft repeated statement: “Don’t panic if you are one of these women” is an impossible bit of advice to follow. Panic is the primary emotion when a mammogram must be repeated or a biopsy performed, transcendence through breast cancer is not desired nor is the loss of hair or breast. Women attach their identity to their body and losing control of it along with possibilities of breast amputation creates a well founded panic in the reality of breast cancer mortality.


The question here is; are there any answers to be found out of all of these ‘false’ answers? “Even the most conservative scientists agree that approximately 80 percent of all cancers are in some way related to environmental factors. The inescapable conclusion is that if cancer is largely environmental in origin, it is largely preventable.” (Arditti, pg. 666) Cancer is defined as a disease derived from an assumed exposure that you had no control over, when in reality cancer is your body attempting to heal itself from chronic injury. Rapid growth and healing cells, T cells, that created us in the womb are suppose to remain dormant after birth but in the face of chronic injury they become desperate and attempt to help, creating uncontrollable growths as they were never suppose to be stimulated in this way. “AstraZeneca and its allies in the National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, such as the American Cancer Society, continue to carefully avoid environmental issues, or indeed reference to prevention in general.” (King, pg. xxi) Cancer and other diseases are not ubiquitous; the high rates of cancer in the U.S. do not correlate globally, yet. “The incidence of breast cancer and of heart disease in [Japanese] men and women is about one-third of that in North America.” (Lock, pg. 500) The Japanese culture as the leaders of global health statistically proven through longevity and incidence of illness and disease results in analysis of what are we doing differently than the Japanese and how can we change to become healthier. Change is difficult in a nationalism attitude that potentiates instant gratification as a social entitlement, especially when the change comes from a culture that we are socially and economically competitive with. “Focus on finding a cure for breast cancer, rather than on prevention of the disease, has been subject to critique from some prominent scientists and breast cancer activists.” (King, pg. 38)


If there is any questioning left about the corporate interest in cancer Ralph Moss answers it in The Cancer Industry exposed in 1989. “The close ties between industry and two of the most influential groups determining our national cancer agenda – the National Cancer Advisory Board and the President’s Cancer Panel—are revealing. The chair of the President’s Cancer Panel throughout most of the ‘80’s, for example, was Armand Hammer, head of Occidental International Corporation. Among its subsidiaries is Hooker Chemical Company, implicated in the environmental disaster in Love Canal. In addition, Moss, formerly assistant director of public affairs at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), outlines the structure and affiliations of that institution’s leadership. MSKCC is the world’s largest private cancer center, and the picture that emerges borders on the surreal: in 1988, 32.7 percent of its board of overseers were tied to the oil, chemical and automobile industries; 34.6 percent were professional investors (bankers, stockbrokers, venture capitalists) Board members included top officials of drug companies—Squib, Bristol-Myers, Merck and influential members of media—CBS, the New York Times, Warner’s Communications, and Reader’s Digest—as well as leaders of the $55 billion cigarette industry.” (Arditti, pg. 669) The cancer industry search for a cure is better defined by the American Cancer Society’s statistical definition of the term cure, any patient that survives beyond 5 years of initial diagnosis living to be treated again with the ‘master’s tools’ creating the economic dependency on this cycle of treatment. “Lorde was concerned that normalizing women’s experience through appearance and artificial restoration gave the medical system permission to pathologize, discipline, and profit from women’s cancerous bodies.” (Sulik, pg. 341)


“I believe that socially sanctioned prosthesis is merely another way of keeping women with breast cancer silent and separate from each other.” (Lorde, pg. 14)The female body is regenerated through prosthetic manipulation to secure the healthy appearance of the medicalized body. “The strategy of much beauty-related advertising is to suggest to women that their bodies are deficient; but even to those without such explicit teaching, the media images of perfect female beauty that bombard us daily leave no doubt in the minds of most women that they fail to measure up.” (Bartky, pg. 33) Media direct to consumer advertising leaving imprinted ideology indelibly written on the subconscious of women. The idea that a pill can fix any of your ‘problems’ no matter the contraindication or side effects, a pill is the answer. In other words western medicine is infallible. “The danger, of course, is that the ‘Western’ body remains unproblematized. But increasingly research suggests that perhaps it is this body that should be thought of as anomalous.” (Lock, pg. 503)


Feminine medicalization has been compliant with feminine nationalism leading to breast cancer marginalization. “The construction of gender is the product and the process of both representation and self-representation.” (de Lauret, pg. 9) This compliance has lead to the medicalized transformation or transcendence through breast cancer, where women enter the realm of breast cancer weak, agreeable, compliant and fearful and emerge like a newly formed butterfly; strong, determined, assertive, courageous, prideful and last but not least beautiful. The ideology surrounding ‘survivorship’ advocates these transitions as expected outcomes. “The insignificance of these character’s lives leads to a sense of their interchangeability. Not only are the events of character’s lives repetitive within their own narratives, but they start to repeat each other.” (Hong, pg. 101) Sulik’s ‘she-ro’ lives here enforcing the necessary steps toward transcendence as a rite of passage to true womanhood. Proper participation is monitored, there is no room for negative emotions or experiences and as King noted ‘whiners are not allowed.’ “Breast cancer groups that embrace patient-empowerment as a way to mobilize critical engagement with biomedical research, anger at governmental inaction, and resistance to social discrimination remain a small minority, swimming against the tide of pink ribbon perkiness.” (King, pg. 108) The myth that a positive attitude towards breast cancer will heal becomes overpowering in the pink ribbon culture. “Social support and positive mental attitude can contribute to positive health outcomes, but they do not predict survival.” (Sulik, pg. 243)


“The assumption of women as an already constituted and coherent group with identical interests and desires, regardless of class, ethnic or racial location, implies a notion of gender or sexual difference of even patriarchy which can be applied universally and cross-culturally.” (Mohanty, pg. 64) The largest mistake in the machinery of the breast cancer industry is implied identical status of all women, that each woman enters the machinery of Taylorism or Fordist quality and is produced into a ‘she-ro’ assembly line quantity. “While we thought that we marking the F on the form, in fact the F was marking us.” (de Lauret, pg. 12) The social conditions here are out numbering and overpowering the biological conditions. “If the deconstruction of gender inevitably effects its [re] construction, the question is, in which terms and in whose interest is the de-re-construction being effected.” (de Lauret, pg. 24) The stakeholders are controlling the effect and the affected interests. Class is marginalized by the machinery while it confuses it simultaneously; several studies have noted that there is a higher incidence of breast cancer in affluent women. Syd Singer a medical anthropologist contributes this to fashion and specifically to bra use. Affluent women wear tighter bras for longer periods of time effectively castrating their breast from their bodies with a tourniquet like action.


Women’s disadvantage in the realm of breast cancer is not balanced with their resistance to it. “When group identity is a predicate for exclusion of disadvantage, the law has acknowledged it; when it is a predicate for resistance or claim of right to be free from subordination, the law determines it to be illusionary.” (Harris, pg. 1766) The illusionary status of women who resist the ‘she-ro’ status and the pink culture around it find themselves in segregated states. “Setting the standard for survivorship, ‘she-ro’ has become the public voice for breast cancer survivors, drowning out alternative ways of thinking about, and dealing with, breast cancer.” (Sulik, pg. 326) The women who resist become the missing women in statistical evidence of breast cancer. “Today’s breast cancer culture dictates the terms of women’s shared experience in ways that marginalize those who do not passionately participate and cheerfully comply with the culture’s rules of survivorship. There is no room for lackluster support, contemplation of scientific controversies that do not rely on the mass proliferation of screening programs.” (Sulik, pg. 274) Vicki has stage 4 breast cancer; the evidence is in her missing breast and the pictures she has taken of its evolution and separation from her body. Vicki has chosen to use nutrition as her tool to health and life; she has lived 6 years pain free and is now healing as evidenced by her body’s attempt to rebuild breast tissue. The ‘master’s tools’ were never used on Vicki’s body, and according to the American Cancer Society she is already cured surviving 5 years after diagnosis. The resistance to conformity and conventional medicine here is a voice silenced by the lack of medical acknowledgement that she could and does exist outside their boundaries and intersections. “As a key figure in the women’s health and breast cancer movements, Rose Kushner especially emphasized a medical consumerist philosophy that recognized that information varied in quality and did not necessarily lead to the kind of knowledge that would save a person’s life.” (Sulik, pg. 34)


Imaginary knowledge and ideals surround breasts. Breasts do not uniformly fit into A, B, C, D or DD categories any more than women fit into assumed homogenous categories capable of ‘she-ro’ transformation. “Poor women for example, are much more likely to suffer from cervical cancer. By contrast, at least among older women, breast cancer is more common among the affluent. These patterns, which at times can become quite complex, illustrate the general point that, even in the case of reproductive health, more than biological sex is at issue.” (Krieger, pg. 18) It is the patterns that separate women in the U.S. from Japanese women that need to be addressed as Syd Singer has done to initiate movement towards a healthier outlook for breast cancer. “It is a particular academic arrogance to assume any discussion of feminist theory without examining our many differences.” (Lorde, pg. 110)


Women’s position in medicine and society repeats the cyclic reproduction of nationalism, medicalization and marginalization. “Identity of ‘the other’ is still objectified, the complex, negotiated quality of identity is ignored, and the impact of inequitable power on identity is masked.” (Harris, pg. 1764) The ‘she-ro’ identity while forcefully presented as the majority position lacks power and sustainability. She cannot exist in this imaginary vacuum forever. “The crux of the problem lies in that initial assumption of women as a homogeneous group or category (‘the oppressed’), a familiar assumption in western radical and liberal feminisms.” (Mohanty, pg. 79) The ‘she-ro’ attempts to reinstall first wave feminism, the ideology of the white heterosexual middle to upper class women performing super human feats and becoming stronger in the process when in reality she weakened by the mirage she must maintain and the reality of what the ‘master’s tools’ have written into her body in Kafkaesque qualities. “To being to understand how our social constitution affects our health, we must ask, repeatedly, what is different and what is similar across the social divides of gender, color, and class. We cannot assume that biology alone will provide answers we need; instead, we must reframe the issues in context of the social shaping of our human lives- as both biological creatures and historical actors. Otherwise, we will continue to mistake—as many before us have done—with is for what must be, and leave unchallenged the social forces that continue to create vast inequalities in health.” (Krieger, pg. 21)


