Has this happened to you? You log on to Facebook and there’s a message from a friend asking you to place a heart as your status – no comment, just a heart. It’s for a breast cancer awareness day or week and is billed as an “act of solidarity”. But is it? And how does it feel to receive that message if you’ve already had breast cancer?
We know theses games are usually done with the best of intentions, but we had a big debate kick off online and in our private Facebook group last week. “I’m SOOOO annoyed!” was a comment shared by many who asked, “does this really help to raise awareness?”. Others argued that anything to raise awareness of cancer is a good thing (and that the best thing to do is ignore the messages if you aren’t in a heart-shaped frame of mind). One of our Shine members did, however, take things to a whole new (heart-stopping) level, by posting a picture of hearts drawn around her mastectomy scars. We love it when people go rogue – so we asked Bronwyn to tell us what was on her mind when she posted! Read on to learn more!
Why did I do it?
I’ll admit, before being diagnosed with breast cancer late 2014, I used to perpetuate those silly Facebook “Breast Cancer Awareness” memes. Those coy, cryptic little messages that you get where you have to ask the person what the post is all about it.
The first one I remember doing was something to do with the colour of my bra. Why I was doing it then? If I’m being honest: FOMO – Fear of Missing Out. Did I really care or know anything about breast cancer? Nope. By posting was I encouraged to find out more about breast cancer or help in anyway? No. Were the people I was posting to? I really don’t think so.
Fast forward three years and it’s just gone midnight and I am impulsively painting pink hearts onto a scarred chest with my daughter’s pink glitter paint. The same chest that has been decimated by the very disease that I couldn’t give a shit about before – except to post an ineffectual, silly comment on my Facebook wall. The hearts on my chest mimic this year’s Facebook trend of posting a pink emoji heart in your status.
I only saw two of these little hearts pop up on my own Facebook feed. They niggled at me, but what bothered me more was the strong feelings they were stirring up in the cancer community I am now a part of – the same cancer community who literally saved my soul by providing an outlet in my year of treatment (and the continuing aftermath). They saw these emojis on their own Facebook feeds from friends and family who have never had cancer themselves. They saw them as as pointless, lazy, careless, insensitive and serving no purpose except as acting as a cruel reminder. Something in my head snapped at midnight after reading a few days of this. I knew I had to do it right then because if I left it until the morning my sensible cautious side would have talked me out of it.
I needed those heartless hearts to stop. I needed to clap hard and loud in the faces of people who were posting them to wake them up. To show them the ugly reality of what cancer does, to shove it in their faces, and hopefully to make them see that this shit is real. I wanted to make them care. I wanted to make them do something beyond posting a silly little heart and pretending it means something or is going to change anything.
The support I got after posting was fantastic and positive and I am very proud that it was re-shared outside of my own Facebook echo chamber. But the comment that was the most meaningful to me was from a 35-year old woman that I worked with 7 years ago. She had found some lumps and was referred to a breast clinic but then let it slide; she has now rescheduled her appointment for 21st February. That’s actually the type of “cancer awareness” I would hope for – that people are educated about when they should get their breasts (or any other part of their body) checked for lumps or if something just isn’t right. A cryptic heart doesn’t do that.
Bronwyn is originally from Cape Town, South Africa. She came to the UK in 2004 to travel and has been here ever since. Very happily married to a man who went through his own cancer experience eight years ago, she has a 4 year old daughter – a little miracle, as her husband was told they had virtually no chance of having children naturally after his cancer.
Bronwyn was diagnosed with breast cancer in late 2014 and went through treatment throughout 2015 and 2016 which involved a mastectomy of the affected breast and removal of the lymph nodes there. This was followed by six sessions of chemotherapy over a long 5 months, 16 sessions of radiotherapy and removal of the other breast and her ovaries because she has the BRCA2 gene.