Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Breast cancer, like all its evil brethren, is an indiscriminate killer, the great leveller waging what seems an unrelenting modern war on young and old - Shelley Fralic, Vancouver Sun.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Despite the prevalence of the disease I never gave it much thought. I have a recollection of the fight in an English courtroom by a woman in the early stages of the illness seeking to have the NHS fund the drug Herceptin, thinking that it was a disgrace that public finances could not be provided for public health care. A few months ago I browsed through an internet list of well known women who had died from beast cancer, but thought little more of it. Like most other shoppers I could not fail to see the pink ribbons and bags on display in supermarkets but invariably failed to buy any. What spare change I had would usually find its way to some collection bucket or tin on my way out of the store. Even on Saturday in town I gave to the Irish Wheelchair Association after leaving the till area which was well peppered with ‘pink’ breast cancer merchandise.

Then a friend of a friend contacted me via the internet and told me of his passion for keeping the issue in the public eye. His wife had come through the illness and has since spent a year in the clear. He suggested I flag it up in some way. Although pretty much agnostic on the matter, given the manifold causes that could be pushed, I thought I would vent some thoughts on it despite knowing that breast cancer is a high profile illness already. The type of carcinoma is probably one of the more frequently discussed cancers that affect women. As far back as 2001 Barbara Ehrenreich pointed this out:
Thirty years ago, before Betty Ford, Rose Kushner, Betty Rollin, and other pioneer patients spoke out, breast cancer was a dread secret, endured in silence and euphemized in obituaries as a "long illness." Something about the conjuncture of "breast," signifying sexuality and nurturance, and that other word, suggesting the claws of a devouring crustacean, spooked almost everyone. Today however, it's the biggest disease on the cultural map, bigger than AIDS, cystic fibrosis, or spinal injury, bigger even than those more prolific killers of women -- heart disease, lung cancer, and stroke.
Despite this prominence in public health discourse and my suspicions of the pink phenomenon resembling a cult where dissent from the prescribed modes of behaviour in responding to it is ‘a kind of treason’, as alleged by Ehrenreich, it struck me that a month dedicated to increasing awareness about it can only be a good thing. For as Shelley Fralic, now lump-free, after a 1987 scare, argued in the Vancouver Sun, every day of the year is about breast cancer awareness for women. She adds that:
the most recent data from the Canadian Cancer Society indicate that one in nine women will get breast cancer; one in 28 will not survive it … we read obituaries and pause on the photos of beautiful young women and know, without even reading the details, that breast cancer is the culprit.
In Ireland 2,500 women are diagnosed with the illness each year. Viewed in those terms it is a stalker worse than any serial killer we may read about in the tabloids.

Cancer is something I am familiar with due to both parents having died from it, a sister surviving it, another sister’s husband being claimed by it, and numerous aunts, uncles and cousins having it marked down on their death certificates. I remain unsure what side of the line I fall on in terms of causal factors, genetic or environmental. A case study of cancer during a technology course in prison helped nudge me in the direction of seeing it as environmental; that long term effective treatment would be applied socially rather than to individual biological structures; that a cure as such would not be found but if we could change the way we lived the preventative effects would be so great that the elusive code to cracking the curse might no longer seem so pressing.

Yet I am not a campaigner nor am I about to become an ‘unrelenting crusader’ on this issue. I simply had my curiosity aroused to the point of following my nose. Consequently I read Barbara Ehrenreich’s engaging, critical, challenging and provocatively stimulating 2001 essay in Harper's Magazine, 'Welcome to Cancerland', which detailed her experience of the disease including the discovery stage which she described as ‘the fog of anaesthesia that hangs over those first few weeks.’ Hers, as well as being combative, was a nuanced perspective which goes ignored or marginalised in the surface discourse.