“As long as the breast cancer agenda is dominated by multinational corporations and their nonprofit partners, there is little hope that the ‘barriers and burdens’ encountered by poor women will penetrate the peppy public consciousness or elicit the kinds of policy responses that might actually make a difference to them. Indeed, one of the key features of the neoliberal state is its refusal to view the amelioration of poverty as one of its central obligations or to view the ‘subject of compassionate action, to quote Lauren Berlant, as ‘any member of a historically and structurally subordinated population.’” (King, pg. 118) The female subordinated position leaves her victim to social contributions to her medicalized status and her marginalized state. “It is not always possible to see where nature ends and culture begins.” (Scheper-Hughes, pg. 19) It is possible today to see how culture affects nature and vice versa, the answers are not where the two meet but in the areas where the two overlap. The dichotomous world does not create answers only questions, in moving beyond dichotomies and searching out the patterns answers may be found. “The idea that users of health services should be able to make informed decisions about their medical choices seemingly places control in the hands of patients and advocates. In reality, the medical system, the breast cancer industry, and the pink ribbon culture work together to control the information women need when making their choices, while defining the options available to them. The industry that benefits from the increased use of mammography and pharmaceuticals is at the core of what has become pink ribbon culture.” (Sulik, pg. 210)


The pink culture must be questioned, how it works, what it creates and how it effects to find the answers outside of the dichotomy of participant or nonparticipant. “The upbeat message of breast cancer survivorship provides a counterbalance to the feelings of fear and uncertainty that accompany diagnosis and treatment. The simplistic overemphasis on normalization, transcendence, and empowerment in pink ribbon culture obscures this complexity. The mandate for optimism involves an aesthetic approach to normalization through appearance and self-preservation, which integrates social expectations for women’s conciliatory behavior, specifically the suppression of any feelings that might destabilize upbeat social interaction. Many diagnosed women refuse to participate in pink ribbon culture precisely for this reason.” (Sulik, pg. 237) Resistance to participation should not be grounds for action against these women socially or medically. “The social pressures that women serve others even when facing a life-threatening illness reverberated throughout interviews, making it difficult for women to set boundaries that would allow them to put their health first.” (Sulik, pg. 293)


Real women have real questions that medicalization has been unable to answer. “Have I survived? I won’t know unless I die of something besides breast cancer. The term is overused.” (Sulik, pg. 320) Women are demanding better answers and instigating a movement towards alternative medicine in the face of unsuccessful conventional options. “In our world, divide and conquer must become define and empower.” (Lorde, pg. 112) Women no longer want to participate in a stalemate ‘war.’ The risks are too great and the benefit too little for the foot soldiers involved. “The worst thing anyone can ask about any war is whether those who died in vain.” (Sulik, pg. 363) Sadly many may categorize the deaths from breast cancer that could possibly be prevented as senseless loss of life and meaning that could be prevented. “The embrace of a lie could occur only when oppression makes self denial and the obliteration of the identity rational and in significant measure, beneficial.” (Harris, pg. 1743) The obliteration of these foot soldiers in the ‘war’ on breast cancer is only beneficial to the machinery that continues to operate and flourish in cyclic system, we cannot use the ‘master’s tools’ to dismantle his house as Lorde states yet maybe we should take Kafka’s approach and destroy the machine.


“It is obvious enough that ever since a discipline such as history has existed, documents have been used, questioned, and have given rise to questions; scholars have asked not only what their documents meant, but also whether they were telling the truth, and by what right they could claim to be doing so, whether they were sincere or deliberately misleading, well informed or ignorant, authentic or tampered with.” Michele Foucault (pg. 6)





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Tortora, Gerard J. & Sandra Reynolds Grabowski. Principles of Anatomy and Physiology. Harper Collins College Publishers.1996

Weitz. “The Politics of Women’s Bodies.” Sexuality, Appearance and Behavior. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wetzel, J.W. “Women and mental health: a global perspective.” International Social Work 2000. 43.




Why have we been conditioned to wear a tourniquet around our lymph system?

Culture defines each and every one of us.  We become desensitized to the existence of cultural effects due to constant exposure through our environment and conformity pressures around us.  Our daily habits and normalcy standards could be causing us to overlook negative impacts on health. Women are the largest section of the human population, yet remain in most instances under the hegemonic control of men.  “Every woman has a militant responsibility to involve herself actively with her own health. We owe ourselves the protection of all the information we can acquire about the treatment of cancer and its causes, as well as about the recent findings concerning immunology, nutrition, environment, and stress. And we owe ourselves this information before we may have reason to use it,” (CancerJournals 75).

The King of Spain in the 14th century smoked his first tobacco product and decreed it illegal for adverse health effects of coughing. Tobacco still became a catastrophic health risk to society.  Corsets are known to cause organ, tissue and skeletal damage.  Seatbelts and helmets have slowly become fashionable.   Fashion and health safety are frequently at odds battling for cultural popularity.  Each section of the multitude of cultural social groups that exist influence its population. Audre Lorde who lived with breast cancer for almost a decade felt that her “scars are an honorable reminder that I may be a casualty in the cosmic war against radiation, animal fat, air pollution, McDonald’s hamburgers and Red Dye No. 2,” (CancerJournals 60).

Bras may be a factor in the escalating cases of breast cancer.  Interest in determining the depth of societal/cultural influence on health issues as covertly mundane as wearing a bra have only been shallowly explored.  Women put them on with little thought to why.  We are introduced to bras as a rite of passage, and there are few things more exciting, for a pre-teen, than journeying to purchase your first one.  We equate this with being a “real woman”.  It is a bonding experience and one of many steps to womanhood.  Most American women wear them; they provide a social function, modesty and professionalism are a presumed perception when wearing bra.  Bras also have a large role in self-esteem and femininity.

“Women have been programmed to view our bodies only in terms of how they look and feel to others. . . . I must consider what my body means to me…. The rape victim is accused of enticing the rapist. The battered wife is accused of having angered her husband,” (Cancer Journals 65-66).  Breast cancer has no foundation for accusations or guilt yet this is not the reality expressed by its survivors.

The unanswered question is why we wear bras.  Why did we ever start wearing bras to begin with?  Why do we continue to wear them?  What are the health benefits or risks?  Why have we never questioned them?  Accusations and guilt surrounds a woman who does not wear a bra.  Women who do not wear bras are deemed lewd or loose.  Guilt and accusations seem to surround the usage of bras and breasts.  “Pleasure and power do not cancel or turn back against one another; they seek out, overlap, and reinforce one another.  They are linked together by complex mechanisms and devices of excitation and incitement,” (The History of Sexuality pg. 48).

All cultures have their own personal fetishes.  The United States of America is no exception.  The neck and wrist in Japan are the erotic parts of the body, in China it is feet.  In the U.S. it is breasts.  They are on the cover of most magazines, exploited on T.V. and advertising.  Breasts have an immeasurable effect on female and male psyche alike.  They are too small, too large, pushed, pulled, stretched and constricted to fit our idea of normalcy and desirability. Foucault was right when he stated “the basic functioning of a society penetrated through and through with disciplinary mechanisms” ( Discipline and Punishment pg 209).  These mechanisms are what define our loose ideas of normalcy and desirability.

“We believe that we have found a trigger for breast cancer.  It is a trigger that is pulled by women themselves-but the gun is loaded by society,” (Singer Sydney Ross, and Soma Grismajer 1995:xv).  Bras are contributing to breast cancer according to husband and wife researchers Singer and Grismajer. “I am defined as other in every group I’m a part of. […] Yet without community there is certainly no liberation, no future, only the most vulnerable and temporary armistice between me and my oppression” (Cancer Journals 11).  Wearing a bra defines being a grown woman and her femininity according to our cultural practices.

“Survival in the mouth of this dragon we call America, we have had to learn this first and most vital lesson– that we were never meant to survive.  Not as human beings.  And that visibility which makes us most vulnerable is that which is also is the source of our greatest strength.  Because the machine will try to grind you into dust anyway, whether or not we speak.  We can sit in our corners mute forever while out sisters and our selves are wasted, while our children are distorted and destroyed, while our earth is poisoned, we can sit in our safe corners mute as bottles, and we still will be no less afraid,” (Cancer Journals 20).

“The incidence and mortality of breast cancer is the highest in North America and northern Europe, intermediate levels in southern Europe and Latin America, and lowest in Asia and Africa.  Recent years show that there has been an increase in the incidence of breast cancer in younger women in Asia, central Europe, and South America,” (Singer Sydney Ross, and Soma Grismajer 1995:44).  Japan has one of the lowest breast cancer rates worldwide.  Their custom of dressing involves layers though and not bras.  Japanese women living in America have equal rates with American born Caucasian women in two to three generations, implying that cultural assimilation is complete in two to three generations.

“We also see that different cultures in the same environment have different breast cancer rates.  Native Americans, who typically do not wear bras, have a breast cancer incidence akin to that of non-Western cultures.  When we compared Indian women in New Mexico with white women in New Mexico, we see that white women have about a four-fold  greater breast cancer incidence rate, according to the International Association of Cancer Registries,” (Singer Sydney Ross, and Soma Grismajer 1995:53).  “The greatest incidence of breast cancer in American women appears within the ages of 40 to 55.  These are the very years when women are portrayed in the popular media as fading and desexualized figures.  Contrary to the media picture, I find myself as a woman of insight ascending into my highest and powers,” (Cancer Journals 64).

A recent study done by medical anthropologists (in 1993, occurring in Denver, San Francisco, Phoenix, Dallas and New York City of 5,000 women; approx. 50% malignant, 50% benign) has outlined convincing evidence that we are wearing tourniquets,  in effect castrating our breasts from our bodies.  Bras are trapping carcinogens in our breasts and restricting the oxygen and circulation of our lymphatic system. A stagnate, insulated breeding ground for cancer is created.  “Current estimates are that 90 percent of all women in America will experience at least one breast cancer scare by finding a breast lump at some time,” (Singer Sydney Ross, and Soma Grismajer 1995:xi).

