Sarah Horton Live: Refusing to Stand in the Collusion of Silence

In October 2010 Sarah Horton, author of Being Sarah, appeared on Radio 4‘s Woman’s Hour with Jennie Murray and live radio interviews on Radio Five Live, BBC Radio Merseyside and BBC Radio Hereford and Worcester. Sarah discussed rising incidence rates, breast cancer recurrence, representations of breast cancer in mass media and pink campaigns, social support, and the need for research into causes. Sarah stated that the realities of breast cancer are being “glossed over” and that the focus needs to shift.

What was most fascinating to me was the question the interviewer posed to Sarah in the Radio Five Live interview. She asked:

“Is there a danger that your message, no matter how true it is… is so disheartening as to be unhelpful?”

I’m aghast. Yet, this pointed question is one that echoes throughout public discussion whenever anyone questions the status quo about breast cancer. Sarah Horton’s answer was a levelheaded and unequivocal no because Sarah believes in the power of truth telling. She stands in a long line of strong women who believe that their silence will not protect them.

Thirty years ago, Audre Lorde published excerpts from her cancer diary, The Cancer Journals (first published in 1980 and then republished in 1995 and 2006.) In it, Lorde urged cancer survivors to support one another, yes, but also to speak out about the general cultural push to render the devastating impacts of breast cancer invisible. Lorde wrote:

“I was going to die, if not sooner then later, whether or not I had ever spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you…while we wait in silence for that final luxury of fearlessness, the weight of that silence will choke us.”

Thirty years after Audre Lorde first published her cancer journals, Sarah Horton published hers. Though they are unique in many ways, they also share the prophetic message that we must give voice to realities that will cause harm if left unattended.

Across the pages of Being Sarah, Sarah Horton writes:

“We are hiding from the truth…We’re still smiling, us women…We cover it up…We don’t challenge. We accept breast cancer and its treatments. We deal with it, and we deal with it well…Have we blinkered ourselves with pink-tinted glasses here? I am not prepared to join in this collusion of silence.”

What we can learn from these journals, written three decades apart, is that breast cancer has shifted from a stigmatized disease that left women in isolation to one that silences them in a sea of pink. Fewer women die from the disease now than they did during the dark past. Some treatments are more successful. But the culture is still afraid to speak the whole truth about breast cancer. As incidences rise among men and women, diagnostic technologies fall short, treatments fail, side effects linger, breast cancers recur, the number of deaths each year remain far too stable, and no prevention or cure exists for invasive disease, the image of breast cancer remains undeniably, optimistically joyful. At this point in our history, pink consumption and awareness activities have taken priority over truth telling.

What do we stand to lose if our message, no matter how true it is… is so disheartening? Perhaps we should ask, what do we stand to gain?

Click here to listen to Sarah Horton’s interviews.

Be Sociable, Share!

3 comments to Sarah Horton Live

  • Well said, Gayle. As an ovarian cancer patient, I hate to point the finger at the pink movement, but at least you’re getting some airtime, whether it’s productive or not. We’re well below the radar screen, despite the relaxing of social mores that kept us from uttering words like “breast” and “ovary” in public. But is bad press really better than no press at all? I wish a big name (SGK, you know who you are) would use some of their clout to question current realities and policies instead of touting this useless “awareness” ad infinitum.

  • Such a good question. Is it better to be oversaturated or ignored? I hope that questioning the pink status quo will open our eyes to the broader cancer burden, the industry, and the inequalities in public health. I’ve added your blog to my list, and I appreciate that you are part of the discussion. The radar screen has to get wider and deeper. The pink ribbon does not speak for everyone.

  • That really is such an important question. I think that all the pink ribbons have made a difference in quality of life for BC patients, while other cancers go largely ignored. The danger is, in my opinion, that all these ribbons convince the wider public that everything is just fine and that everyone with cancer gets better. That leads to complacency, our worst enemy.

“Pink Ribbon Blues”

Paperback includes a new Introduction on fundraising controversies and a color insert with images of, and reactions to, the pinking of breast cancer (2012).


Praise » 

Flyer »

Press Release »

Hardback Cover »

Paperback Cover »

Request Review Copies »

Order the Paperback »

* GAYLE IN THE MEDIA *

"Seeing clearly through the pink haze" Toronto Sun

*Sad face*: Being happy does not help you live longer" New Scientist

How should we address breast cancer when norms continually change? The Guardian

Your Fun 'No Bra Day' Photos Are Overshadowing Terminal Breast Cancer Patients Broadly

Backlash against “pinkwashing” of breast cancer awareness campaigns BMJ

Breast Cancer to Rise 50 Percent by 2030? Hey, Not So Fast! Health News Review

Breast Cancer: The Flaws in the Cause iafrica.com

How to Make the Biggest Impact With Your Breast Cancer Donations Money

The Very Pink, Very Controversial Business of Breast Cancer Awareness Racked

NFL, Pink Ribbons Not Enough to Win over Women CNN

3 Questions We Need to Answer for Breast Cancer Awareness Month Chronicle of Philanthropy

The problem with National Breast Cancer Awareness Month Women's Health Magazine

Pink Ribbon Envy: Living with an Uncool Cancer The Nib

A Year After Bombings, Some Say 'Boston Strong' Has Gone Overboard NPR, All Things Considered

Canadian Mammogram Study KCRW, NPR Affiliate

Time to Debunk the Mammography Myth CNN

Breast Cancer: Awareness, Activism & Pinkwashing NPR Charlotte

Buying Pink Al Jazeera's The Stream Watch »

The Pink Backlash Orlando Sentinel

Why Jolie's Test Costs So Much CNN

Preventative Mastectomies: Disease and Deception BlogTalkRadio

Angelina Jolie and the 'Breast Cancer Gene' KCRW

Our Feel-Good War on Breast Cancer The New York Times Magazine.

The Story Behind the Pink Ribbon Campaign Sisters Talk Radio

WISH Interview Women's International Summit for Health

Making Cancer About The Patient, Not The Body Part CBS Pittsburgh

Sexy breast cancer campaigns anger many patients USA Today

The perils of pink The Daily

Komen pink campaign creates breast-cancer blues for some Dallas Morning News

A yellow flag for the NFL's pink New York Daily

Gayle Sulik named #7 in SharecareNow’s Top 10 Online Influencers in Breast Cancer

Breast cancer cancer causes so easily derailed Philly Inquirer

Komen Charity Under Microscope for Funding, Science Reuters

The Fight Against Cancer - And Abortion? Salon.com

Susan G. Komen For the Cure defunds Planned Parenthood. In Deep with Angie Coiro

Amid Breast Cancer Month, Is there Pink Fatigue? NPR's All Things Considered

How is Breast Cancer Culture Undermining Women's Health? America’s Radio News Network

Pink Ribbon Culture and Breast Cancer The Kojo Nnamdi Show

The Big Business of Breast Cancer
Marie Claire

Does Breast Cancer Awareness Month Crowd Out Other Diseases? Slate

Pink Inc. Has Many Starting to See Red The Sacramento Bee

Get Your Pink Off Ottawa Citizen

Komen Pink Ribbons Raise Green and Questions USA Today

** MORE MEDIA LINKS **
** MORE RADIO INTERVIEWS **