Cancer is Not a Pink Ribbon (part 1)

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1 Response

  1. Joe says:

    This made me think back a couple of months, when there were posters across my city (and no doubt other UK cities) for a “march on cancer”. It is difficult to criticise an attempt to raise charitable funds to improve the health of humankind, but I just cringed when I saw the signs. Because it was a totally false appropriation of the imagery of political dissent. Can you imagine if Martin Luther King, or indeed anyone who has organised / participated in a public protest on an issue they really cared about, dropped by?

    “Hey guys, what are you marching about?”
    “Oh, that’s great. Show them we won’t stand for the socioeconomic and racial disparities in treatment, funding, research, and outcomes”
    “Nah, we’re just marching against cancer cos it’s a bad thing. We’re not rocking the boat. Do you want a balloon mate?”

    Those mutating cells would clearly think twice after seeing such resolve from the public.

    As it happened, I was in the city centre the night of the “march”. A human snake, with participants of all ages, carrying faux-homemade placards, wended its way around the city centre. There were some sort of stickers on the pavement along the route, with names of cancers on, but without the word ‘cancer’ itself. (The stickers with “breast” and “testicular” probably starred in a few irreverent selfies later that Friday night (I didn’t see if they’d remembered to include “penile”). Leukaemia and mesothelioma, not so much. The “brain” stickers probably looked like a marketing campaign for the local brewery that had missed out a letter). There were marshals, strategically placed, exhorting their charges to shout slogans. It appeared, from some of the banners and slogans, that quite a few people were cancer patients, or former patients, themselves. So for them, it was probably great to have that feeling of solidarity with fellow sufferers and carers. But there was still no need to pretend that it was some sort of protest.

    My other problem with this event was that, predictably, it anthropomorphised the disease. “Show cancer who’s boss”. “Stand up to cancer”, etc etc. Of course, people’s state of mind probably does affect (a) the efficacy of some treatments, and (b) their quality of life whilst suffering from the disease. But ultimately, cancer is a disease. It is a process that happens within our bodies and over which we have little control. Someone very close to me was recently diagnosed with cancer. Happily, it was not an aggressive (see, I slip into anthropomorphic language too) tumour, and it appears to have been treated successfully. So under the logic of the March on Cancer, this person was a hero. He defeated his cancer. But what if treatment had not been successful? Would that have been some personal failing on his part? Of course not. It would have been awful, tragic, a waste for someone who had so much left to live for. But he’s not a hero for having (apparently – you never really know for sure) responded well to treatment. And he would not have been a failure if things had been different.

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