Blue — yes, it’s a color. But it’s also a very important color. Especially today — except I’m not going to tell you why just yet.
Do you remember that Facebook meme from a few months ago, in which women all across America began posting their bra color as their status to support breast cancer awareness? I believe the message they were spreading around read something along the lines of, “Post your bra color in your status and leave the boys to wonder what it means!”
So it was essentially a secret girls’ club. What’s unfortunately left out of these messages is that men can also contract breast cancer. It’s a statistical rarity, but there are usually a couple thousand per year in the United States. And because of failure in detection, death rates are much higher among male breast cancer patients.
That said, the biggest risk factor for breast cancer is whether you are male or female. Obviously, women contract it at a much higher rate. But I wonder why we left boys and men to wonder what the colors mean since they can still contract breast cancer?
In her article on PoliticsDaily.com, writer Donna Trussell wrote, “My Bra? Color Me Furious.” Throughout her article, Trussell writes about how many breast cancer survivors are no longer wearing bras of any color, so the entire Facebook status movement was insensitive. She raises good questions about ovarian cancer and pancreatic cancer, such as why they aren’t touted so loudly as breast cancer when their death rates well exceed those of breast cancer.
But while I enjoyed much of her article, Trussell’s last line strikes me as insensitive. Referencing such campaigns and slogans as “Save the Ta-tas,” she says: “Never mind the breasts. Save the women.”
Does this somehow imply that saving women is somehow more important than saving men? I’m all for saving women’s lives by eradicating cancer, but that’s a consequence of something else: I’m all for saving people. I’m all for finding cures for breast cancer and ovarian cancer, for the reason that I am all for finding cures for all types of cancer. Some degree of specificity toward a particular cause is perfectly fine, but a disproportionate amount of support for one cause frustrates me. It especially frustrates me when the reason given seems to be what I would call gender protective preference, that is, a stronger impulse to save one gender rather than another. It is a manifestation of sexism.
Here are some numbers for you: The American Cancer Society estimates that 217,730 new cases of prostate cancer will emerge in 2010. They estimate that 207,090 new cases of breast cancer will emerge in the same year. Prostate and breast cancers are the second leading causes of cancer-related death in men and women respectively, after lung cancer, which is first for both sexes.
The Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation lists over 100 races to fundraise for breast cancer research. ZERO, The Project to End Prostate Cancer, lists only 14 races for prostate cancer fundraising and awareness.
Had you even heard of The ZERO Project before now? I hadn’t until I started researching to write this column. Not even 2,000 people “like” it on Facebook. Barely 2,000 people have liked “Prostate Cancer Awareness.” As for “Breast Cancer Awareness”? Almost 1.5 million “likes.” Almost 50,000 like “A World Without Breast Cancer,” and more than 6 million have joined the cause “Turn Facebook Pink for 1 Week for Breast Cancer Awareness.”
Six million strong against breast cancer — it sounds amazing. But I admit that I am jealous. Why the disproportionate inequity? Why aren’t we more aware about the cancers that are killing our fathers, grandfathers, brothers and uncles? Are they simply less marketable?
I’ve seen the effects of breast cancer. I’ve seen lives and families fundamentally altered by the loss of a parent to breast cancer. But I’ve also seen the damage prostate cancer can do. I’ve lost family members to prostate cancer because they weren’t aware until it was too late. I am in favor of putting an end to both. I would be joyous if one were cured and inconceivably blissful if both were cured.
If you didn’t know, September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. And blue is the color of prostate cancer awareness. I know it’s almost over, but maybe for these last two days you could do something as simple as wearing a blue ribbon, armband or — dare I say it — some blue underpants to show your support of prostate cancer awareness. Then you can bust out the pink for October — Breast Cancer Awareness Month. But for now, Think Blue.
Eric Szkarlat can be reached at email@example.com
For more information, check out the ZERO project, UMich Relay For Life, the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure and The American Cancer Society.