Why I Don’t Like Breast Cancer Awareness.

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I have many tenderhearted friends in my social media life.

We connect and support each other in raising consciousness about everything from women’s reproductive rights to racism. We lift each other up when the global news or our personal struggles feel discouraging, and we enjoy each other’s successes.

Sometimes though, I receive personal Facebook messages from some of these friends that raise my ire—in particular, the messages that ask me to participate in “Breast Cancer Awareness Month” or fundraising events for breast cancer awareness.

I have not personally suffered through the often grueling ordeal that is cancer, though I know a number of people who have. I do know firsthand that the loved ones of cancer survivors also struggle with feelings of frustration and powerlessness, because there isn’t some magical way to stop the epidemic of cancer or to alleviate the suffering associated with cancer treatments that can be even more damaging than the disease itself.

However, there is more to the breast cancer awareness message than may be initially apparent. What I see in the breast cancer awareness trope are the toxic meta-messages that underlie them. So when I am asked to post a pink ribbon or a secret phrase on my Facebook status (eventually to be revealed as a breast cancer message), I won’t do it.

I have a built-in alarm system that says, “Be really discerning about this,” when I see corporate involvement (especially with a retail tie-in) with a seemingly benign cause—and so I feel chagrinned when my kindhearted Facebook friends share these messages.

Instead of re-writing my feelings about this every time one of these messages appears in my inbox, I wrote a boilerplate reply a while back, which I’d like to share with you.

Here is my reply to these messages:

Dear ______,

Thank you for your well-intentioned message. I know you shared this message with me in the spirit of kindness and wanting to help. But I want to share with you that I see the subject differently.

I don’t like or agree with “breast cancer awareness.” To me, this is an intimidation tactic veiled in pink ribbons, smiley faces and hearts that has been used to inculcate women and girls in a hateful loathing of their female bodies.

Every day, women and young girls hear the words “breast cancer, breast cancer,” and we see corporate profit-making pink ribbons on products from perfume to Kentucky Fried Chicken. (And many of these pink-ribboned items are, ironically, carcinogenic.)

I believe we have more than enough “awareness” about breast cancer to the point that numerous girls and young women live in a state of dread and fear of it on a daily basis.

I choose not to support this kind of anti-female messaging.

Here are some other, more effective ways to help:

>> Teach girls and young women to love, respect and be attuned with themselves and their bodies. This includes encouraging them to be discerning in their choices in sexual, social and romantic companionship.

>> Support girls and women in eating well. Encourage them to dance, hike or be active in other ways, and to enjoy their bodies in ways that are empowering.

>> Help girls and young women to use their critical thinking skills to dismantle the constant corporate and political messaging they receive about how their bodies, their sexuality and their humanity are shameful and dangerous.

>> Encourage the girls and women in your life to attend to and heal emotional trauma (often related to impaired self-worth) that can impact their immune systems.

>> Apply all of the above to yourself first and then to others.

When a woman loves herself, she loves her body, and she cares for it. When a woman loves herself, she is aware—not of breast cancer, but of her power and responsibility to love the temple that is her body and her spirit.

Let’s focus on what we want to create, not on what we have been taught we should fear.

Once again, I know that you shared this message with me in a spirit of love and compassion. I just see it differently.



Author: Luisa Kolker

Image: Used with permission from Jennifer Esperanza

Editor: Callie Rushton

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Luisa Kolker

Luisa Kolker MA LPCC is a shamanic psychotherapist and writer based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She facilitates sessions, ceremonies and workshops to assist clients in igniting their inner light and in dismantling expended familial and societal emotional contracts. Visit Luisa’s website and subscribe to her blog. You may also connect with her on Instagram.

Bio photo by Alba Elena.

Jeanine Galvan Feb 26, 2017 10:44pm

We need PREVENTION not another non-profit industry generating millions of dollars to brain-wash people into thinking they need what these companies have to offer...You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay a metaphysical healer writes of the psychological reasons people have dis-ease and how changing OUR mind set with positive affirmations to deflect ALL the negative energy/words etc. can even cure cancer. She and others are living proof. Louise has been cancer free for over 30 yrs. My mantra "I walk in good health". It's works! :) peace

Luisa Kolker Feb 26, 2017 10:27pm

Thanks so much, Vicki. I am really grateful that Elephant Journal made it possible for me to share my message with you and others.