There is no cure for cancer; in fact scientists really have no idea what initially triggers the chain reaction beyond the body’s innate desire to self-heal. Chronically damaged cells requesting help triggers cells that are unable to help and unable to stop trying. Tumors are formed by these rouge cells t-cells that were initial rapid growth cells responsible for creating placenta and the umbilical cord.  These cells are supposed to remain dormant, they only have one on and one off switch and when they are reactivated they are responsible for 85% of cancer.  It is due to this reason that pregnancy tests are never 100% accurate.  They detect pregnancy 99% of the time and cancer 1% percent of the time.  This occurs because the activation of these t-cells omits the same hormone as if you were pregnant, in men and women.

Cancer rates are climbing drastically in industrialized countries.  “You can treat a tumor with something that can kill it, but if the initial cause of the tumor is not eliminated, a cure will not be affected,” (Singer Sydney Ross, and Soma Grismajer 1995:15).  Industrialization has an effect on health.  Capitalism in its base nature is motivated and controlled by profit increasing industrialization that has no interest in supporting an unprofitable cure.   “We live in a profit economy and there is no profit in the prevention of cancer; there is only profit in the treatment of cancer” (Cancer Journals 74).

It is a brilliant and simple idea to take the chances of this disease occurring from 1 in 7 to 1 in 168 for every human, and the most amazing thing is that the treatment is free.  It costs nothing to stop wearing bras. It is just like smoking.  It is a choice.  The largest problem with this subject is that it is not a known choice to all women yet.   I dream of the day women are making informed decisions.  Linking bras as a contributor is easy when combined with other issues such as food cooked over 350 degrees having no nutritional value, thus no assistance to our immunity to disease, aspartame turning to formaldehyde in your stomach and corn syrup being cancer’s fuel with much of this food being contaminated by BPAs.

Breasts are external organs.  They have evolved with the Homo sapiens’ form freely for 400,000 years.  In the last few centuries breasts have become victims of industrialization and technological society’s definition of conformity to become attractive to perspective mates.  In the Dressed to Kill study appearance standards were considered, “Women with breast cancer were two times as likely to value appearance when selecting a bra than the standard group of women.  In addition, women from the cancer group were half as likely to consider comfort as those in the standard group” (Singer Sydney Ross, and Soma Grismajer 1995:106).  We no longer need survival of the fittest, we have bras. “Women are kept from expressing the power of [their] knowledge and experience, and through that expression, developing strengths that challenge those structures within our lives that support the Cancer Establishment” (Cancer Journals 59).

We easily accept that restrictive male undergarments have adverse effects on sperm and testicular health.  Testes with low sperm counts need cooling and unrestricted movement.  Breasts, like testes, are meant to be cooler than our body’s core temperature.  They also need uninhibited gravity assistance for effective lymphatic transport and removal of toxins; this transport system is dependent on activity/exercise.  Muscular constriction and relaxation massages and motivates the lymphatic circulation.  The lymphatic nodes not only transport toxins, but produce white blood cells and antibodies.  Strangling this system is not to our benefit.

History shows many cultures sought clean water and built elaborate systems to maintain them.  That water system would have been useless without its equal partner in a sewer system.  Our cellular sewer system is the lymphatic system; it is poorly documented and studied.  The lymphatic system is innumerable hollow reservoirs that collapse when empty so they are difficult to find in dissections and impossible to identify in the medical teaching system of cadaver labs. American medical schools spend comparatively little time teaching it compared to other body systems.  The medical text Gray’s Anatomy states, “As these structures [lymphatic vessels] are not readily seen in dissections, the student is apt to forget the study of the lymphatic drainage,” (Singer Sydney Ross, and Soma Grismajer 1995:85). History has shown that a city with no sewer system will die, and the human body is no different, inhibiting our sewer system kills us too.

The muscular/skeletal system has evolved an active support system for the breasts.  The atrophy of these muscles through aging and lack of use creates the undesirable effect of sagging.  Aging has become a cultural faux pas.  Breasts are forced to maintain the same position throughout the female life cycle instead of being allowed to age gracefully and move freely.  Lifelong use of bras has done nothing to stop sagging. Bras appear to have assisted gravity by taking the muscular function of support away from the body.

Bras insulate, restrict and confine lymphatic flow.  Cancer propagates in higher temperatures, toxic and stagnate environments.  Temperature changes also have dramatic effects on hormonal releases and reactions.  The nature of the bra is a tourniquet.  We have become immune to noticing the red tourniquet marks, or the extreme of permanent dents, left on the female body by bras.  Bras hold in cellular toxins and decrease the amount of oxygen creating and anoxic state of existence.  Oxygen is a deterrent to cancer, along with proper cellular nutrients.  Cancer’s main source of fuel is processed sugar.  The sugar and toxins are pumped in by our stronger circulatory system while we dam off the sewer system.

The lymphatic system is externally superficial and unprotected.  It does not benefit from skeletal protection or the pumping action of a motor like our blood has from our heart.  Its thin walls are easily collapsed by pressure from restrictive garments.  A tourniquet easily restricts blood flow in an arm for laboratory uses and it has a powerful pump and reinforced arterial and venous walls.  The lymphatic system is no match for bras.  It is easily over powered and easily healed.  Lymphatic cancers (Hodgkin’s is one form) are among the least detrimental of cancers.  They have some of the highest recovery rates.

Breast cancer is inaccurately named.  Breast cancer has nothing to do with breasts.  It has nothing to do with being female.  It has nothing to do with the female mammary glands ability to produce milk.  Men get breast cancer.  Women have a much higher rate of breast cancer than men do even living in relatively similar environments, with the same genetics and the same sewer system.  Women’s average rates are 1 in 7; men have an average of 1 in 176.

Why do we call it breast cancer?  This is where we get back to cultural interference and the bottom line.  Lymphatic cancer is not a sexy name and has difficulty attracting funding.  Breast cancer propaganda is everywhere. Have you noticed all the little pink ribbons, even in the NFL?  It is interesting that these ribbons are pink, that the subject of male breast cancer is glazed over, along with the fact that this cancer is inappropriately named.  Prostate cancer has 32% morbidity compared to 35% breast cancer morbidity.  We have yet to give prostate cancer a ribbon and put it on football helmets.

Breast cancer patients I know have little concern with all the hype.  They feel isolated and lonely.  “Pink” values purport to exemplify sisterhood of community toting awareness and a search for the cure and support for the cause.  The pink cloud seems to have infected all but those it claims to champion. .  Pink defines a community of breast cancer today.  Historically breast cancer was treated quietly and remained hidden from view.  The disease remains hidden; however its fan club is highly visible.  It is an army of pink that leaps off the shelves and into the home of the consumer.  Pink has taken breast cancer from private to public.  The public relieves its guilt and lack of understanding with purchasing pink.  .

Disease has become a corporate venture. Commercial programing is saturated with new drugs, hospital and health driven business ventures that are represented by mascots and symbols to advance their products through association.  Mascots and symbols aligning corporations with a veneer of respect and enhancing its image are allowing a public interpretation that influencing profit.

Pink originates from old English pynca meaning point, and verb meanings of piercing or stabbing.  The evolution of this word into a color has taken on a life of its own in marketing and symbolism.  Literature uses pink in reference to innocence, naivety and vulnerability associated to femininity. Pink has been branded as a color of femininity.  Culture has defined appropriate color use in this instance.  Hitler’s use of a pink triangle to identify gay men even adheres to this unwritten rule.   My definition of pink growing up was weakness, helplessness and girly.  Pink definitions can be interpreted as polarly opposite.  Today I love the color pink; I have many articles of pink clothing and enjoy it as a color.  I still however hate what it stands for today.

Canada allows breasts to be shown on TV. They are desensitized to the idolization and erotic nature of breasts.  Their medical system also has a different approach to treatment.  Women having headaches, hand numbness, cysts, skin depigmentation (redness caused by tourniquet action of bra), masses, back pain or postural problems are first told to remove bras. Resolution of problem is found to occur within one to three months.  The Canadian government enjoys the benefits of resolution to health issues with little cost to the budget.

Size is an argument for bra use versus nonbra use. Watch the Norwegian Equestrian team.  They are busty girls that have free range of motion in a high impact event.  The muscular support system is taunt and healthy.  Breasts, like all anatomy, become stronger with use, breast feeding is breast exercise.  The more activity the breast tissue has, the decreased risk it has for developing breast cancer.  Exercise is a huge component of breast cancer recovery and reduces reoccurrence, it is also a form of prevention.

“The health value of corsets was expressed by Vogue in 1932:  ‘Women’s abdominal muscles are notoriously weak, and even hard exercise doesn’t keep your figure from spreading if you do not give it some support.’ This view of the female body justified the fashion of corsets on biological grounds-grounds that have since been shaken and shown to be absurd.  From our vantage point of the late twentieth century, this justification sounds like a rationalization for the fashion of corsets, not a sound piece of medical advice.  But bras, the direct descendants of corsets, have been recommended with the same type of medical rationalization,” (Singer Sydney Ross, and Soma Grismajer 1995:151).

The American Cancer Society and the Internet promote that bra potentiating breast cancer is a rumor.   No research is provided to support this statement, nor is any being done.  Bras are not yet to be included in any medical history form, nor are questions about bra use asked during treatment for breast cancer that I have observed or found.  Women who do not wear bras have a similar rate of breast cancer as men.    Treatment and diagnosis of breast cancer can be just as dangerous as the cancer in the United States.  Biopsies spread it, radiation triggers it, and chemotherapy kills more healthy cells than unhealthy cells.  Biopsies spread cancer by shoving needles into the questionable mass, and then it leaves a trail of contaminated cells as the needle is removed through the entire compromised needle track.  Mammograms smash breasts like a pimple and spread the infected cells.

