Beyond Breast Cancer Awareness Month


Dear Editor,
THREE years ago, I wrote an editorial piece titled, “Why pay attention to breast cancer during the month of October.” It was my first time writing an editorial piece, which may not seem to be a big deal, but back then, it felt like a big deal. For my first piece, I wanted to write something that was honest and open to the topic of breast cancer. When I had this idea of writing a piece on breast cancer, I felt as if it would have been a perfect opportunity to interview a breast cancer survivor.

This is not to be mistaken as a classic example of tokenism, but I felt as if I needed a personal experience to relay the importance of empathy and how truthful stories of persons who can serve as a living testament can impact lives. I messaged Devika Tinsarran on Facebook after reading countless articles on her work as a breast cancer awareness advocate. She was open about meeting me, which initially surprised me, since I felt as if she would have felt as if I was “using her for the story.” However, I got the complete opposite reaction from her; she was a kind soul who willingly shared her story with me and I empathised with her struggles as it reminded me of how I felt watching my mother struggle with other health conditions. So, in this article, I plan to honour a friend, Tia Tinsarran. Beloved by many, forgotten by none.

One of the core points of my previously written article to which I alluded above was questioning the motives of the “pink ribbon” during this month. Many corporate enterprises adopt the pink logo on their company logos, staff uniform, office supplies, etc. Although, I personally cannot say whether this activity is done as their corporate social responsibility or a business move, the awareness is being carried out successfully as the general public can benefit from possible discounted or even free services to access mammograms or a doctor’s appointment. The GRPA is an example of this, since it has been utilising its collaboration with GTT to provide screening for not just breast cancer, but also for other reproductive cancers, including testicular cancer, prostate cancer etc.

Needless to say, awareness is important, but awareness must lead to action. The colour pink has already been established as the colour for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Since its inauguration in 1985, October has been signified as the month to encourage screening for breast cancer, while providing the necessary information for people to learn how to properly screen themselves for any abnormal lumps in their breasts. However, information on breast cancer shouldn’t be just limited to October or to its representation by colour.

When we talk about breast cancer, we need to fully understand that breast cancer isn’t easy to live with. For this reason, we often refer to patients diagnosed with breast cancer as “survivors” or “warriors.” It’s important to avoid using a word “victim” to describe a person who was diagnosed with breast cancer, since it perpetuates a negative feeling of oneself. Breast cancer is a dreadful medical condition that affects physical, mental and even sexual health. There’s no reason to cover up what this medical condition truly is.

By pretending that it is just about sharing pink and going on a morning walk in October, you are minimising the experiences of millions of breast-cancer survivors across the world. Personally, this monthly observance can sometimes paint the image of how persons who are not directly or indirectly affected by it lack empathy. Now I know that may seem bold to write, but just hear me out. When you see a person post about the pink ribbon, do you think he/she is posting to make people aware of breast cancer, or is this another situation where everyone seems to follow the crowd? By the way, I’m not encouraging any sort of hate towards people who “follow the crowd in posting ribbons or any breast-cancer awareness materials for the sake of likes,” but I’m actually encouraging people to think before they post something that isn’t genuine.

A little introspection can go a far way from you being a person who doesn’t understand, to a person “who just gets it,” you know.

Let’s see how many words I can use to replace the word “breasts.”: jugs, mugs, balloons, boobies, boobs, tits, Sally (or whatever name you call yours or others). After reading all of these words, I can assume your facial expression was either a surprised look, or you may have even giggled. I felt like adding humour to this article before highlighting one of the treatment options; it’s actually one of the most commonly known one that we see photos and videos of. “Mastectomy” is one of those words that not many people want to hear directed to them by a doctor. Mastectomy is the process of surgically removing one or both breasts, either partially or completely.

As I’ve stated before, this is not the only treatment option for breast cancer, but I felt like highlighting it for just one main reason. Whatever name you call your own breasts or the names someone (like your partner/s) calls your breasts, ultimately they are yours. Women understand that as a child these along with your vagina are yours to protect. As a result, you develop a sense of motherly affection toward them. When a girl gets her first period, she is told that she becomes a “woman” and one of the ways to define a woman is by noticing that she has breasts. Whether your breasts are small, medium or large- sized, at a very young age you are convinced that this defines you as a woman.

I could imagine that some of you who are reading this may know or may have known someone who had a mastectomy. It is devastating to hear that this is your treatment option. Even if this treatment option saves your own life, it would feel like a loss which is why it is so important for breast-cancer survivors to have psychosocial support. Whether you receive counselling from your religious place of worship, family, friends, co-workers, fellow breast-cancer survivors etc, breast cancer “warriors” need to feel supported during this period; actually, not just during this period, but throughout the entire process.

People need other people. No matter how hard we try to deny this simple human nature, we all need someone or something that believes in us, that supports us, that loves us.
Another aspect of breast cancer that isn’t as publicised as the ribbons are the high treatment costs. With the activities surrounding breast cancer pulling millions of Guyanese dollars into the cause, do the actual patients and their families receive the money to continue their treatment? The majority of us are unable to answer that question.

However, there are some publicised instances whereby patients have access to essential health services without worrying about their possible financial hardship. Nevertheless, breast- cancer survivors have to not only deal with having this condition, but also the cost attached to treatment. Depending on the stage of cancer your treatment options will vary. Due to this fact, it’s so important to get screened along with receiving medical advice from your doctor on how many times periodically you should book your appointment.

In closing, I want to say that we can all play a role in this conversation for breast cancer. Whether you are a survivor, a family member, spouse or child grieving, your pain matters; your happiness matters too. Positively genuine support systems that comprise family members or friends are just one positive coping mechanism that can help you to manage your grief in a positive way. Even though October will be finished soon, let’s continue to take care of our health and the health of those surrounding us.
Juliana Lopes,
Social Programming Coordinator,
ASPIRE Youth Network Guyana.