Disclaimer! I am not a scientist, I am not a biology major. What I report in this post is what I have found on my own. I am learning about this along with you, so if you see something wrong let me know. Thank you.
Since October is breast cancer awareness month, I am going to continue with the breast cancer theme. According to breastcancer.org, a nonprofit dedicated to providing reliable, complete, and up-to-date information about breast cancer, one in eight women in the USA will be diagnosed with breast cancer. It also states that breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women; in 2017 it was estimated that about 30% of newly diagnosed cancers in women will be in the breast. Another fact on their website states that in women under 45, breast cancer is more common in African- American women than white women, while in Asian, Hispanic, and Native women the risk of developing and dying of breast cancer is lower than African American women.
There is not much of a focus on the women that breast cancer effects in the media, the media that comes out in October is pink ribbons emblazed on everything. There are two main examples that I want to talk about. The first one is The Bold Type, specifically the episode titled “The Breast Issue” and a book I found called A Breast Cancer Alphabet.
The Bold Type is a tv show on Freeform in its first season. There are currently only six episodes, but the one that I want to discuss in more detail is the episode titled, “The Breast Issue.” The main characters are friends named Jane, Kat, and Sutton who work at Scarlet magazine, which is much like Cosmo in our world. Jane is the journalist one of the group who aspires to be the finest feminist writer. Kat is the social media coordinator and is a very big feminist. And finally, there is Sutton. She works in fashion but her story in this episode is not relevant to my post so I will be excluding it. We start with the girls going to what I think is a #freethenipple rally.
Jane, the journalist of the three friends, faces her past in this episode when the editor of the magazine wants her to write about the BRCA test and why women in their 20’s should or should not get the test. This may seem like a run of the mill article to write considering this is a women’s magazine, but for Jane, this is personal because her mother died of breast cancer. Jane does not believe that women in their 20’s should get this test.
But what exactly is this test?
The BRCA gene test uses a blood sample to look for harmful changes to a person’s DNA (that’s the stuff that makes you, you). It can be used for both breast and ovarian cancer. It looks for mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. These genes are the breast cancer susceptible These proteins help repair damaged DNA, but if there is something wrong (aka a mutation) then the protein cannot do their job right, and cells can develop more alterations as a result. The harmful versions of these genes can be inherited by a person by either their mother or father. For specifics on your risk of getting breast cancer, please see a professional.
This test is recommended to anyone who is likely to have an inherited mutation, and is based on your family history or a specific kind of breast cancer. Even if a person receives a positive result, that does not mean that they will develop breast cancer. Your doctor can help you understand your risk.
The free the nipple hashtag is the story arc for Kat, the social media coordinator. She is a forward thinking, go-getting feminist who decides that since she can’t post women’s nipples on Scarlet’s Instagram, she will go around taking photos of men’s nipples and post them instead to challenge the Instagram rule that men can show their nipples but women cannot. She does this because she is getting ready for Scarlet’s breast health issue. Although she doesn’t use the free the nipple hashtag, I think it is important to talk about this because women’s breast are sexualized in today’s society and then women get breast cancer and their breast which women are taught are a private part of body, are everyone’s business. Society tells women that they need to cover their breast, that the breast is a sexual organ, not secondary sex characteristic. This is exemplified in the debate over women breast feeding in public. People say that women’s breasts are for male pleasure and therefore cannot be shown in public. Shame is placed upon women who dare to breast feed in public or show more of their breast than society has deemed appropriate. So basically anything above the areola (the circle around your nipple) or below it is A-Okay. Just don’t show your nipple. But once there is a cancer diagnosis, your breast become public property. People ask you questions, doctors take photos, nurses examine. They invade the privacy that society used to force on you.
A Breast Cancer Alphabet by Madhulika Sikka talks a little bit about what it felt like to have her breast go from a private part of her body to something that everyone discusses when she dedicates a chapter to breasts (B is for Breast). After a cancer diagnosis, a woman’s personal space is invaded in the name of her health. Sikka talks about reconstruction, and how that affected her. I thought it was a nice reprieve to read this book because Sikka did not give me facts and figures. I saw next to no numbers and that is what I wanted. Sikka said her reasoning behind this book was because she wanted something that was easy to read and wasn’t too scientific or self-indulgent and I feel that that is what she wrote. Reading this book is like reading a letter from my mother, comforting and not too shallow. A Breast Cancer Alphabet covers topics that might not be found in the literature, like what it feels like to shave your head and lose your hair, what it feels like to have a mastectomy and how cancer can affect your sex life. Sikka even has a tumblr where anyone can submit a sentence or photo to create your own breast cancer alphabet.