The American Cancer Society’s definition of cured cancer is surviving 5 years post diagnosis.  This is not the assumed definition of cured by the general public.  Science is no closer to a cure because they are no closer to figuring out the initial cause.  They are searching in a tiny field of hay for an even tinier needle.  It may be that we need to look at the big picture instead.  “According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is a process that can begin up to twenty years before the disease is detected and diagnosed,” (Singer Sydney Ross, and Soma Grismajer 1995:94).  Women who are 20 years into bra use are the highest risk category.

Lung cancer is thrown out of the American Cancer Society’s released statistical numbers.  It deems that lung cancer is accelerated and acerbated by smoking, that the prevention of lung cancer will be greatly affected by decreased use of tobacco, not by medical intervention.  This is deemed an uncontrollable variable, and can therefore, be a justified discard in the statistical evidence of cancer.  Easily treated cancers, that are termed precancerous, are included to adjust statistics positively to advocate current treatments and expenditures.  Statistical manipulation is easy to comprehend once the adjusted dependent variables are known.

The medical world, actually the entire world, is dependent on pyramidal effects.  We are all affected by, the “butterfly effect” or to make this theory more relevant, the bee effect.  One little overlooked variable can cause a pyramid to collapse.  There are no silver bullets.  Many things affect our health and the addition of all these things in our industrial/technological culture add up.

The advent of agriculture and profuse use of corn, initially thought to advance our species from hunter gather to sedentary agriculturist to passive technology age, is now being reevaluated.  The dependency on one main soft sugary food source actually led to decreased health (initially with cavities to expansion of cancer) and we are still today struggling with and affected by the effects of sugary sedentary lifestyles.  Corn sugar is a main ingredient in many products and is largely responsible for the rising cases of diabetes.  “According to the World Health Organization, 70 to 80 percent of people in developed nations-such as the United States- die from lifestyle caused diseases,” (Singer Sydney Ross, and Soma Grismajer 1995:7).

The American diet has led to record numbers of obesity.  Americans mainly consume dead calories.  Any food cooked over 350 degree has no nutritional value.  All vitamins and minerals are denatured at higher temperatures rendering them useless to our bodies.  Deep fat fried food and microwaved food are two examples of dead calories.  They give us calorie fuel but no nutrients to repair or maintain health.  We supplement our food with manmade nutrients that may turn out to be just as useless as the denatured vitamins and minerals that have been destroyed by heat.

Food labels often say enriched, meaning that the food has been over processed, over heated, and the nutritional value has been compromised. Enriching the food is an attempt to replace those nutrients with man-made substitutes that are highly unlikely to be useful to our body.  The next noticeable labeling item is bleached. Read the warning label on a bottle of bleach and then decide if you want this done to the food you are ingesting.  Why we behave with racial supremacy towards flour I will never know.  Our over processed food habit has grown out of control, only to satisfy our immediate gratification needs.  This is starving our bodies of nutrients.  High fructose corn syrup is the next most common ingredient listed on food labels.  Corn created sedentary agricultural lifestyles with cavities and now it is to blame for diabetes.

Aspartame is the next red flag in the ingredient list.   Aspartame is a manmade sweetener that denatures into formaldehyde at 86 degrees Fahrenheit.  Your stomach is 96 degrees; the after-taste from that diet soda is formaldehyde.  Corpse deterioration rates are changing in forensic science because of this pretreatment.  Embalming may be unnecessary in the future.  Aspartame is in most products labeled diet or low calorie.  Brain tumors have increased after its releases into the market.  MSG and maltodextrin are also known carcinogens. If you cannot pronounce it, you should not eat it, barring foreign food.  After evaluating these issues, it is easy to see how our health is circling the drain.  It is not easy or quick to prepare your own food and it is not popular to stay home and eat.

Plastic is used to contain much of our processed food in the forms of microwave plastic bags and liners in cans. This plastic contains bisphenol A (BPA’s).  Canned vegetables, beer, soda, peas, and peaches are all saturated with BPA’s by heat exposure for sealing and pasteurization.  They are estrogen mimickers.  That funny taste from your bottled water that has sat in your car is residue you can taste from BPA’s.  Placing plastic in the microwave with food not only kills all the nutrients and creates dead calories; it then saturates the food with estrogen mimickers, but you won’t find it in the food label.  “The FDA considers the BPAs released during packaging and consumption in these containers to be an unintentional food additive,” (Singer Sydney Ross, and Soma Grismajer 1995:69).

We must also consider toxins not only that we ingest but also absorb and inhale.  Other synthetic estrogen mimickers are present in laundry detergent and lotions and other soaps that you use for your hands and body frequently.  If it is not biodegradable, it may have estrogen mimickers in it, and it should not be rubbed into your body.  Recent research believes that upwards of 20% of all birth defects, a majority of spontaneous abortions and fertility problems are due to BPA’s and other artificial estrogen.

Our current water treatment systems are unable to remove hormones synthetic or natural.  Women who use oral birth control and hormone therapy actually utilize a very low percentage of the hormone.  These hormones are then rejected by the body and upwards of 80 % of them are added to the sewer system and recycled into the water system.  Natural hormones are compounded by synthetic hormones and sperm motility rates in men have experienced a significant recent decline that is blamed on this issue.  Breast cancer is thought to be hormonally triggered.  We have increased our exposure to these hormones, both natural and unnatural.  The age of American female menarche has hit a worldwide record low.  Early menarche is also a high risk factor in breast cancer with extended menopause. This increases the time of natural hormone production.  One cannot help but wonder about the barrage of environmental/industrial hormones affecting this.

Our skin is our largest organ, yet we forget this when applying topical products.  It does not seem to register that these topical products are absorbed and enter our body and are then stored in there.  Petroleum, parabins and perfumes are known carcinogens.  These products are found in many lotions, lip balms and even medical creams.  Petroleum products go in our cars, not on our skin, the argument about it being in our cars is an environmental issue now too.

Our clothing is manufactured with chemicals leaving residue readily absorbed by our skin just as the chemicals from the soaps used on them are.  We roll around in chemicals all night in our sheets and all day in our clothes. Experiments on animals have yielded few answers and may not yield many.  “Beta-naphthylamine, for example, does not cause tumors in animals, but is one of the most active cancer-causing chemicals in humans” (Singer Sydney Ross, and Soma Grismajer 1995:67).

Soda (or pop) can be a huge factor in contributing to poor health.  The amount of high fructose corn syrup in one can consumed once a day can increase your chances of type II diabetes by 50%.  The can is lined with plastic, adding BPAs to your soda, to facilitate sealing and slowing can degradation from acids contained in some sodas.  The acid contained in cola sodas can dissolve the corrosion off your car’s battery cables almost instantly when combined with baking soda.  If it is diet soda, it contains aspartame that denatures into formaldehyde in your stomach and is absorbed by your intestinal tract.  If this was not enough we add caffeine, which causes cardiac rhythm disturbances, frequently causing a rhythm defined as malignant preventricular contractions.  This rhythm, unlike breast cancer, is not inappropriately named.  It leads to ventricular tachycardia which is the precursor of death.  Malignant should be the definition of soda.

Genetics cannot be entirely at fault.  Women who die of breast cancer die horribly.  Their breasts ulcerate, turning into huge open angry oozing sores.  If your grandmother or great grandmother had died that way, the women in your family would remember, retelling each other about it as oral family lore.  The increased rates do not correlate statistically with time frame and history of the disease, let alone genetic propagation.

Bras began being questioned as a possible contributor to breast cancer in the 1970’s.  Harvard did a study in the 80’s.  “Dressed to Kill” was released in 1993 by Sydney Ross Singer and his wife Soma Grismajer.  This book addresses a study of 5,000 residents of the United States from 5 major cities.

Sydney Ross Singer and Soma Grismajer report the following:

  • Women who wore their bras 24 hours per day had a 3 out of 4 chance of developing breast cancer (in their study, n=2056 for the cancer group and n=2674 for the standard group).
  • Women who wore bras more than 12 hour per day but not to bed had a 1 out of 7 risk.
  • Women who wore their bras less than 12 hours per day had a 1 out of 152 risk.
  • Women who wore bras rarely or never had a 1 out of 168 chance of getting breast cancer. The overall difference between 24 hour wearing and not at all was a 125-fold difference.

Statistically this works out as shown below:

  • Rarely or never: .595% chance
  • 1-12 hour use: .658% chance; 1.14% increases with each hour.
  • 12 + hour use: 14.285% chance; 5.05% increase with each hour.
  • 24 hour use: 75% chance

In other words;

  • 23 out of 24 cases of 12 hour use could be prevented or;
  • 126 out of 127 cases of 24 hour use could be prevented.


This may not be a cure, but it beats the American Cancer Society’s definition of cure and all the other options that are currently being pursued and suggested to women with genetic predispositions. Women who are genetically at a 17% risk are given the option to have bilateral mastectomies, yet they get prosthetics and continue to wear a bra.   It could get interesting when these women develope breast cancer anyway.  There are over 5,000 lymphatic glands in your torso, a radical mastectomy, or sewer removal, does not appear to be a good choice in light of this information.  Sewer removal would effectively kill any city.  “In the cause of silence, each one of us draws the face of her own fear–fear of contempt, of censure, of some judgment, or recognition, of challenge, of annihilation. But most of all, I think, we fear the very visibility without which we also cannot truly live” (Cancer Journals 19-20).

While pursuing this topic, reactions to it have been intriguing.  I have found one of two reactions from women occurs, and it is never predictable.  They stop wearing a bra, to see for themselves how it affects them, or they are angry and deny any foundation for this information.  It is surprising the majority of people who have never heard of or even questioned this notion.  As a medical anthropologist and former paramedic, I began questioning this over 10 years ago.  I developed an allergy, actually anaphylactic reaction (red streaking and compromised respiratory system), to latex and tape that has spread to a sensitivity to many latex type materials.  The rubber backing placed on bras to prevent slipping created blisters.   I began wearing 100% cotton bras.  As my bra wearing decreased the immunity to pain I had developed in my bra “training” period disappeared.  The less I wore bras, the more painful it became to wear them.  I had become so used to the discomfort that I didn’t notice it.  Having a bra on for 15 minutes now makes my armpits ache and itch and I become miserable.

