The Blog

The Mammogram and the Pink Cancer

In the Bath Half Marathon this year I found myself running next to someone with a big foam boob strapped from neck to waist. It's all a bit 'Carry on Cancer'.

The first time I went for a mammogram I smiled at the camera. My natural reaction to a photo opportunity. I'd like to think I didn't slightly turn in one leg but I can't vouch for that. The annual mammogram is not one of the highlights of my year, not because of the actual procedure which is not quite up there with some of those other experiences billed as 'uncomfortable': the leg wax or the smear test, but rather because of the yearly sniff of mortality and the reminder of a family history. This year the mammogram comes around the same week as a report about women in the UK being more likely to get breast cancer than their other European counterparts.

The hospital waiting room is a cross section of London womankind. The two girls next to me are giggling, listening to RnB on an ipod. One goes off and comes back again. Through her whispers I can hear her say 'big needle' and 'and then my phone went off Ohmygod!' They giggle some more. A lady with a Harvey Nichols bag tries to get a bit of conversation going. She speaks with confidence. 'It's a very long wait isn't it?' I have an appointment in town at 2 o'clock' Pause. 'Don't suppose I will make it.' Everyone looks quite glamorous in their own way, bar the gowns. You could be forgiven for a moment for wondering whether this is something that disproportionately effects the fabulous. It's a trick of the environment. The unit is in a newly renovated building and there is a red carpet and swirls of colour on the walls. You could imagine the architects giving the brief. 'There will be red carpet on the stairs so that every woman feels uniquely important.'

I'm glad they haven't gone for pink. Because as Barbara Ehrenreich points out in her excellent article 'Welcome to Cancerland' breast cancer is the pink cancer, there are pink ribbons, pink t-shirts, pink armbands, teddy bears. Race for Life, a venture that has provided an entry into running for many women I know (including myself) and has raised a lot of cash is marketed as pink. There are also flirty games to be played on social networking sites encouraging people to cryptically post the colour of their bra or where they keep their handbag as innuendo ('I like it under the stairs'). How this is supposed to help breast cancer awareness I am not sure. These things are done by good-hearted people who mean well but the whole flirty, cheeky cancer thing is starting to wear a bit thin.

In the Bath Half Marathon this year I found myself running next to someone with a big foam boob strapped from neck to waist. He was sweating and trying to cope with this jiggling foam in order to raise money for charity so I felt a bit mean for a creeping irritation as I passed more boobs en route. It's all a bit 'Carry on Cancer'.

There are other arguments to be raised - beyond the pink - about how breast cancer attracts money more than other less publicised cancers (I can't imagine anyone turning up to a fun run dressed as an ovary or a prostate) and a system in which charities have to compete with each other. For now I just want to point to the dissonance between the clamping of the mammogram and the pink infantilising marketing. Because, although it doesn't hurt, the mammogram is not fluffy nor flirty nor cheeky nor pink. And neither are the feelings that go with it. But, you know, I've never been a pink fleece kind of a girl.