Nevertheless, if addressing the issue so much as helps in some way to prompt one woman to take a mammogram whom otherwise might not have, or to pay greater attention during self-examination, it will be a worthwhile accomplishment. I know I will insist on my daughter at home who is not yet ten, taking all necessary measures as she grows up to ensure that she increases her chances of evading this particular attacker. Awareness leads to alertness which in turn enhances preventative potential, allowing people to confront, fragment, dissipate and ultimately head off the disease at the first defensive echelon where it has less chance of establishing a beachhead from which to launch its deadly invasive salvoes.

Women’s breasts are more important to their long term health and wellbeing than their teeth. The same attention should be paid to mammary self examination as to oral hygiene. Little point in beating a lost breast in anguished regret after a mastectomy.


  1. agree with marty- very thoughtfull

    im not going against anyone and i
    know that suicides are a tragedy to
    the familys that it affect's but-
    i have been to a lot more wakes and funerals of those struck down
    by the big C, and the one thing that i noticed about those with cancer was the will to live the will to fight that affliction
    what would those with cancer give for a healthy body
    which those who commit suicide seem to have.

  2. Its allright having a healthy body Mickeyboy all I can say is I know at least 5 kids who have committed suicide over the last number of years, and I havent heard anyone who knew what was going on in their heads. soul destroying for those left behind.

  3. mickeyboy,
    try not to judge those who have taken their lives, if you do not have mental illness(as I hope you don't) you can never know what those poor souls go through. Depression is a brutal disease just like breast cancer.

  4. whats with mickeyboy ryan- you going to follow marty on everything

    that your prognosis on that self
    destruction called suicide dr ryan
    that they are mental-

    cancer is a brutal disease
    depression is self-pity
    there is a difference

  5. Just heard that Gerry Bradley has been found dead tonight (author of insider,life in the ira)

  6. That is an exraordinary stupid statement Mickeyboy and ranks as about as bad as anything you have posted here ever,you really are a sad git, depression is a serious illness and destroys peoples lives.go wash your mouth out with soapy water and apoligise.

  7. Michael

    It is the year 2010 as much as I can’t fathom your highly educated opinion and contradictions once again you display contaminated ignorance perhaps it is the tainted view of suicide and the eternal damnation that promotes your discrimination.
    Your reactionary hostile comment to Ryan may indicate a slight psychosis in your own mind.
    By your own definition or classification of mental illness would that mean you are indulging in your own self- pity?
    Disturbing as the article is about the horrors of cancer yet you somehow focus on suicide in your usual transient manner.
    Would the family of a cancer victim suffer a greater loss than the family of a suicide victim?

    The self-pity syndrome in your expert opinion is peculiar I would suggest you read the Diathesis-stress model it may help you understand the complexity of the subject you insult in two words.
    As for your logic of trading one illness for another you could have made a better trade by wishing the common flu, as I am sure in both cases that would be a better deal.

    Good luck Michael

  8. michaelhenry- I hope you never have to understand the hell people have to experience to be driven to take their own lives.

    I do not write this to provoke a feeling of guilt but to achieve a little empathy on your part.

    I tried to commit suicide about 10 years ago. I suffered from a mental illness but not a form of depression. It was a psychosis. My mind was so mixed up and full of non-sequiturs which were jumbled up and didn't make sense. I couldn't conjure up a clear individual thought never mind a coherent line of reasoning. I was frantic.

    This was going on for weeks and finally at the end of my tether I broke and opened up all my month's worth of medication from the blister packs, got a glass of water and put the tablets in my mouth.

    Luckily for me I had a moment of clarity: "What happens if I don't die and my liver or kidneys are ruined?" I knew surviving but with a major health complaint was a possibility. I spat out the tablets and luckily my perverse logic stopped me.

    Now I thank god that I am alive.

    Life is great and I have found that no frame of mind is permanent.

  9. Michael,

    I have suffered from depression since my early teens and there have been times in my life that I've seriously contemplated suicide. Does that mean I've been wallowing in self-pity for years? A probable cause of clinical depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain and it can often (though not always) be alleviated to a degree by medication. Psychotherapy can also help. These are characteristics of a real disease, one that causes immense pain. So why do those of us who suffer from depression not deserve your compassion?