There are many reasons we have been taught to wear them: we do not want to sag, we do not want our nipples to show and we do not want to lose our job. The reasons go on and on.  In reality, we have evolved 400,000 years without them.  Bras are structurally incompatible with our musculature/skeletal system, they cause more problems than they solve, from back pain to benign cysts and the probable possibility of potentiating cancer.  An architect would never design a bra; it creates the greatest amount of pressure in the weakest structural points.

I frequently share this information with any women who will hold still for 30 seconds and appears interested, at the grocery store, school or swimming pool.  Her level of questioning steers my response from full thesis dissertation to cliff note style presentation.  In spreading this information, I have also created a group of women who have decided to give this notion a try.  All of them have come to me and repeated my story.  The less they wear bras, the more painful it becomes until they just finally stop wearing them.

This trial medical treatment is free.  I am confused by anyone who will not even consider it and honestly do their own research.  A large group of women are terrified of being without their bras.  In this way, they remind me of smokers.  Smokers are well aware of what they are doing to their bodies and yet they do it anyway.

I have never had a man argue with me about this subject.  They generally swallow the information hook, line and sinker and make statements like “that makes sense”.  They also seem to be on board with bras being discarded; they may not be foreseeing that women without bras would stop being a novelty if it went into mass acceptance.

I am a runner and I am frequently asked if I run without my bra; the answer is yes.  I even ride horses without a bra just like the Norwegian Equestrian team.  I then ask whomever I am talking to if they have ever been able to notice that I am without a bra.  The answer has always been no.  Men manage to disguise their nipples with loose fitting undergarments, and women can too.  I have seen many women in bras and their nipples continue to show.

It would be a dream comes true if all women could be convinced to go bra free for 6 months and see what happens to breast cancer rates.  The study would be free.  The problem is getting it into the public arena.  There is over 500 billion dollars of revenue per year related to these topics.  Every time you see a pink ribbon you think of breast cancer, I see the money that is being collected and paid out when we could just have a simple free trial.

I should note here that I have a high genetic risk for breast cancer.  It runs in my family and my sister is a 24 hour a day bra wearer.  I have spent many hours with oncologists. I have read many medical oncology books.  I am saddened that the medical system waits until prevention has an uphill battle before mentioning it. “Any information about the prevention or treatment of breast cancer which might possibly threaten the vested interests of the American medical establishment is difficult to acquire in this country,” (Cancer Journals 73).

Optimistically, there are so many things we could fix as consumers.  The tobacco industry has lost a large part of its power.  Americans can choose health; if it is not bought, it will not be produced.  Look at the ingredients label on a product before buying it, especially before eating it.  Increase your fresh fruits and vegetables, honey and color in your diet.  Drink antioxidants like green tea; Japan does have the highest life expectancy.  Use biodegradable soaps and last, but not least, exercise.

 “In the fight against breast cancer, one of our major enemies is the way we see and treat women, and the way we condition women to see and treat themselves,” (Singer Sydney Ross, and Soma Grismajer 1995:170).

  • 1 out 4 women diagnosed with cancer is a diagnosis of breast cancer.
  • Non bra use could drastically effect 25% of females with cancer
  • 202,300 women have breast cancer
  • Statistically non-bra use could cut this to 8,500 women with breast cancer
  • 40,460 women were expected to die from breast cancer in 2007
  • Statistically deaths by nonbra use could be decreased to 1,685

“Women with breast cancer are warriors. I have been to war, and still am. So has every woman who has had one or both breasts amputated because of the cancer that is becoming the primary physical scourge of our time. For  my scars are an honorable reminder that I may be a casualty in the cosmic war against radiation, animal fat, air pollution, McDonald’s hamburgers and Red Dye No. 2e, but the fight is still going on, and I am still a part of it. I refuse to have my scars hidden or trivialized behind lamb’s wool or silicone gel. I refuse to be reduced in my own eyes or in the eyes of others from warrior to mere victim, simply because it might render me a fraction more acceptable or less dangerous to the still complacent, those who believe if you cover up a problem it ceases to exist. I refuse to hide my body simply because it might make a woman-phobic world more comfortable,” (Cancer Journals 60).

Bras are not the cause of breast cancer.  We do not know the primary trigger or cause of breast cancer or cancer in general.  Correlation does not equal cause; known cause normally generates a known cure.  Breast cancer occurs in men who do not wear bras, but after reading this study, other evidence and participating in my own self-study and watching other women do their own self studies it seems that prevention is the key to downsizing many health problems.  There is no bill for bra removal.  Breast cancer has extensive billable prospects from: research, radiation, chemo, medical diagnostic tools, surgery, to reconstruction or prosthesis and last but not least pink ribbons.


Bledsoe Bryan E., Robert S. Porter, Bruce R. Shade.  Paramedic Emergency Care.  Upper Saddle River, NY:  Brady Prentice Hall, 1997.

Buttke Danielle. “Animals in Research”. Final Paper in PhD Research, 2009.

D’Adamo Peter M.D. Cancer Fight It with the Blood Type Diet.  New York, NY:  G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2004.

Elliott, Charlene. “Pink!: Community, Contestation, and the Colour of Breast Cancer.” Canadian Journal of Communication 32.3/4 (2007): 521-536. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 28 Nov. 2010

Foucault Michel. The History of Sexuality. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1978.

Foucault Michel. Discipline and Punishment. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1979.

Gray Henry F.R.S. Gray’s Anatomy.  London: PRC Publishing, 2005.

Lorde, Audre. The Cancer Journals. San Francisco: aunt lute books, 1980.

Pierce Tanya Harter. Outsmart Your Cancer.  Stateline, Nevada:  Thoughtsworks Publishing, 2004.

Salaman Maureen Kennedy.  Nutrition: The Cancer Answer II.  Mountain View, California: Statford Publishing, 1996.

Singer Sydney Ross, and Soma Grismajer. Get it Off!. Pahoa, Hawaii U.S.A.:  The Instiute for the Study of Culturogenic Disease Press, 1995.

Singer Sydney Ross, and Soma Grismajer. Dressed to Kill. Pahoa, Hawaii U.S.A.:  The Instiute for the Study of Culturogenic Disease Press, 1995.

Tannock Ian F. and Richard P. Hill.  The Basic Science of Oncology.  New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 1998.

Tortura and Grabowski.  Principles of Anatomy and Physiology. New York, NY:  Harper Collins Publishers Inc., 1996.

Walraven Gail. Basic Arrhythmias. .  Upper Saddle River, NY:  Brady Prentice Hall, 1999.

Documentation Films Watched for Research:

King of Korn

The Human Foot Print; National Geographic

Becoming Human; Nova

American Cancer Society, statistic reports at:

Pink Ribbon Blues by Gayle A. Sulik: Book Review

Pink Ribbon Blues: How Breast Cancer Culture Undermines Women’s Health. Gayle A. Sulik. OxfordUniversity Press. 2011. 402 pp.

The forward for Pink Ribbon Blues: How Breast Cancer Culture Undermines Women’s Health authored by Bonnnie Spanier PhD, as a microbiologist and molecular geneticist, frames Gayle Sulik’s book as providing “an authoritative, evidence-based approach to distinguishing well-grounded hope from misleading hype,” (pg. viii).  The Pink culture is described as ubiquitous, this statement does not overreach today’s pink climate, the headlines on the internet contain a pink ribbon, your kitchen appliances now come in the appropriate shade of pink, steering wheel covers sport the ribbon, logos pertaining to pink cover collegiate bodies walking to class…. It is everywhere, and for breast cancer ‘survivors’ like my mother this is overwhelming and unwanted external stimulus. Sulik uncovers the optimistic face of breast cancer and the statistical manipulation required to sustain the ‘pink’ optimism.  Mortality rates for women have not changed in fifty years despite the not so ‘new’ progress in treatment and detection while genomics and protemics confuse and obscure twistable data towards the ‘tyranny of cheerfulness” while examining the morality of corporation participation in further embodiment of human medicalization, discourages analyzing the voices that are missing or silenced by this pinked culture. Sulik herself puts it this way; “Lives are at stake. The plausibility of reaching that goal (or ‘cure) has been diminished not through lack of effort, investment, visibility, or will but through misdirection and distraction,” (pg. xiv). Sulik explores the misdirection and distractions and allows those silenced to speak and the missing to be found in an accepting space that does not require a ‘tyranny of cheerfulness.’ Through research and encouragement of co-writers she confronts a challenge of moving outside of the pink box to analyze health information that can empower and or pressure patients into utilizing treatments that may not improve quality or quantity of life.  It is the ‘quality’ that Sulik focuses on as the goal for any sustainable life.

Sulik’s first chapter frames the question; ‘What is Pink Ribbon Culture?’ Her use of visually loaded descriptors is eloquent in her articulation of a doctor’s office maintaining an ambiance of an ‘ultra-feminine pink kitsch’ referencing the ability of pink ushering women backwards into an infantile innocence where it is acceptable to sell grown women ‘pinked’ stuffed animals while men with prostate cancer are not given Mattel toy cars with blue ribbons on them.  This infantilizing bleeds over into every aspect of breast cancer treatment’s promotional consumeristic aura.  The kitsch is an appropriate descriptor of this phenomenon; the direct to consumer advertising has potentiated this kitsch aesthetic. Suvivorship becomes a rite of passage to return these women back to adulthood after the regression to innocent childhood through the transformative powers of disease and its ability to transcend their previous existence into an enlightenment of survivorship.  The transformative qualities of disease create a level of pride earned by successful completion of this ‘rite of passage.’ Sulik places research agendas, promoting profitable systems of screening, pharma and consumerism as counterproductive and in no way reflective of the breast cancer ‘survivor’ experience. Advocacy does not erase the ugly reality it only silences it through maintaining a stigma against ‘bad’ attitudes that undermine the ‘tyranny of cheerfulness. “Sober accounts that reveal realism, cynicism, ongoing struggle, or death often fall on the margins,” (pg. 14).

