Breast cancer awareness 2.0

Why it’s time to learn something NEW about preventing breast cancer.

We need to talk about cancer. And you might not like what I’ve got to say – but hear me out.

Yep, I potentially sound like a heartless Grinch, bagging out the good people of Breast Cancer Awareness. But I’ve just got to do it, because Thinking Pink is giving me a headache and the way we market certain cancers above others triggers my internal rage mechanisms in much the same way asylum seeker policies (or anyone who disses Taylor Swift) does.

Here’s my deal: show me a person who isn’t “aware” of breast cancer, and I’ll eat my favourite hat (it’s a Minnie Mouse visor I got in Disneyland, it’d be very difficult to swallow). “Pinkwashing” – when companies make everything from garbage bags to vibrators pink to support breast cancer research – is one of the most successful marketing campaigns of all time. In October, you won’t be able to walk an aisle at Woolies without buying a pink-coloured product. Pink becomes ubiquitous – it’s everywhere, and it’s a super-quick, easy way to make you feel like you’re making a difference.

But are you really? Or does buying all that fuchsia crap lull you into a false sense of altruism that might actually prevent you from learning something new about cancer? Some of my dearest, darlingest buddies in the universe have been affected by cancer (show me someone who hasn’t and I’ll eat my second favourite hat). One of my besties had bowel cancer at a truly, alarmingly young age, and another two lost their beautiful mummy to lung cancer (despite the fact that she was a healthy marathon runner who hadn’t smoked in decades). I carry the sadness of their experiences with me wherever I go, and I’m forever thinking, “Where are the global scale, easily accessible campaigns for those cancers?”

That’s what I was thinking about the whole time I was at a breast cancer-related event recently, where they painted my nails pink, fed me pink cupcakes and gave me a tote bag of feel-good pink products. I left feeling utterly deflated, for a couple of reasons: I’m trying to picture what a similar event might look like for less sexy cancers - I can hardly picture a Free Manicure stall with a selection of brown shades for bowel cancer, or a lung-shaped cake pop with a matching app that allows you to monitor your own breathing so you can alert your doctor to abnormalities in your lung function.

I can’t believe we’re still talking about “awareness” when it comes to breast cancer. Isn’t it time we take it to the next level, and actually teach women something practical? That’s why I think our #CosmoCommits campaign is so worthwhile - because it’s equipping us with actual practical skills when it comes to breast cancer (you can read about the campaign in the Cosmo out today, with Rachel Bilson on the cover). We’ve said “yep, we’re pretty freaking sure everyone know what breast cancer is, how bout we teach them what a lump actually feels like?”

Which means we’ve had a lone silicone breast sitting in the office recently – it’s a test breast with several large lumps and a cluster of smaller lumps embedded in it. And you know what? You have to really get in there, and push very hard with two fingers on both hands to locate those lumps. Most of the Cosmo office – and the famous people we challenged – couldn’t find them all. So when it comes to breast cancer and I say “Tell me something I don’t know, punks,” this is actually doing exactly that.

It’s a real, pragmatic, helpful experiment that taught me something genuinely new about cancer. No pink nail polish, no cutesy graphics, no hyper-sexed marketing: just a sexless boob on a table that teaches you what possibly-cancerous lumps feel like. That’s a campaign I can get behind – and I pray to a God I don’t believe in that we can find a similar way to give people practical knowledge about other cancers.