  10. michaelhenry, last year I was priviliged to be part of a group who climbed Ben Nevis to raise both money and awareness about the spate of suicides in our community.
    Physically the climb was an ordeal however, for many of those people on the climb it was as mentally gruelling as it was physical.
    People shared stories as we walked about sons, daughters, mothers fathers, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews it was horrendous, however not at any point on that sad journey did I detect one iota of self-pity.
    If you genuinely cannot display sympathy with people who walk this incredibly sad psychological journey you could at the very least show a degree of empathy.

  11. Good write as always... like marty says makes one think... Took forever reading that harpers bazaar link but it was a goodie. I think keeping breast cancer risk spotlighted/self exam/educating the young is vital. I had two cysts removed from one breast few years back and finally got told they were benign. The waiting for results puts years on one. The machine test mammogram is abit of a bastard Kinda squashes them down like boards but then lets face it mens hands can do that in unwanted moments :-) A nurse went at me o come now when i let out an expletive last time of exam. come now she says it aint that bad... er she was right of cse. Get examined regularly - you would be a right TIT not to. @ michealhenry u speak from ignorance re dep - u r young i think and not u/standing there is no pecking order of illnesses. Some just take u out with more prevalence ---> breast Cancer some with suicide if untreated (depression) and on it goes. I have great respect for women who lose a breast or both and get on with life. We are more than our physical bodies. I also believe if someone loves a person they will love them breastless or with breasts. Tis incredibly sad journey for those who lose a partner or one loved to breast cancer.

  12. @ Fionnuala (and all) - there is an Ireland based web site called OLAGOLA (day by day)sorry dunno how to do fadas on puta. The Olagola website started up this year for support one to one from qualified Admin ppl and also members collective support, IDing and sharing etc. Is linked to Ireland facebook page called Help Reduce Suicide and stress related illnesses in young adults... All can join the page and are welcome. Whether the depression be from grief/loss ie (partner to breast cancer deceased)or one is experiencing depression/suicidal ideation and so on or has overcome depression or managing it all are welcome. The primary goal is to reduce suicide esp with young ppl in Ireland and of course worldwide. Just google the Olagola and you's will see it.

  13. Marty,

    we held off on posting the last one due to reasons of sensitivity and authenticating.

  14. Not sure where suicide took over the article. A close relations parent committed suicide "took a bobs-worth" as he describes it, he also blamed his mum for drivin his dad to do it. Might there be a point that family can be the cause as well as the victim of suicide? just a thought.
    Marty thats you and me both on yellow cards ha ha.

  15. Larry,

    Marty is not on a yellow. He was dealing with a sensitive issue

  16. Marty,

    it is posted now. Without confirmation and being unsure if the family were all aware I could not run it. I know you will understand. A terrible tragedy.

  17. i said depression was self pity
    not suicide-
    the great wits can apologise anytime

    i apologise to simon and alfie if
    they thought i was on about suicide

    ryan- its my nature, no harm meant

    tain bo- on the oath revealed marty
    and your-self started going on about the loyalist riots in
    newtownabby yet you make the charge
    thai i change the focus of the arguments - do as i say not as i do springs to mind.

  18. Thumb in yer bum and mind in neutral again Mickeyboy,most of the posts here have been on breast cancer and suicide, yip I deviated to impart some sad news,now if you want I can direct you to the euthanasia web ,in your case mo cara it would be a blessed relief for all concerned

  19. Michaelhenry,
    no sweat, sorry for using Mickeyboy, always thought it was catchy. But I'll use your posted name from now on.

  20. A Chairde,

    From my own personal experience, I believe depression and cancer are very much linked in the sense that often I believe anger may be the cause, bottled anger.

    After I put down the drink 23 years ago I had fierce depression which turned out in my case to be an awful lot of bottled depression. I cam across a small paperback called, "The Angry Book" which made a lot of sense.