Breast cancer is not a unitary ‘pinked’ experience nor is the movement unitary yet the facade creates a ‘pinked’ unitary norm.  Gender roles designated at birth by the traditional painting of a little girls room pink creates the ideal of pink enhanced through cultural norms of innocence, nurturance, sensitivity, support and an awareness that expands and reinforces societal gendered expectation through a simple recognition of the color pink.  “Since breast cancer places the social integrity of a woman’s body in jeopardy, restoring the feminine body (or at least normalizing its appearance) is a sign of victory in the war on breast cancer,” (pg. 15). The dichotomy of protecting ‘pink’ values is championed by the war analogy.  Historically women and children are collateral damage outnumbering the deaths of actual acknowledged war related deaths; it is an irony here that breast cancer that kills more women than men is used to sustain a ‘pink’ war attitude.  Feminine and masculine aesthetics merge to create the survivor.  ‘Pinked’ gender norms expand to include strength, courage, and aggressiveness forged through a battle returning victorious, revitalized and ultimately transcended.  Women are better for having had breast cancer. Tragedy can, has and will be utilized to create opportunities for profit through the vehicles sympathy and empathy. Narrowing the expectations of breast cancer through pinking creates specific values and ideas about normalization creating an invisible disease.  Audre Lorde’s army of one breasted or no breasted women does not rise up to defend these women, they are hidden behind and under the wigs and prosthetics erasing the evidence of any war.

The history of breast cancer is developed in; Chapter 2 The Development of Pink Ribbon Culture.  Breast cancer began as socially stigmatized deviation that the ‘victim’ bore some level of responsibility for.  This assumed deviant behavior responsibility is not an expired notion.  Women still carry a personal form of doubt about what causes breast cancer.  Science has not found the silver bullet explanation and the community of breast cancer has difficulty seeing cause in pyramidal effects. “In addition to high mortality and a corresponding fear that breast cancer was synonymous with a death sentence, the taboo surrounding breast cancer intensified medical and social mores that promoted women’s dependence on paternalistic medicine,” (pg 27).  Outreach communities and bodies of support for breast cancer patients with forums of information and funding raising abilities for a deviant disease was unthinkable. The Breast Cancer Movement created an atmosphere reversing these preconceived notions.  The 1970’s were the decade of empowerment following a decade of uprising demanding empowerment.  Medical knowledge began its public debut through information sharing and informed patient doctor relationships.  Following in the war analogy the Department of Defense Peer-Reviewed Breast Cancer Research Program of 1993 began active participation in ‘defeating’ breast cancer and the growing community of a known breast cancer population, this growing acknowledged population began an erosion of the stigma surrounding the disease.  An optimistic ‘culture of survivorship’ takes root and flourishes through the birth of the pink ribbon that merged advocacy and industry. Medical Consumerism fosters the informed patient consent though Sulik continues to question the validity of the information allowed to be dispersed to the reality of censoring information to steer or manipulate the desired decisions. The 1970’s maintained radical mastectomies that are questioned today as possibly inappropriate health care, “the results were debilitating and produced no real health benefit,” (pg. 33).

Aesthetics and normalization had its foundation in Victorian etiquette.  “Breast cancer was characterized to be a malady of the weaker sex, just another female problem that resulted from women’s reproductive malfunctioning, negligence, sexual impropriety, or some other undisciplined behavior,” (pg. 36).  This was the basis for stigmatization and created a space of assumed accountability and punishment. A multitude of programs were developed from the 70’s that propagated information in censored ways.  “Reach to Recovery even forbade volunteers from discussing medical information to avoid contradicting doctors,” (pg. 38). Focus remained appropriate to Victorian standards a white, heterosexual, and upper class discouraging access here to multitudes of women, just as first wave feminism did. Breast cancer ‘survivors’ were expected to normalize and appear ‘happy, whole, restored, and better than ever.’

Sulik presents three key factors to what is getting in the way of the eradication of breast cancer.  “The known risk factors account for only thirty percent of breast cancer cases,” Secondly “Pink ribbon culture omits, marginalizes, or downplays environmental factors, even though individual breast cancer advocates an grassroots breast cancer organizations have increasingly focused on the environmental links to breast cancer,” Thirdly “Big Pharma uses advertising to exaggerate the benefits of their products, conceal risks, and expand their market base, even though the benefits of chemotherapy are often fewer than we think,” Resulting in a booming cancer industry that performs ‘proper’ citizenship with profits “with the goal of dominating the market, pink ribbon culture provides the organizational structure and cultural resources necessary to gain consumer loyalty and public trust while taking advantage of the good will and intentions of individuals who would like to do something about breast cancer,” (pg 62-63).

The dichotomy created by the pink ribbon is discussed in; Chapter 3 Mixed Metaphors: War, Gender, and the Mass Circulation of Cancer Culture. “Forcing sides in the war enabled the emergent cancer culture to blame women who did not engage properly in battle, castigating women who did not follow the commands of medical authorities,” (pg. 74). Ambiguity is met with the fear of uncertainty creating unmanageable issues that were unacceptable to the ‘pink’ culture, adhering to the business rule of ‘know the answer before you ask the question.’ Culture values are higher for the healthy, normal and pure, while no one fits these categories, all of us only being able to find unity under a title of ‘mutant’ where the abnormal, unhealthy and polluted reside as a population thinking that we are normal even though we acknowledge personal variants that move us away from normal.  Lance Armstrong is brought into play here by Sulik to demonstrate the male ethos of the American Cancer Culture in contrast to Gilda Radner’s female appropriate ethos exemplifying generosity, inspiration and hope as pink femininity is maintained. Sulik uses the term ‘pink femininity’ to describe an assumed softness, innocence, dependence, and virtue of girlhood and true womanhood as they are posed and defined by female deviant traits of opposition to independence, cunning and manipulative seduction. “Pink ribbon culture reminds women that the problem of breast cancer can be solved if women know their place and do what they’re told,” (pg. 99). The She-ro becomes Sulik’s ultimate ‘survivor’ who knows her place and does exactly what she is told exemplifying the perfectly pink role model.

Sulik begins Chapter 4 Consuming Pink: Mass Media and the Conscientious Consumer with “In modern capitalist society, everything has its price,” (pg. 111).  Samantha King’s Pink Ribbons, Inc. is cited throughout Sulik’s writing coming to focus in this chapter.  Women magazines reinforce the ‘pink’ attitude awareness and support for the ‘cure.’  Early attitudes toward health allowed doctors to decide what their patients should or should not be told.  Magazines printed disclaimer statements following guides to self breast examination such as “intended to help you know more about your breast, but not to help you make judgments about your health.  Leave that to your doctor,” (pg. 117). Women’s actions limited to established medical ideals about the feminine body that did not allow for any questioning establishing dependence on men, doctors and husbands. Two events that are credited for expanding and creating ‘The Breast Cancer Audience’ are the 1985 National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the 1992 branding of breast cancer with the pink ribbon. “Cultural representations (including advertisements, promotional material, and mass media) are a dimension of social reality in which people learn what should frighten them, offer them hope, and make them feel good about themselves and their situations,” (pg. 125).  In 2007 Komen redesigned the pink ribbon into a form that they could patent along with a ‘cure’ logo.  Corporation competition demanded ribbon availability at the price of a donation and Komen desired to distinguish themselves from generic donation.  The ribbon propagates, sustains and expands appropriate ‘pink’ attitudes and actions.

“The absolute risk of dying from breast cancer as decreased about 0.05 percent from 1990 to 2005.  Yet a woman diagnosed with invasive breast cancer gets more treatment spends more money, and has about the same chances of dying from the disease as she did 50 years ago.  Why aren’t we winning the war?” (pg. 1  59).  Sulik asks this question in Chapter 5 Consuming Medicine, Selling Survivorship, after already providing the answer.  The ‘cure’ would collapse and multibillion dollar business, why would they want a ‘cure.’ “The force of profitability of breast cancer detection and treatment cannot be ignored as a key element of society’s failure to eradicate breast cancer,” (pg. 160).  Prevention is rarely advocated in these circles although society is applying pressure to reverse this standard.   Mammography exposes women to 5 years of radiation if the protocol of one every two years starting at the age of 40 is followed.  The Institute of Medicine reports that 75% of ‘positive’ mammographies are false positive, and that they miss on average 25-40% of cancerous tumors,” (pg. 181). These errors lead to over diagnosis, under diagnosis and overtreatment. The cost benefit analysis leads one to believe that screening may not be ‘worth’ it. General Electric’s revenues from mammography increased from $3 billion in 1997 to $9 billion in 2007.  Pharma statistics paint a similar picture only exchanged billions for trillions.  The amount of money produced through the ‘disease’ of breast cancer with minimal change in mortality rates is a sobering reality supported by Sulik’s data.

Chapter 6 Under the Pink: Optimism Selfishness, Guilt and Chapter 7 The Balancing Act, are emotional personal stories of women that either adhered to the ‘pink’ rules or were deviant, supporting Sulik’s previous 5 chapters with analyzed testimony. Sulik develops the Feeling Rules.  Feeling the Rule I: Optimism (Incorporation of the She-ro and Rejecting the She-ro) advocates normalizing, avoiding complaints and empowerment; Feeling Rule II: Selfishness (She-roic Selfishness (i.e., Rational Coping Strategy) and Selfishness as Confessional) promoting sisterhood, symbolic activities and transformation supporting mental health and Feeling Rule III:  Guilt (The Inadequate She-ro, Embodied Social Stigma and Family Disruption) failed she-ro attempts, embodied social stigma and being a burden.  These rules access how a woman should or should not feel or act, and the consequences of following or deviating.

“Today’s breast cancer culture dictates the terms of women’s shared experience in ways that marginalize those who do not passionately participate and cheerfully comply with the culture’s rules of survivorship.  There is no room for lackluster support, contemplation of scientific controversies, inquiry into conflicts of interest between cancer advocacy and the cancer industry, alternative ways of coping that do not involve pink consumption, or public health strategies that do not rely on the mass proliferation of screening programs,” (pg. 274).

