Friday, April 24, 2009

The Pink Ribbon: Breast Cancer and Feminism

What is the Issue?
Breast cancer has caused millions of deaths in women across the globe. The increasing cases of breast cancer has raised awareness and brought breast cancer to a global stage. As a result, women across the world have united to help and support those affected by this disease and donate to finding cures. Breast cancer is a women’s issue in the field of medicine. With a heightened awareness of the true significance of this disease mammograms are now covered by insurance companies. This gives women the chance to get examined regularly increasing the survival rate if cancer is stopped at its early stages. The most prevalent and successful treatment method for breast cancer is chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is a beneficial radiation process that attacks malignant cancer cells. Women often have one or more breast surgically removed to help eliminate cancer in their bodies. Feminist Sue Wilkinson elaborates on how women who experience breast cancer are expected to hide their physical and emotional scars by wearing wigs or fake breasts to conform to society and feel better about their appearance. She mentions that “Not a single woman among my research participants described thinking about whether she would wear prosthesis after surgery – the possibility of not doing so was simply not an available option”(Wilkinson 3). Maintaining a certain appearance and upholding the role of a woman is influenced by society despite a breast cancer victim’s tribulations. More than 180, 000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States every year and countless more are diagnosed beyond our frontier. According to an article published in Time magazine, “an estimated 1 million cases will be identified this year, and about 500,000 new and existing patients will die from the disease [in the world].” Organizations have been established around the world that evoke sisterhood by allowing women to come together by addressing the issue of breast cancer. Through the creation of national and international organizations like the National Breast Cancer Coalition in the United States and the Organization against Breast Cancer in Israel, breast cancer has become globalized feminist issue-metaphorically building a bridge that connects women around the world. In this project we interviewed a woman who suffers from breast cancer, a breast cancer survivor, and a family member of a woman who lost her life to breast cancer. Our presentation will highlight the mental, social, and physical effects of breast cancer, while citing various feminist issues.

Purpose of Research
Breast Cancer’s existing impact on women as a community and as individuals, drove us to research the topic and to conduct interviews that highlight the different ways Breast Cancer impacts the lives of women. The medical and scientific aspects of Breast Cancer are unpleasant, but the purpose of our research is to show the physical, mental, and social aspects involved in this disease. Our three panelist will be able to represent different perspectives of how the disease influences, and has influenced their lives. Our panel of women will contain survivors of breast cancer, and someone who has lost a loved one to breast cancer. Our panel includes, Maureen Lovett, Betty Wingo, and Leslie Berry. Their responses are aimed to create a link between breast cancer’s affects on their lives and possibly create an idea of what the future holds for the disease. We can look at the differences in our panel and how those with the disease coped with it and the support they received from those around them. Then we can look at how those who had a loved one that had Breast Cancer and how they were able to be supportive, and what they learned from that experience. Many aspects of womanhood and feminism are relevant to Breast Cancer. Society views hair and breast as primacies of womanhood, but those with breast cancer have battled this stigma as well. Breast Cancer involves hair loss, and in many times the surgical removal of the breast. In our interviews we want to see how women adapt when their physical characteristics are deviated from societies views, and what methods kept them strong mentally and allowed them to embrace their new image.

Maureen Lovett

When Maureen Lovett learned that her sister Tricia had contracted cancer, she had no idea what to expect. "I knew to do monthly lump checks," she said, "but, like Tricia, I thought that no one in my family was a candidate." Before the news that Tricia had contracted breast cancer, they did not spend much time thinking about what sort of role cancer played in the world around them. When Tricia died of breast cancer in 2008 after a mastectomy, two chemotherapy sessions, and an experimental treatment through John Hopkins, Maureen's life changed. Not only was she heartbroken about the loss of her sister, but she was also shocked that the evils of cancer had found their way into her life. She immediately decided to take a stand. Ever since Tricia's death, Maureen has been raising money through the Avon breast cancer walks, which donates the money to research for the disease. "I've participated in 2 Avon walks to raise funds and contributed funding to other family members when they do the same. I expect to continue to do so in the future," Maureen says. Friends and neighbors each helped Maureen out in raising the money, and surprisingly, it seemed like each had been touched by breast cancer in some way during their lives. "Almost everyone I knew had a family member or close friend who had breast cancer, some survivors, many not," Maureen said. Maureen sees now more than ever that both men and women alike should be aware of the dangers that face them. "The risks and dangers of life in general, and how short life is, should alter the way all humans interact with their societies," she says, "Everyday is a gift, my sex has little to do with these unalterable truths."

Betty Wingo

“Regardless of the form, when you hear the words, ‘You’ve got cancer,’ your entire world changes in an instant. At first you only hope and pray that it is all a false alarm, then they start talking about surgical options, other treatments, and life expectancy, that’s when you say to yourself, ‘Whoa, this is real’.” These words reign true for almost every cancer patient in the world, but it is Betty Wingo’s faith in God and her incredible zest for life that kept her going through her entire cancer process and it’s that same zest for life that continues to help her get her story out and be an inspiration to others. When she was diagnosed, she began her treatments with a lumpectomy and sentinel node biopsy. Fear of loosing her breasts were not an option for Betty, “So you have ‘the big C’..You cannot change that. So you might loose your ‘tatas’..Big deal. You are still you!” After her first procedure, she began chemotherapy treatments and in all cases women loose their hair.As Betty recalled being bald she stated, “Being a bald female was an interesting experience. We see baldness in men all the time but a women’s crowning glory is her hair, right? WRONG! The truth is, you look in the mirror and you say to yourself, ‘I have cancer and while the treatments are making me hairless, they are saving my life. It’s just hair, I am still me. Sure I bought an expensive wig made entirely of human hair but, guess what..I never wore it!” Her friends threw her a hat and scarf party and she revealed her baldness publicly, took picture’s, and had a blast! Betty’s attitude about her hair loss was amazing and as a result everyone made comments “that she had to be the cutest, classiest, sick person they had ever seen”. One of the things that stood out most while talking to her was when she said, “Breasts and hair do not make us women. WE are women with or without them. Your breasts and/or your hair do not define who we are or should be.” I truly believe having that attitude maintained her "womanly" image and allowed her to stand out in a positive way throughout her community. Since her cancer, she has inspired and educated others about her disease and how to cope with it. She has participated in walks, runs, Relay for Life, and motorcycle charity rides for breast cancer. Bosom Buddies and Reach to Recovery are two programs by the American Cancer Society that she also participates in. She also made a calendar to raise money for Breast Cancer Awareness called, “Faces of Courage”, where women in the community were selected to be photographed in black and white to put a real face on the disease. Being diagnosed with cancer is one of the most devastating things a person has to experience but, through faith, love, support from others, and her incredible zest for life, Betty Wingo has won the fight of breast cancer.

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