By Susanne Kraus-Dahlgren
“If you cannot be positive, then at least be quiet.” - Joel Osteen
That is a prevailing mentality in the pink ribbon community when it comes to breast cancer. We are under tremendous pressure to stay upbeat, positive, fight for our survival, and above all, be a survivor. That means not dying from breast cancer. That means not being Stage IV. That means not having metastasis.
There is also a culture of victim-blaming. Did you not get enough mammograms? (Never mind the fact that they don’t actually prevent anything, and in many young women, they’re useless for detecting breast cancer.) Did you not get yourself to the doctor in time? (Never mind that early detection is no guarantee, it’s just living with a Sword of Damocles over your head.) Did you eat too much sugar? Did you not juice enough? Have you tried this? Did you try that? Were you eating the right things or the wrong things? Did you-
Did you metastasize?
Then it must have been something you did. So be positive, or be quiet. That is the message the metastatic community gets from the pink industry. We are only profitable when we are silent. So sad, too bad, sucks to be you, let’s spin the story into one of shiny hope and feature another survivor who gets to say “There but for the grace of God go I” and raise more money for the cause.
More money for the pockets.
There is no cure for breast cancer. There isn’t something lurking in the depths of a Big Pharma conspiracy, covered up by the FDA and held back by the researchers. But it’s true, there’s no profit from curing breast cancer. As long as people are dying, people can use that fear to fund the pink ribbon. As long as there are dead to shake our heads and tsk-tsk over, it is popular to don a shade of pastel and proclaim to be supporting “the cure”. It is acceptable to sing cutesy jingles about mammograms, or flash perfect, healthy breasts with product branding. That’s “being positive”, and we know the dead exist, but it’s the positive, upbeat survivors who are celebrated.
The dead don’t talk, and the dying shouldn’t.
We are dying, and we are expected to be positive or stay quiet? No, we will NOT be quiet. We are not voiceless. We refuse to stay unheard and we will not be deliberately silenced. This kind of mentality has kept the MBC crowd swept under the rug and locked in the back room where we won’t disturb the delicate sensibilities of the pink washed public who buy into the ribbon tripe. If you want me to be positive, bitch, then I’m positive this fucking disease is killing us and no one gives a damn as long as they can keep turning a profit. We will NOT be quiet! No more. We’ve been silent enough, and we will be silent again soon — far too soon.
This is the point where people shake their heads, roll their eyes, and purse their lips in disapproval. Hush. Don’t be so… that. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar, after all. Don’t be so angry. You just alienate people and you’re not helping anyone.
We’ve been setting out the honey traps for decades. We’ve been calm, we’ve been gentle, we’ve buried our anger at this disease and the unfairness of it all and smiled for the public and wear our pink ribbons dutifully and speak only of the dead in our little closed groups where only the metastatic are allowed.
What have we gained from decades of smiling politely and luring with honey? Absolutely jack all of shit.
We’ve tried it your way. It’s our turn now.
We are not dying. As Kiki Mason put it in regards to similar circumstances with the AIDS crisis, we are being murdered. The privileged few sit among the high ranks and make pleasant noises about an unpleasant disease, and while everyone talks of “advancements”, no one brings up the fact the death rate is the same it was in the 1970s. We have not increased mean survival. Over 40,000 Americans die from Metastatic Breast Cancer each year.
That is 108 people in the USA every day. Breast cancer is still the leading killer of women, behind lung cancer. We have awareness, but we have done nothing with this awareness.
And yet we are told to not be so extreme, not be so shocking, not be so crude. Don’t do Die-Ins. Don’t be so angry.
But why shouldn’t we be? We are dying! And again to quote Kiki, we want to live! By any means necessary. If being polite has not given us any results in 40 years, then why shouldn’t we be angry? 108 people every day is shocking! Do you want to see how big a crowd that is? Do you understand how many people that is? Think of the number of stars in the American flag. Double that. That is still fewer stars than the body count.
We have the funding, but no one is putting it in research. The few who do are not enough. Not in comparison to the amount the pink ribbon draws in annually in the United States alone. If they are truly “for the cure”, then where is the research? Where are the clinical trials?
There is a reason I am involved with MET UP. There is a reason we take our cues, with blessings, from ACT UP. The similarities start with the annual death rate, and do not stop there. As Kiki wrote in Manifesto Destiny: “Our service organizations are a joke. Gay Men’s Health Crisis: With all their money and clout, all you get is a free lunch, group therapy and free counseling via my favorite question, ‘Have you made out your will yet?’ AmFAR? It hasn’t funded clinical trials in two years, and when it did, the studies were pathetic. AmFAIL is more like it. Or, how about the AIDS Inaction Council?”
Sound familiar? Take her words a step further. Replace AIDS with MBC. Read what she once wrote, in a new light, in a fresh frame: “‘Give us a few lives today,’ they insist, ‘and we’ll trade you even more tomorrow.’ Breast Cancer careerists-both diagnosed and cancer-free-have exchanged their anger for an invitation to the White House. It is their megalomania and the illusion of power that buys the silence of these so-called community leaders. And where does that leave the rest of us? We’re left fighting for our lives while a group of well-educated, affluent white ‘survivors’ sit on community boards and advisory councils while we’re left to die on the streets.”
Again, doesn’t that sound familiar? If you are shifting uncomfortably and making excuses, could it be that you are part of the contributing problem? Where IS your anger? So many lives — so young, so fine, so loved — are taken from us every day. Women are getting diagnosed at younger ages, with more aggressive cancers. Men are getting diagnosed. People are dying. Millions of dollars are being spent on pink ribbons and there has been no change in the death rate. Where IS the anger?
Make no mistake, all lives matter here. Not just the young. Not just the women. Not just the American. Not just the white. We are all dying. And regardless of age, color, or country, it is all unfair. Forty years of nothing. That’s unfair. Millions of dollars worth of nothing. Unfair. So goddamn right we’re angry! I’m pissed! I want to live, and I’m going to fight for that by any means necessary. And I am not alone.
There’s a lion who is no longer asleep. And when she roars, the color pink will expose its dirty black underbelly.
MET UP. Fight back. Fight mets. In our silences lies our deaths.