Truth is sought out and defined in; Chapter 8 Shades of Pink.  The truth presented by Pink Ribbon Blues is the silenced and marginalized section of women that are left out of the perky pink parade.  War remembers the victors and conquerors not the fallen or the unpopular, or as the old radio talk show celebrity Paul Harvey used to say “and now we know the rest of the story” that Sulik is unveiling.  The rest of the story for breast cancer exists underneath of and pushed out to the margins waiting for their time and their voices to be heard.  The women whose experiences are exhibited here speak of the inaccuracy of being a survivor, they won’t feel that they have survived unless their death is caused by something else and they do not wish to survive, they wish to live.  These sentiments echo the message that Audre Lorde gave voice to in the 1980’s.  She feared that normalization and the dogma of appropriate cause and effect relationship between women and breast cancer would be exploited for profitability.  Sulik confirms Lorde’s fears.

The ideology that being against pink ribbons translates to being against women with breast cancer is resituated in; Chapter 9 Rethinking Pink Ribbon Culture.  We can think of the yellow ribbon here as well. Just because you are against the war does not default to a reality that you’re against the solider.  Anti-war sentiment can and have been taken as a personal assault towards the soldier and the soldier’s family, this may not be accurate, as the soldier is ‘victim’ in the machinery just as the breast cancer war ‘victim’ is.  Presenting an anti-war against those in charge of said war could present a new avenue that is needed to change the tide in favor of those ‘victims’. “The worst thing a person can ask about any war is whether those who died, died in vain,” (Sulik, pg. 363).

Sulik’s arguments are well placed and grounded.  She utilizes a variety of sources and experts to evaluate the breast cancer culture that has grown and continues to grow at amazing rates.  The book is stimulating and readable for most who are interested in ‘the rest of the story’. This book is a productive addition to any woman’s library.

For more of January

Pink Ribbons Inc, book review

King, Samantha. Pink Ribbons, Inc.: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy. University of Minnesota Press 2006.

Samantha King’s primary goal in writing Pink Ribbons, Inc.: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy is stated as; “I have sought to offer a genealogy account and critique of the place of organized giving under neoliberalism.” (pg117) King’s book is written in an easily read style and length creating access to an entire population surrounding breast cancer from the men and women who experience it, their family, friends and any interested in the culture surrounding breast cancer for multiple motivations through the sharing of issues that could and do affect over a quarter million new patients yearly and their extended networks. She brings a complex and controversial subject into the management of common sense through the exposure of finances, taking a culturally acceptable and societal fashionable cause to an intended dichotomy between philanthropy and capitalism. Critiquing industrial profit from increased exposure of a stigmatized disease transitioned to a popular charity and the industry that has grown up around it and because of it. King is an associate professor of physical and health education and women’s studies at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. She received grants and awards supporting this writing from Illinois University, Arizona University and Queen’s University.

The book begins with a strong foundation for the rest of the book in the: Introduction: Breast Cancer and the Culture of Giving. Her first three pages visually demand attention utilizing photographs from cover of The New York Times Magazine. The first photo is from 1996 of a common model persona type, from any popular magazine cover, draping her left arm over her apparently healthy breasts and body representing the accepted ideology of beauty through embodiment mediated by commercialization. She conforms to cultural expectations of beauty and femininity answering the subtitle ‘How Breast Cancer Became This Year’s Hot Charity’. The next visual on the opposing page is from the same magazine three years earlier. The photography artist Matuscha’s self portrait is raw and exposing, it is not sexy, answering it’s subtitle ‘You Can’t Look Away Anymore,’ it is arresting and the subtitle is provocative and accurate. Matuscha’s mastectomy scar is front, center and provocative to a society with a breast fetish focus. Dichototic photos provoke emotions of pain and suffering and the mirage of feminine ideals shattered by breast cancer. King utilizes these dichotic photos to focus her point of illusional ideology versus the harsh reality that surrounds a ‘disease’ that kills. King’s point is direct and compelling, she has few visuals interlaced in her type, none of them are superficial each has a unique voice strengthening King’s goals. King frequently speaks of a ‘tyranny of cheerfulness’ that covers up the culturally perceived ugliness of Matuscha naked and exposed scar where a breast should be. King’s marks her audience with her unspoken message of how things have changed in just three years. King does not use negative or derogatory statements towards any involved in this transition yet she subtly successfully. She acknowledges the difficulty of going against the grain of popular ideals with financial backing yet she logically proceeds convincing you along the way. The path takes you from a stigmatized disease to neglected epidemic that results in an enriching and affirming process that leads to the ‘tyranny of cheerfulness’ silencing the unpleasant deaths of over 40,000 women and over 400 men yearly.

She theorizes that the greatest strength of the causes for breast cancer has also become its weakness. This is explored in; Chapter 1: A Dream Cause: Breast Cancer, Corporate Philanthropy, and the Market for Generosity. “In the practice of corporate philanthropy and marketing over the past two decades, a broad cultural preoccupation with philanthropic solutions to social problems, the discourse of efficiency and cost-cutting in business practice, changing psychological conceptions of the consumer, and invigorated consumer demands for a more ethical form of capitalism have converged to produce the transformation of corporate philanthropy from a relatively random, eclectic, and unscientific activity to a highly calculated and measured strategy that is integral to a business’s profit-making function.” (pg. 2)  The NFL and Avon are examples of this. The NFL utilizing ‘pinking’ as a means to absorb innocence from the breast cancer culture defusing rowdy and occasionally incarcerated players through association. Surmising that someone who supports the ‘cure’ for breast cancer cannot be capable of criminal activities thus sanitizing public opinion of rich playboys gone wrong to players that women will root for. It brings to mind the Sears commercial campaign “The Softer Side of Sears” that targeted the growing consumer population of women to expand their business. Big burly men wearing pink ribbons create champions for ‘survivors.’ Women wearing their favorite player’s jersey in pink represented a new avenue of consumer productivity and participation. “Consumers are yearning to connect to people and things that will give meaning to their lives.” (pg. 11)  Generosity is advocated here by finding the ‘cure’ through pink purchase participation. King balances this overwhelming generosity by presenting actual amounts donated being capped by corporations upfront regardless of profits incurred by corporations. Corporations are also charged with supporting breast cancer while ‘causing’ or contributing to it, attaching the pink ribbon to products that are carcinogenic or emit carcinogens, using the cosmetic industry and later the automotive industry as proven examples of this strategy.

Volunteerism is the focus in; Chapter 2: Doing Good by Running Well: The Race for the Cure and the Politics of Civic Fitness. Irony is exhibited here by the financial gain of cosmetic corporations sponsoring multiple day walk-a-‘thons’, highlighting exercise and the production of proper citizenship through activity, action and association. You are expected to feel ‘good” about volunteering your time and money and as an additional bonus you can feel ‘good” about an exercise program facilitated by participating in helping the ‘cause.’ Nationalism is satisfied here by inhabiting ‘good’ citizenship space. This absolves you of any selfish purpose in fitness through altruist conduits. Altruism hazes the financial motives presented for multiple corporations presented by King. The Komen foundations participation is described as “committed to the state as a crucial vehicle in the ‘elusive search for a cure,’ and for creating and maintaining the conditions in which free enterprise and the market for breast cancer can flourish.” (pg. 46)    Komen’s assets were tripled from $109.3 million in 2003 to $316.9 million in 2007.

King describes the lack of knowledge and assumptive nature of pink advocacy as an act of doing ‘good” can also be interpreted as, “to be innocent is also to refuse to know.” (pg. 43)  The ‘thons’ advocate early detection thus opening another opportunity for financial gain for corporation supporters. Companies producing ‘detection’ devices are noted in sponsorship commercialization mutually inhabiting the altruistic haze. ‘Thons’ become a space of physical, moral and civic participation producing ‘proper’ citizens nationalizing a feminine ideal.

The ‘cause’ not only produces proper citizens but proper bipartisan politics. Utilizing the power of pink properly and creating the very first ever postal stamp to provide proceeds for any ‘cause’ is analyzed in; Chapter 3: Stamping Out Breast Cancer: The Neoliberal State and the Volunteer Citizen. Congress excited by an issue that could rally bipartisan support  “claimed it was an effective way to enlist grassroots participation in the fight against breast cancer and a means by which to inject consumption with ethical value and meaning, it is an ideal vehicle through which the state could enable the public to demonstrate their spirit of volunteerism and generosity, and it was a vital tool in preservation of the nation’s mothers and, by extension, nuclear families.” (pg. 71)  Breast Cancer now encompasses proper patients, citizens and government. Hillary Clinton is even observed by King to experience a chameleon like change through breast cancer akin to the NFL player’s ugly caterpillar transformation to beautiful butterfly. Hillary’s masculine, domineering and independent persona is pinked into ‘good” mother, sympathetic wife and compassionate mother, (pg. 76)

Breast Cancer ‘Cause’ goes global in; Chapter 4: Imperial Charity: Women’s Health, Cause-Related Marketing, and Global Capitalism. Pharmaceutical corporation participation is noted here by their promotion and production expansion of Breast Cancer Awareness Month to a global market by sponsoring chapters in Germany, Greece and Italy in 2000. European skepticism has kept the pinking from reaching epidemic proportions in the ‘global’ breast cancer world as it has been targeted for scrutiny through the fact that other diseases are real epidemics in other countries and breast cancer does not have the numbers or social presence to surpass other global issues growing from poverty. “The greatest risk factor facing women living in third world poor countries [is] living in third world countries.” (pg. 96) Breasts are not a focus globally; the ‘American’ fetish has not spread far enough to pink the world. The altruist haze is penetrated by the fact that early detection is not in the global budget. The marketing ploy of philanthropy, ‘early detection’, has not been able to gain ‘proper’ citizen cooperation abroad. “Businesses that are seeking to produce and sell goods in an ever-expanding number of locations, has increasingly deployed philanthropy not merely to further some social ‘good’, but as a technique for market penetration and retention.” (pg. 98)

Audre Lorde is a voice utilized by King to sound discord in; Chapter 5: The Culture of Survivorship and the Tyranny of Cheerfulness. Lorde is used throughout the book but her arguments are poignant in this chapter. “Lorde’s warning that to look on the bright side of things is to obscure realities that might prove threatening to the dominant order is more relevant now than ever before.” (pg. 102) King’s central argument is stated here, “breast cancer became a philanthropic because of an informal alliance of large corporations (particularly pharmaceutical companies, mammography equipment manufacturers, and cosmetics producers), major cancer charities, the state, and the media that emerged around the same time and was able to capitalize on growing public interest in the disease.” (pg. 111)  The veil of ‘awareness’, volunteerism and goodness protects the ‘pink’ from logical analytical discourse by involving and heightening over-emotional response. ‘Pink’ critics are not popular, they are stigmatized, ironic isn’t it. “The culture of breast cancer survivorship does not, in other words, embrace patient-empowerment as a way to mobilize critical engagement with biomedical research, anger at governmental inaction, or resistance to social discrimination and inequality, even if its history is bound up with attempts to do just this.” (pg. 105) The survivor discourse has eliminated the patient just as it eliminated the victim creating a health illusion for only the tyranny of cheerful survivors to remain. This tyranny has no tolerance for criticism.

