Sarah Woods* is your typical 16-year-old girl: she goes to school, she runs a blog, and she dyes her hair. She cares about her family, and deeply loves her 80-year-old grandmother. But beyond that, she is acutely aware of the devastating effect breast cancer has on the families of those suffering. In 2010 Sarah’s grandmother, along with 13,700 other Australians, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Fortunately she is in remission, meaning she is beating the cancer, but she and her family, like so many other Australians, have had to endure years of pain and worry due to this insidious disease.
“When I first found out she had cancer, I was terrified… learning that it was breast cancer was a huge wake-up call for every girl in the family.” Sarah, her mother and sister, as well as her aunts, are all at risk of developing breast cancer, but right now their focus is on Sarah’s grandmother. Unfortunately Sarah can’t be there for her grandmother in her time of need, “…if it were in our hands, we’d be in the same town and at her side at least a few times a week… But not being able to care for her is really hard for us to bear, since my mother, sister, and I are extremely close to her, despite rarely being able to see her.” she confided. “Luckily my grandmother was blessed with several close friends – one of whom used to be a nurse – that are happy to take care of her while her own family is too far away.”
“I was always kind of scared when my mom didn’t talk to my grandmother on the phone for more than a few days. None of us wanted to admit it, but we were always sort of mentally prepping ourselves for the phone call of doom telling us of her departure from the living world.” Luckily this phone call never came. Sarah’s grandmother went through chemotherapy for several years, as well as various pain medications and oxygen treatments, before eventually being told that her cancer was in remission. She was one of the lucky ones; over 2500 people die from breast cancer in Australia, and over 450,000 worldwide, every year.
Watching her grandmother battle cancer was a trying experience for Sarah, and it gave her an increased awareness of the many breast cancer campaigns that flood the public, especially around Mother’s Day. One such campaign is Keep a Breast, a campaign founded in 2005 that aims to reach the under 30’s age group in ways it calls “authentic, inspiring and refreshing.” However Sarah feels that, even if their heart is in the right place, their attempts at reaching a younger audience are misguided and actually damaging to their cause.
“I am so sick and tired of seeing those stupid “Save the Boobies” shirts and bracelets and bags and other stuff they peddle to make the husbands and boyfriends of survivors or those diagnosed feel like they’re “supporting” them… Sorry, guys, but how about the internal organs slowly dying because of the cancer?” Sarah may seem passionate about this issue, but only because it strikes so close to home. Her main issue with the campaign, she says, is that it focuses on women, or more specifically, their breasts, ignoring the other parts of the human body affected. “It’s no different from any type of cancer, only people associate it with women because “we got the boobs”. It’s like everyone’s forgotten that men have breasts as well.… men can develop breast cancer as well.”
Kaitlin Woughter is another woman who feels strongly about the Keep a Breast campaign. Having recently given birth to a baby girl, she realised that one day her daughter might suffer from breast cancer. She didn’t want her daughter to face billboards and t-shirts that told her that her worth was tied to her breasts. “A vast majority of women end up getting mastectomies as a treatment to treat, sometimes even prevent, breast cancer… Not only are these women plagued with cancer, they now have to worry about losing their ‘womanhood’.” Kaitlin is supportive of breast cancer campaigns in general, but campaigns that focus on “the men that stand to lose sexual gratification from a body part that is not even genetically purposed for their sexual gratification” is, in her words, not okay.
At the end of the day, this is where Sarah stands as well. She is supportive of campaigns that engage young people; after all, she is young. She just thinks that the Keep a Breast campaign should be focused on saving lives, not ‘the boobies!’. Her grandmother’s cancer started with a lump, but like it does for so many other men and women it turned into something far worse that did and continues to threaten her life. In a nutshell, this is why she feels the Keep a Breast campaign has it wrong: “It isn’t just about losing our boobs, it’s about losing our lives. So quit with the ‘Save the Boobies’ shirts and start making, ‘Save the Women Who Have the Boobies’ shirts. Got it?”
* Names have been changed at the request of the interviewee.