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Jun 06 2012

Pink Ribbons and Sexuality

I never thought I would say this twice but…

I disagree with Taslima Nasrin on the idea that Breast Cancer is sexualised and that this somehow detracts from the reality or the treatment of breast cancer. I do agree with her. If we could sexualise Testicular Cancer or Prostatic Cancer we would have a much better prognosis for those diseases. Sadly testicles are more amusing than sexy (I am sure some people think otherwise. Let’s say that the majority consensus thinks testicles are funny) and prostatic tests are forever associated with uncomfortable visits to the doctor.

Breast Cancer is a pretty scary disease which mainly affects women. There are a variety of causes ranging from genetics to a bad roll of the dice. Breast Cancer HOWEVER is one of the major cancer success stories. The national consciousness of breast cancer in first world nations coupled with the frank nature of breast discussion means that detection rates in our countries is extremely rapid. Most women having palpated a lump usually immediately seek medical aid resulting in a high diagnosis rate of Stage 1 and Stage 2 Carcinoma of Breast which results in a 10 year survival rate of nearly 95%. Overall the survival rate is around 85 to 90% depending on country. (Remember not everyone who comes in is at Stage 1 or 2).

And we didn’t get this way by posting photographs of what cancer really looks like, nor did we get this way by belittling a genuine fear of women. That they won’t be as attractive physically after the procedure than before. Not one person is denying the fact that the disease is as serious as we make it out to be, however what we are saying is that you don’t have to think it is all doom and gloom and that it doesn’t mean that you cannot be sexually active or indeed be sexy.

Taslima may see it as a world where “women without breasts aren’t women” but most women who get breast cancer and opt for reconstructive surgery regard their breasts as part of their attractive nature because this makes them feel good and happy and you know what?

If you have cancer you may deserve a little happiness in the form of what you want. And if you want tits then be my guest!

The “so called” sexualisation of breast cancer has made the disease one of the most treatable and survivable cancers out there. Individuals such as Kylie Minogue show that even famous people get it and the disease is inherently survivable unlike the daytime TV myths. Now, we don’t promote the idea that women only get breast cancer, it’s just that women are more likely to get breast cancer and since it is a large demographic it’s easier to scan them rather than do it for men where the cost and the risks associated with the scan are a lot higher due to the lower incidence.

Putting up photos of “Real Cancer” fails to understand one important thing. And this is a problem a lot of Asian Trained doctors have. It’s called Bed Side Manner. What you see as a doctor is different to what the patient sees and what the lay public sees. For instance, Taslima claims that there is something a little erotic about a woman being asked to palpate her breasts regularly. That’s perception. I don’t see anything erotic in that. The patient DEFINITELY doesn’t see anything erotic in that. The public thinks “Wahey! Boob Grope!” because the three of our perspectives are wildly different. I don’t see a problem in asking patients to do that. My patient however is TERRIFIED of what she may find with every passing week. Think what the person surviving it has to think about. Many women ask about sexual activity and the like not because their lovers are wanting sex, but because it affirms their normalcy and it is fun.

Breast Cancer is not sexy. Breast Cancer however involves a group of people who have taken a non sexy disease and fought back by being comfortable with their bodies and by embracing the sexual nature of the organ. Breast Cancer campaigns are mainly aimed at women, not men. We men aren’t getting off while leering at naked breast cancer survivors. What breast cancer survivors are doing is fighting a common fear of women who are about to undergo masectomies. That post surgery they will be considered as unattractive. Sexy photos of breast cancer survivors are meant for women who are scared of the surgery. These individuals see these photos and think “Goodness she looks amazing, are you sure she even had the surgery? If she can do it, so can I!”.

Does Taslima really think that she is doing a favour to cancer survivors or indeed healthy people by putting up graphic photos of real tumours? We all know cancer is a bastard without having to see it’s ugly face. But that’s the thing. The real face of cancer is NOT those tumours. It’s the people it’s attached to. We don’t treat Livers, Lungs, Breasts and Testicles. We treat people and those people are benefitted by being told that they will be attractive, that the changes to the body will be corrected and that they can survive. That they too can be the pink ribbon sporting, fun loving, laughing and be as beautiful as they used to be. It’s like claiming that Brad Pitt/George Clooney/Harlequin Romance Fabio isn’t attractive by showing us a pictures of his spleen, lungs and brain under surgical lights.

And whoever thought doctors and hospitals are sterile places with no sense of warmth and humour and companionship have never seen a proper doctor do their job. It may be scary but we do not tell our patients that and we go out of our way to crank down the fear because fear doesn’t kill cancer.

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