    The book referred to anger as being a good healthy energy that actually brought ppl close together if handles in a healthy way. A good example being a fish market early in the morning where everyone is shouting at each other about space, etc,. which is healthy anger.

    It took me a while to get the hang of it and to deal with a lot of old anger. Politically in Ireland there is plenty of reasons to be angry.

    WE are taught that anger equates violence which is not true. luckily I wasn't in alive in relationship when I was trying to learn how to mange my anger as I still have a wicked tongue.

    Anyway besides depression the book explained that modern diseases like cancer come from repressed anger in the system which for me made a lot of sense as I feel a lot healthier.

    I'm still a moody fecker but I am along way from the crippling depression i had for years. Its not quite s simple as i described and i was lucky to have few ranting feckers like myself around to bounce of!

    Anyway a chairde that's it fro now,

    Slan go fomghaill,


  21. Brian I must be one of the healthiest people alive today if anger is a good healthy energy,ya wanna come for a drive with me, Marie says the air turns blue and every body on the road is a f##ker, but if it makes me a healthier person !pucker up road users !

  22. Simon& Alfie, In my experience people who suffer from mental illness tend to be much more developed and well rounded individuals than the half wits who slag them off.
    When you think of someone like Stephen Fry who is amazingly talented, articulate and amusinging, yet he is bi-polar ( a manic depressive)
    Personally I believe that, people who have a strong social conscience and a genuine sense of social obligation also have more of a tendency to become depressed.
    The endemic spate of suicide amongst the young in West Belfast has been attributed to many factors.
    Young people appear to be increasingly turning to drink and drugs to blot out the hopelessness which appears to have gripped this place.
    Durkheim's study, probably the most famous study ever on the subject cites, that in post war countries the suicide rate will always rise.
    War apparently brings a sense of social cohesion which can disappear or become diluted in times of peace.
    If this is true, then why as a community who apparently received mega-peace dividends were we not better prepared?

  23. i often wondered was suicide among the young related to drugs..couldn't handle the 'come down', reality of life. Not being flippant but maybe 6 months in a Manila shanty might help some people feel a little more blessed?

    Marty-i'm laughing way too much at your mcdonalds breakfast joke for my own good-had 1.5 ltrs of tesco french red last night, you have me laughin and rubbing my head at the same time-my wifey says i can obviously 'multitask' just like her after all.

  24. Simple answer to that Nuala hon. you just have to look no futher than who were the recipients of that funding and how they spent it!

  25. Sorry that I just seemed to jump from one topic to another in the above post.
    I was just trying to say to Simon and Alfie, that most grounded people totally empathize with anyone suffering from depression.
    Also, it could not have been easy for either of you to write your posts, I think in both instances it was very commendable.
    In relation to the suicide epidemic in the West. For years we have heard, there is now pots of money to target social deprivation, pots of money for conflict resolution. Why then was one of the cited detremential consequences of a post-conflict society virtually ignored?

    StMary?Hedgehog, thanks for your informative post!

  26. Fionnuala, Drugs and drink are often the problem. Unfortunately a young person is unlikely to think that they will suffer the extreme downsides of taking drugs whether that be a physical or mental illness or even death. They can't imagine the scenario and more often than not they will believe it is something that happens to other people.

    I have tried to let others learn from my experience but even though they listen attentively they still risk their health after I explain that most people I know that took drugs are either dead or have an associated illness. I can only criticise their attitude with a degree of hypocrisy as I was the same when I was young.

    As for post-conflict suicide rates I totally agree with you. I remember it being discussed about ten years ago and I am not aware of any preventative measures being taken. There should have been a specific dedicated programme to prevent this problem.

