Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Breast cancer awareness should be much more than tits out for the lads.

In 1992 when I was 20 my mum was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her own mother died in 1986 and her mother was also killed by it. For two years I watched her fight, after she had a double mastectomy we soon learned that her cancer was terminal and treatment would be palliative only but she was determined to live as long as she could and as well as she could. We went through some dark times, when she was hunched over the toilet bowl after another round of chemotherapy, when she reacted badly to the antiemetic drugs, when she cried at the thought of leaving us. It wasn't all awful though, she had a wicked sense of humour and we laughed a lot during those two years, people who knew her will remember somebody who was a positive force and an inspiration and comfort to other cancer sufferers.
She died in 1994 aged just 42 years. I am now 41 and so have lived most of my adult life without a mother. With my family history I've always been aware of my own risk and last year had my first mammogram which was thankfully clear but I've been told I should have them yearly.
So breast cancer awareness is something that is very close to my heart and I would love to be able to applaud The Sun for their latest campaign but when I saw the front page of their paper yesterday I was upset and angry. How dare they use the disease that killed my mum to justify Page 3? How could they be so insensitive as to show a model cheekily posing in just her knickers as the face of breast cancer awareness when there are women who have undergone mastectomies? How dare they patronise and demean the young women of this country by suggesting this is the best way to raise awareness of the disease in the under thirties? I do think that people need to be reminded that breast cancer isn't just a disease of older women, it affects young women and men too but how is a Page 3 model the best choice for that? Why not feature a young woman with breast cancer on their front page? Why not feature a man? Male breast cancer is rarely discussed.
Some people have said that if the campaign saves one life it will be worth it and despite my own opposition to their tawdry and cynical attempt to make Page 3 respectable I hope that they do succeed. However, let's not pretend this is anything but self-serving. An early diagnosis to The Sun will mean an opportunity for a gloating headline, nothing more than that. If they want to change the minds of those of us who feel this is exploitative publicity grabbing for all the wrong reasons then they need to stop linking the disease to sexuality. They need to show us front page pictures of the women who have been affected by cancer. People like my friend Tigs Barnes who had had a double mastectomy eight years ago. Several attempts at implant reconstruction failed and in 2008 she had a  successful bilateral diep reconstruction -  the gold-standard method - which uses skin, blood vessels and fat from the patient's abdomen.  After I took to Facebook to rant about The Sun yesterday Tigs bravely made the decision to post photos of herself showing her scars.

 This is what women who have fought breast cancer look like. They may not be the media's idea of perfection but they are beautiful and strong. Most importantly they are still here, so when I discuss breast cancer and the importance of checking your breasts to my daughters I won't be showing them a tacky picture from The Sun, I'll be showing them Tigs and telling them that breast cancer doesn't need to be a killer. Not always as I know only too well but early diagnosis can be the difference. Isn't that a better message for young women?

I have published Tigs' pictures here with her full knowledge and consent.

 Jessica Dean of Brighton has set up a petition at suggesting that if The Sun really wants to prove it cares about raising awareness of breast cancer and not publicity for Page Three then it should feature this image on its front page.


  1. Wonderful blog post, and I'm so sorry for all that this terrible disease has taken from you.
    You're so right about the campaign not showing the reality of cancer, hopefully The Sun will listen to the opinions of all those they've hurt and offended.

  2. Thank you. I hope The Sun will realise they've got this really wrong but unfortunately I suspect any publicity is good publicity. I had to say something though, particularly after Tigs posted her photos.

  3. Beautifully and thoughtfully written Karen. I am very proud to know such awesome and inspirational women as you and Tigs. FWIW Tigs is a stunning example of someone who has fought and won against this dreadful disease.

  4. A tough subject, well done for putting it so well. It echoes all of the sentiments which I struggle to convey to certain people about this topic, they just don't get how much it burns me up inside.

  5. What a great post. I am with you. X

  6. Thanks for the comments, they're much appreciated. Tigs is indeed stunning!

  7. The bravery of women know no bounds! My first wife died of leukaemia in 1980 aged only 35, and Karen's mother's attitude to her illness is a mirror image of the bravery shown by my wife. The Sun newspaper has, in my view, reached new depths of depravity by using titillating photographs of nubile young women to highlight one of the worst kinds of cancer imaginable. Most women, who have suffered a mastectomy, will feel less a woman than they felt before the operation. With the Jimmy Savile scandal, and all that goes with that behaviour, isn't it now time for The Sun to do the decent thing, helping to prevent the luring of schoolboys into sex acts with young girls. "Well," they might argue, "Jimmy Savile got away with it!" The sun should remove the Page3 sex titillation NOW!.