Dear 'The Sun', breast cancer isn't sexy

The writer, diagnosed this year with the disease for the second time, says the paper's 'awareness' campaign was wide of the mark

Share

Dear Mr Dinsmore,

I gather you're surprised that your coverage on Tuesday upset some people. I'm not entirely sure you're genuine about that surprise, but just in case, here's why it hurt:

When you call my breast a "boob", you use a word that refers to a mistake, a problem, or a joke. You take something that is part of me, and you compartmentalise it, you take it away from me.

Unfortunately, cancer already did that. It did it when I was 36 and had breast cancer the first time around, had a chunk cut out of my breast, and six months of chemotherapy that made me infertile, sent me into early menopause at 37, and then killed off a degree of skin and tissue sensitivity after six weeks of radiotherapy. I'm hugely grateful to be alive, but at no point did my staying alive ever make me think that the part of my body growing the cancer was a joke. That's my breast. It's no "boob".

And my breast did pretty good, despite having grown a scary Grade 3 cancer when I was relatively young, I stayed well for 14 years.

Then, this year, it – I – grew some more cancer in the same breast that had grown the cancer before. I was not invaded by or stabbed with or otherwise attacked by cancer. My own body made some more cancer.

Now, four weeks since surgery (a surgery we blithely call "reconstruction" when the truth is that a mastectomy is an amputation of tissue, skin and, yes, bone, and the reconstruction is tissue, blood vessel and skin graft), when I see a pretty young brunette telling me to check my breasts, doing so on your cover – and I know that on Page 3 you regularly treat women as sex objects and breasts as fetished body parts – I am hurt by the flippancy with which you treat a disease that is now at epidemic proportions.

Because we women are not stupid, we know to check our breasts and we know to report any findings to our GP. But even if some women are forgetting, or not aware of this procedure, are you sure that a semi-naked young woman is really the best way to remind us? Especially when the vast majority of women with breast cancer are older women? I was made extremely aware of this when the locum GP, the first time round, assured me that it couldn't possibly be breast cancer, as I was too young. Perhaps you need to get some semi-naked GPs on the cover instead? Just to increase awareness, you understand. I suggest middle-aged men, that's more realistic.

A cynic might suggest that your front cover of Tuesday, and the campaign you say you want to continue, is nothing more than a ploy to hit back at the increasingly supported No More Page 3 campaign. But let's put my cynicism to one side and imagine you're doing this for reasons that are entirely kind and good.

That being the case, here are a few tips:

Saying get your boobs out for cancer really does sound quite a lot like get your tits out for the lads. That's not very nice, is it?

Breast cancer maims and kills loads of us. Sometimes the people it maims and kills are men. Do you perhaps need a semi-naked man checking his breasts next time?

If you really do want to share with us the vital message about the upsetting truth of breast cancer, here's what it really looks like: on the left side I have the moderately sagging breast of an average middle-aged woman. On the right side I have a bloody, blistered (the radiotherapy I had last time means the skin isn't healing well), swollen, bruised "breast" made of stomach tissue, which has no feeling yet, and maybe never will. I'm also wearing large support underpants, not skimpy pink knickers, to hold in the 14-inch hip-to-hip scar where a chunk of my stomach skin and tissue was removed to remake my breast. None of it's very pretty, but it is real.

Or, you know how breast cancer is always getting told off for being the "glamorous" cancer, getting all the attention? It doesn't feel glamorous to those of us having it, but I do get the point. Maybe you could get us off the hook for a bit by showing a swollen prostate, a polyp-covered cervix, a liver with lesions or a brain tumour? All of those cancers need attention desperately – bowel cancer is always missed out. Maybe you could take bowel cancer on as a cause?

In the end, it's just really hurtful when you publicly infantilise any cancer, the disease that one in three of us will come into contact with over our lifetimes, making light of our loss, making money from our loss.

Yours very sincerely,

Stella Duffy

Aged 51, not a child, not a "lovely", neither a survivor nor a victim, just another person with cancer

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Kennedy campaign for the Lib Dems earlier this year in Bearsden  

Charles Kennedy: A brilliant man whose talents were badly needed

Baroness Williams
Nick Clegg (R) Liberal Democrat Leader and former leader Charles Kennedy MP, joined the general election campaign trail on April 8, 2010  

Charles Kennedy: The only mainstream political leader who spoke sense

Tim Farron
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific