Breast Cancer Awareness Month is now behind us and once again, there is a lot of talk about saving the ta-tas. I understand this is part of a larger picture – breast cancer awareness, and that’s fine. But part of me sees this as a kind of sexualization of cancer. Just because it involves breasts instead of lungs or brain, or a pancreas, that doesn’t make it any less deadly. But for some reason, discussing breast cancer in the year 2019 still causes people to lose eye contact or lower their voice. People get uncomfortable when you speak frankly about breast cancer. I believe it’s because it involves breasts, instead of lungs or bones or a pancreas. If we can’t talk about breasts or nipples when we’re talking about breast cancer that’s a huge problem. We have heard the phrase “knowledge is power”, and that means after a breast cancer diagnosis, we need to discuss our breasts and see photographs of breasts. We need to see photos of skin irregularities. We need to see photos of nipple irregularities (I found my breast cancer when I noticed my left nipple was inverted). We need to see photos of reconstructed breasts and reconstructed nipples. Imagine if you will, that you were diagnosed with a type of bone cancer, but couldn’t see any photos of those similarly diagnosed? What if there were no photos of prosthetic limbs? How they work, and what they look like? The procedures involved following amputation?
I co-admin one of the largest Facebook breast cancer support groups that has over 11,000 members since its inception in 2017. We are a closed group which means nobody outside the group can see our posts. To be a member, you must be female, and you must have been diagnosed with breast cancer at some time in your life. We post pictures of things like surgical scars, nipple reconstruction, radiation burns, and many other pictures that may involve the breast, nipple, and other body parts ravaged by this disease. Facebook in its infinite wisdom, frequently flags some of these photos and may even punish the poster by suspending their account for a day, a week, or longer, citing violation of “community standards”. Anyone who uses Facebook regularly knows this is called Facebook Jail. Post-mastectomy photos are actually allowed, according to Facebook’s own community standards but I guess it’s more important for those policing Facebook, (whether an actual human or a “bot”) to get the nipples down before any readers are traumatized, than to actually determine the context of the photo and whether it is in fact, in compliance. I am frequently told “well it’s not an actual person flagging it-it’s a program”, like somehow that makes it okay. Breast Cancer and Breast Cancer Reconstruction groups have been lobbying to become exempt from the breast and nipple flagging to no avail-further advancing the idea that breast cancer is somehow sexual. There are some web sites that show breast reconstruction but they are not support groups, and they are usually plastic surgery platforms that include reconstruction. I’m sorry but I don’t want to be seeking support about my reconstructed breasts among women who don’t have breast cancer that are getting boob jobs.
The first time I was put in Facebook Jail, I had actually posted a photo of myself in a bra following one of my reconstruction surgeries, with no nudity at all. After I had completed two years of surgeries and had gotten my 3D nipple tattoos (these tattoos are 3 dimensional and look like real nipples), I posted a photo that got me an immediate ticket to Facebook Jail. Some ladies choose to forego new nipples, some have them actually reconstructed followed by tattooing for pigment, and some, like me, get the 3D tattoos. But we need to be able to discuss our experiences and show photos so that others may make informed choices.
So to recap, women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer and join one of the largest breast cancer groups on the world’s largest social media platform are told their breast cancer photos violate “community standards.” Adding insult to injury, I was able to spot numerous photos of celebrities on Facebook posing in photos with their nips clearly on display for all to see. Riddle me that. The sexualization of breast cancer needs to stop. A mastectomy involves amputation of body parts. It is not sexy and it’s not a pretty pink extravaganza. We just want to navigate a cancer diagnosis like any other cancer warrior.