Every October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a sea of pink ribbons washes over products. This cute and soothing pink ribbon which represents companies’ promise to donate into cancer research, however, leaves some breast cancer survivors feeling suffering rather than appreciating. “I think that the pink ribbon, as symbol, tends to pretty up what is a pretty crappy disease. But a pink ribbon is easier to look at than the disease itself.” Like Zielinski, many breast cancer survivors feel overwhelmed by the constant pink reminder of a disease that has forever altered their lives.
The diagnosis of breast cancer, the most common type of cancer among American women, elicits greater distress than any other diagnosis, regardless of prognosis. Medical and psychological research suggests that patients’ reporting of somatic symptoms is more closely related to emotional variables (particularly negative affect) than to their actual health as determined by external criteria (Koller et al, 1996 ). A supportive social environment (broad social network, presence of a significant other, availability and reception of social support) has beneficial effects on patient’s health whereas negative emotions, most of which are evoked by stigma, could be very harmful to patients’ health (Eccleston , 2008).
Stigma means that the individual possesses an undesired anomaly and is therefore disqualified from full social acceptance. People may think breast cancer is less stigmatized than mental diseases or other physical diseases such as HIV because the most significant risk factors for breast cancer (such as genetics and age) can’t be altered by women, which is why it’s often regarded as a “blameless” disease. However, besides negative responses (anxiety, disgust, sadness, anger, or helplessness), the effects of stigma may also contain positive emotions such as empathy or overconcern. Both emotional responses, however, reflect the attitude that the stigmatized person is unfavorably different from “normal” individuals (Koller et al, 1996).Imagine a breast cancer woman who is constantly reminded by this pink ribbon and thus is forced to be aware of the disease so often. Is it a charity or a torture?