Sarah Horton, Alive and Anti-Pink

After her diagnosis in 2007, Sarah Horton was shocked, overwhelmed, and angry. Her life had taken a sudden turn as she was thrown into a world of medical decision-making, multiple surgeries, physical and emotional trauma, personal loss, fear of death, and the onslaught of pink ribbon culture and disease politics. Yes, she was grateful to be alive, and thankful to those who helped to make that so. But Sarah was not smiling her way through illness, and her anger never dissipated.

Sarah was angry that she was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness at a young age and had to subject herself to hideous treatments. But what infuriated her even more were the societal pressures that urge women to “accept a breast cancer diagnosis as part of life…an inevitable part of aging.” She resented pink campaigns that put a happy face on a horrible illness, the over-promise of medical treatments, and the lack of prevention efforts. She was angry that she wasn’t supposed to be angry. Instead of being angry, the diagnosed are supposed to be compliant.

In a short video that summarizes Sarah’s three-year experience with breast cancer and the perspective she gained, Sarah talks directly and openly. Likewise, her new book, Being Sarah, does not mince words when it comes to her thoughts about newsletters from cancer charities that “drip pink” and cover up the loss, anger, loneliness, and isolation that many women feel, or how fashion shows, make-overs, and lingerie sales highlight survivors who are “ultra feminine, attractive, youthful, and happy” so no one will see the devastation of the disease. In one of her essays, Sarah writes:

“We are not a hoard of raging angry women descending on the government with our scarred bodies, asking them to start researching the causes of breast cancer. But we should be.

Instead, we’re wearing pink t-shirts to support our sisters, raising money for cancer charities, who search for cures. More drugs. And I know a cure is attractive once you have breast cancer, but what about prevention? The media love to show images of women wearing pink, having fun and showing their support for breast cancer – smiling to prove we can ‘beat’ breast cancer, tirelessly fundraising to find the ‘cure’.

But how come breast cancer has risen to this status, it’s almost glamorous?”

Sarah asks an important question. After breast cancer activists worked so hard in the early breast cancer movement to destigmatize the disease, claim a voice for the diagnosed, disseminate accurate and useful information, and affect the direction of research, some of us have been glamored to such a degree that the diagnosed (and anyone else for that matter) are re-stigmatized every time they ask questions or disagree with pink ribbon culture. We’re supposed to just smile and put on some pink-colored glasses for the cure.

Being Sarah was just released on October 7 and can be purchased from Sarah Horton lives in the U.K.

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“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).

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