  27. Unfortunately suicide like breast cancer is a three day wonder affecting only those close to the afflicted,suicide makes for great soundbites from the very same people who pop up when a camera is about and who spend their days trying to increase or secure the funding that their overpaid salaries comes from,I find the crocidle tears sickening,you WILL NOT get a job in any of the community groups in these areas unless you are approved by the boys! these areas need help not necessarily more money but better use of that which is already allocated,sack or close half of these jobs for boys forums and get dedicated trained consellors in !

  28. Larry, like cancer depression knows no boundries it is not a disease that affects a certain class or a certain lifestyle.
    However, research had found that poverty has a tendency to exacerbate the illness.
    I am not sure if drink and drugs is the biggest factor amongst the young. Two young people who we knew that tragically ended their lives were not big drinkers and neither took drugs, both were clinically depressed.
    By a 'shanty in Manila' I take it you mean they do not know when they are well off?
    Larry, unfortunately depression does not work like that, as Alfie rightly pointed out, a psychotic illness as a opposed to a neurotic illness usually comes about due to an imbalance in the brain.
    It cannot be turned on and off like flicking a switch. People who suffer from depression are just as likely to be depressed in a penthouse in Miami.
    A relative of mine who works tirelessly for suicide prevention once told me that, young people are extremely vulnerable after a binge of drink or drugs or both.
    However, she described the whole issue as the 'chicken and egg scenario' Wondering if young people resorted to these binges to escape hopelessness or did they actually cause it? Who knows.

  29. Marty, apparently Sinn Fein are talking about misuse of funding in relation to suicide prevention!
    Obviously they have spotted another void where they can slink themselves into.
    Yep misuse of funding, I wonder who will investigate that one?
    Did not watch them on TV the other night, apparently the Deputy has come to our aid, must be comforting. A friend of mine expressed the same sentiments as yourself, she said listening to them actually made her feel sick.
    Something else she told me, was that most of the so called 'consellors' in our districts are not adequately trained. A friend of hers a psychologist told her that he had actually expressed concerns to ex-prisoners groups, that the people being advertised as counsellors were not adequately trained.
    Anything is seemingly good enough for our people!
    Albert said, if you want to see a councillor you are better going to the City Hall.

  30. Aye Nuala and my advice would be to bring a well filled brown envelope with you.

  31. Breast Cancer Awareness Month


    While it can be argued that you might wish to dissent from the dominant narrative on suicide and present your own case that it should be seen as a selfish act you could have handled it better. To reduce depression to self pity seems an incredibly na├»ve statement to make particularly given your party’s background in public at any rate – we know what they say in private – on the issue of mental health. Try as you will, it was clear to me that until challenged you were not making the distinction between suicide and depression. Tain Bo called you bang to right on that.


    Something for us to think about there.


    Well put. The illness is a curse. Been there. Know all about it.


    A harrowing account. People will learn from that although I am not sure you will have evoked the badly lacking sense of empathy you hoped to in those who have zero tolerance to mental illness.


    The Harper article was long but ultimately worthwhile. The mammogram test seems forbidding.

  32. Fionnuala, fair comment. I think there are likely numerouse deep rooted issues driving anyone into the depths of depression. Maybe interelated. I know the drink is a depressant, after a wallop on it I always felt major league low. Serious downers followed by another gargle once the body had recovered sufficiently. But boredom and Irish society takes us to the pub.
    Severe depression I've been spared thankfully. As for coucilors, again something I'm not in a position to comment upon but my impression is they just listen, am I correct? An outlet for someone to 'unload'.

  33. Larry, I think there are so many factors involved, genetics, personality, environment, culture, socialisation or the lack of it.
    However, once a chemical imbalance takes place, depression either psychotic or the lesser neurotic sets in.
    I do not have a problem with counsellors per se, it was just a psychologist remarked to a friend of mine, that the type of counselling being provided by certain groups, in this instance an ex-prisoners group was less than adequate.He actually told my friend that, he expressed his concern to the group involved and I know for a fact it has not been addressed. Which to be perfectly honest I thought it disgracful. All that money, we were shafted for and we have to put up with a medicore and third rate service.