Vicki Vessier Feb 26, 2017 8:08pm

I deeply resonate with this sort of fierce and fearless advocacy for the feminine. Thank you Luisa for, once again, stepping outside the box and using your voice to heal.

Luisa Kolker Feb 26, 2017 8:07am

Yes, and questioning the status quo in an empowered way generates from a trusting relationship with one's own intuition and self-worth. This is my wish for girls and young women especially, that they know and cherish their inherent worth. Thanks for your comments, Jeanine!

Jeanine Galvan Feb 26, 2017 12:05am

BTW I also don’t believe in the Pink Bandwagon. The system wanted to pull me into it 3 yrs ago because of a few gray areas on my breasts that actually signified my former years as nursing mom. There's a magazine from the UK called What Doctors don't Tell You. There is actually proof that 1 in 3 women diagnosed with cancer don't have it, yet the mastectomies, chemo and other specialty therapies etc. are prescribed just as prevention as they doctors laugh all the way to the bank on your fear. Always QUESTION authority! They are only as good as their agenda...good health and happiness to you all...peace

Jeanine Galvan Feb 25, 2017 11:52pm

Luisa Kolker Gosh finally a woman who is not waving me off. you would be surprised more women get defensive about this topic, especially millenials. Could it be the betrayal of trust in accepting what was never questioned perhaps? Thank you for the information I'll put it in my book "You as Plural". Any other ideas you would like to share? :) peace

Luisa Kolker Feb 25, 2017 11:05pm

Hi Gail, I really appreciate your comment! Cherishing ourselves--body, mind, emotions and spirit--is empowering and transformative. I love it when we as women help each other and others to do that.

Gail Spitzer Feb 25, 2017 10:29pm

Thank YOU, Luisa for sharing this! I have felt this way about "cancer awareness" events for many years! Every time I see a breast cancer "awareness" event, I cringe. I know that they are trying to be supportive, but most of the time, they are totally missing the point. They often serve soda, donuts, cookies, and other junk food at these events...these foods contribute to cancer! SUGAR is cancer's favorite food - cancer cells thrive on it. Many spiritual teachers remind us that whatever we give our attention to (and our money and our "awareness") will get stronger, not weaker - even if that something is cancer. My aunt died of cancer, my father died of cancer, and I know several women who have battled breast cancer. We don't need any more "awareness" - we need more empowerment to take better care of ourselves. Once again, Thank you!

Luisa Kolker Feb 25, 2017 7:56pm

Jeanine-- I was in a women's group in the early '90's where we decided to call each other "you gynes" instead of "you guys." I later learned that a "gyne," beside coming from the Greek root for "woman," also refers to certain female insects (especially ants, wasps, and bees) who are those destined to become queens of their social matrix. :-)

Jeanine Galvan Feb 25, 2017 6:32pm

and help people understand WHY referring to girls/females as "you guys" is undermining their progress. social linugistics has never been positive toward women/girls yet WE do not question how words spoken to us impact our psychology or the ramifications....peace

Luisa Kolker Feb 25, 2017 4:34pm

I'm with you on that, Alia Linda. I often wonder: Through whose eyes are these "awareness" campaigns being conceived? I wonder if the human female body will ever be regarded primarily as being sacred and magical rather than as a commodity or a messy inconvenience. I hope so much that will one day the former will be the case.

Alia Linda Feb 25, 2017 1:29pm

Excellent points! I also find the "Save the tatas" and cleavage-related marketing so objectifying.

Luisa Kolker Feb 25, 2017 9:34am

The same was true for me, Lindsay. Fear delivered in pretty packages (pink ribbons and hearts) has a way of muddling our thinking and confusing our emotional responses. I'm glad my words brought you closer to your authentic feelings about this. Thanks for your comment!

Lindsay Cedolin Feb 25, 2017 12:19am

Thank you for sharing this Luisa. Something about all the breast cancer awareness always rubbed me the wrong way but I felt alone in that experience. Your article put my feelings into words.