Jennifer Beeman, Director, Breast Cancer Action Quebec

October 6, 2016

I am in a strange situation. I am director of a breast cancer organization and I really don’t know what “promoting awareness” of breast cancer means.

Does it mean repeating the fact that one in nine women in Canada will receive a diagnosis of breast cancer at some time in her life? Even when this tells us nothing of what is being done to bring down that statistic (very little)?

Repeating “early diagnosis saves lives”? Even though this doesn’t explain to women that early diagnosis leads to a serious problem of overdiagnosis, which women really don’t understand and about which we are doing very little?

Repeating that we should “run for the cure”? Though this does nothing to prevent our daughters and granddaughters getting the disease?

This is how you work for prevention.

It seems that “awareness” ultimately says nothing particularly useful but makes us try to feel good, “give back” or feel that we are maybe in solidarity with women facing the disease.

This is like being in solidarity with poor women and not fighting for a minimum wage of $15/hour.

This is like being in solidarity with women victims of sexual violence without talking about rape culture or holding men responsible for their actions.

This is like being in solidarity with women of diverse origins without making sure they advance to positions of power and the jobs for which they are fully qualified.

Prevention of breast cancer is the hard fight.

It means taking on government regulations regarding the toxic substances we allow into our environment.

It means taking on companies and corporations who make products harmful to human health and that degrade our environment but who give generously to cancer foundations.

It means working with young people and women from all communities about their health, the environment and healthcare in a truly empowering manner.

True prevention of breast cancer has little to do with awareness. It is about fighting for systemic change to create healthy communities for healthy people.

Breast cancer prevention is not awareness, it is environmental health justice.