The reality of breast cancer is reached in the; Conclusion: Beyond Pink Ribbons. “The fact remains that women diagnosed with breast cancer today face essentially the same treatment options; surgery, radiation and chemotherapy that were offered when the War on Cancer was first declared thirty years ago. And when it comes to prevention, the only options we are given are powerful pills with dangerous side effects, and surgery more drastic than that often prescribed for women with the disease.” (pg. 119)  While this conclusion is grim King does follow up with: “[Needed is] a coordinated, adequately funded approach to breast cancer research, with the ultimate goals of understanding the causes of breast cancer and the reasons for different incidence and mortality rates among different racial and ethnic groups, and discovering more effective, less toxic treatments. Outcome-driven research, in which the researchers look for answers to these types of questions of most concern to the affected community, is necessary to achieve our goals. As a new approach to the standard scientific model, outcome-driven research frames the hypothesis to get the answers we need to important public health questions.” (pg. 119)

King hypothesizes and proves a darker side to the tyranny of cheerfulness. Yet King has missed a movement towards alternative medicine that is gaining momentum and a record of ‘successful’ cancer treatments that have existed in the United States possibly as early as the 1930’s. Options are available and are being used. Alternative medicine is gaining ground as demonstrated by the Pills, Potions and Poison seminar held at the University of Wyoming this fall. Attendance to the seminar was higher than expected and subject matter ranged from lobbying against the FDA to a speaker from the FDA.

The goals stated by King are met however. She sketches a landscape and history of a pink ribbon culture and how even the best intentions of philanthropy can be corrupted and manipulated for profit. King is cited in peer type research and in books along similar research lines like Pink Ribbon Blues: How Breast Cancer Culture Undermines Women’s Health by Gayle A. Sulik. King’s analysis is practical, convincing and moving. She is passionate about her subject and kind to her ‘adversaries.’

Anthropologist’s answer to the Pink Ribbon Success

Today there are many stories about why the pink ribbon has been more successful than other ribbons, here is an anthropologist’s answer.

Our culture has an extreme breast fetish, in Japan it is the neck and wrists, every culture has one. We love kids and childhood cancer is devastating, but we can’t save their ‘tatas’ or their ‘second base’. Can you even imagine a save the  prostate campaign being as popular? We shouldn’t use these slogans in breast cancer either but we do, our culture loves it, thinks it is awareness. I had to explain saving second base to my mother.  She was offended as many breast cancer participants/experience-rs are, I dislike using the survivor term, she has/had cancer twice so her odds of recurrence are not good.

Groups like these have fantastic intentions, unfortunately these intentions are propagating disrespectful ideals about women’s bodies. The branding is genius, I have an art degree too, I can see a winner, but the anthropologist/women’s studies student in me cringes. The pink ribbon is a champion of a capitalist/fetish culture. Breasts are linked to sexuality and feminism.

Breasts are also a nationalism concern.  The ability to mother and nurture are strong traditional family values. Discovering just how deeply women are subjugated requires forcing yourself to an unbiased position, stepping back and really looking at your culture. It is difficult. I used to think that there was nothing wrong with it either, until I became a breast cancer participant too. My mother has/had it, my aunt died of it, my sister is preparing for it (she cut her hair from her waste to her shoulders and put it in the safe for her wig). They would cut both of  my breasts off right now without a second thought  if I would let them.

Women’s bodies have historically been sites of medicalization, nationalism and marginalization. Women’s natural processes are now disease, if you don’t believe me look in the DSM V , having any issue with your period is bound to land you on a cute little purple pill or on a couch, when these issues have traditionally been solved by natural changes in diet and lifestyle, today we want another pill.

A porn company wants to donate sales percentages to Komen…… Does anyone else see the oxymoron here? “A socially-conscious porn site that donates to charity for each video watched” Socially conscious porn……… I can’t wrap my women’s studies head around that one. When did porn become socially conscious?  Saving the tata’s and second base are just one step away from this, no wonder the porn industry felt it could capitalize on the pink ribbon.  Everyone else has.

This is human nature, you may wish to argue with me, but if you look around, I like to sit watch people at WalMart, you will admit it is true.  The pill is so much easier than education. And if you disagree try naming any of the ribbon colors for any other advocacy group, and AIDS does not count, it was here first.

For more: Resisting the Heritage of Breast Cancer by January

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One a.m. ER advice

Monday night, last week, at one a.m. my mother took my grandmother to the Emergency Room.  I am a 5 hour drive and 4 hour airplane ride away from them, however I must confess, had I been there, I am not welcome at doctor visits with my grandmother.  My career path has given me insight, perspective and opinion into western medical ideology.  My grandmother however has white coat syndrome, she worships them and whatever they say goes and no one is to question them or her translation of what they say if she is unsupervised. My grandmother came from what is considered the ‘white picket fence’ model home.  My grandfather was an electrician and she raised three girls, lost a fourth in infancy and another to breast cancer as an adult.  Her husband died of colon cancer and her caretaker, my mother, has had two episodes with cancer, the other daughter has remained healthy.  I give you this information to allow for the foundation that anyone in her company is rendered incapable of making informed decisions about health care situations involving her.  I am sure many of you out there care for someone who is this way, completely trusting doctors in a god like fashion who will not tolerate any input or questioning about medical decisions. “They know best.”

Cheating is applied in this situation through technology.  My mother cheats, she texts me, to tell me what is going on and for prompts.  I feed my mother questions for the doctors.  My 84 year old grandmother is a former smoker, diagnosed COPD’er and has high blood pressure (in the presence of doctors).  She is 100lbs soaking wet and probably around 5’4”.  Recently she has had a positive and negative chest x-ray for pneumonia all in the same week. Which one is wrong, your guess is as good as mine as I have not see them or listen to my grandmother chest with a stethoscope.  Needless to say she has been put on a chorus line of inhalers and steroids topped off by antibiotics and anything else she can complain about and get a free sample for. She loves free pharmacology samples. She actually plans her office visits to optimize her ability to procure these samples, she has the system figured out.

You’re waiting for the advice? Well here it is: Advice #1:  Go to the ER at one a.m.  Although this may seem like a bad idea sometimes it is an optimal idea, especially on a Monday night.  The night staff is not as involved in the hospital politics, they are there to do their jobs and go home only to rinse and repeat.  You may find a lull in the ER, a bit of boredom that allows for the full attention of  the doctor and emergency room staff, the tech may give the doctor insight – don’t disregard them they have been around the block too.

Advice #2: always have the full list of medications with you.  Write down the prescription name and if it is a generic, what it is the generic for.  Ask the doctor to exam the list for any possible drug interactions that may be pyramidal.  Pyramidal means that the effects of the drug solo are what is desired, but if there are pyramidal effects the desired effects are essentially on steroids, literally, and the side effects are amplified in ways that are not predictable.  This is what happened to my grandmother.  Oh, I forgot to tell you, she called my mother with a swollen tongue and numb face.  Her breathing was fine, but she could hardly talk or control the monstrosity of that swollen tongue in her mouth.  She was put on an ace-inhibitor that reacted to another one of her drugs and well, have you seen Star Wars III when Jar Jar Binks gets his tongue in Anakin’s pod racers beam, like that. Now you giggle, don’t feel bad so did I.

Advice #3: treat the doctor with respect, but don’t put him or her on a pedestal, he/she is not a god and he/she does not know everything.  I didn’t even meet the man that took care of my grandmother and I love him.  He sat down with my mother and showed her his physician’s drug book, admitted that there is absolutely no way he can keep up with what Big Pharma throws at him and logistically went through the list and all the ins and outs of my grandmother’s hospital visits of the last 6 months. I asked my mother if she thought he had a son, like him of course, that I could stalk when I get back home!

Advice #4: take advantage of the spare time/boredom.  You will be surprised, doctors really want to do no harm.  They have a tough position these days and their enemy is time. They have to get to the next patient. The ER has to flow or it will become a living hell, believe me: been there and participated in that. But a quiet night in the ER when a patient presents a problem that has not been fully addressed is like getting a fun game of scrabble, we want to use all the letters to get everything to fit together beautifully for the highest score possible, grandma’s visit was over 350.

Time is the culprit that can turn a good doctor into a bad one, things get missed, people get hurt and hell breaks loose.  Doctors want to help you, they just don’t have the time, sometimes you get lucky and get one that has more time, use it.  And if you don’t get the extra time my grandmother was blessed with last night make sure your prepared and have questions like: “If this was your mother (sister, daughter, son, brother….you get the idea) what would you do?” This slows time down and reminds them why they spent all those sleepless nights learning and becoming a doctor, to help you.  Slow down the time for them and for you. You, or a loved you are responsible for sitting next to you, will be a lot healthier in the end! My grandmother got lucky, I wish the same for you.

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