Em-URGE-ing Voices

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Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Philanthropy

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October 8, 2014

This summer my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. After a tiring three month battle, she has luckily made it into remission. Her birthday is next Friday, which coincidentally falls during my fall break. For her birthday party, my mom has encouraged her friends to donate to our local branch of the Susan G. Komen Foundation instead of buying her a gift. My mom thoroughly researched her decision beforehand. She informed me that the organization has been doing some great work providing breast cancer prevention services for low income people and people without healthcare. However,  I couldn’t help but feel uneasy about her choice of organization.

In case you didn’t remember, October is Breast Cancer Awareness month.  This year the internet and the world in real life is looking much less pink. Perhaps, we are just now seeing the aftermath of the huge Susan G. Komen Foundation boycott of 2012.

Two years ago, the Susan G. Komen Foundation revoked all of its funding from Planned Parenthood. This was a controversial and absurd move, considering the fact that Planned Parenthood provides services for holistic women’s care, including breast cancer prevention and screenings. This defunding effort was clearly motivated by anti-choice sentiments within the organization and women’s health advocates voted against this decision with their dollars. The company faced a 22% drop in income. The company has also been cited for encouraging pinkwashing.

Some of you may be thinking, “But, that was two years ago! Can’t we just forgive and forget?”

This is an organization that makes over $360 million dollars every fiscal year, yet chooses to only spend about 20% of its donations on research while pushing 50% of its profits towards education and paying its CEO $684,000 a year. People’s scrutiny is well justified.

I believe that the government should be covering its citizens’ necessary expenses, including everything from health care research to providing a wage to firefighters who currently work under volunteer status. Philanthropic investment should not be covering these services. However, it is imperative that people who choose to donate money to well-meaning organizations research their history and investments beforehand. As an alternative to supporting awareness through the Susan G. Komen Foundation, here is an awesome Jezebel article that offers up some fresh ideas on advocacy and organizations that support Breast Cancer Awareness and are worthy of donation and time.

As my mom heals and continues to fight, I hope to try and understand on a deeper level the many ways people cope with this disease. Cancer is not a death sentence. Facing dying as a life process can help many people find their own power and speak without fear. It is so important that people receive the care and treatment they deserve. If this empowerment and care comes to people through philanthropic foundations, these organizations need to be held accountable for all of their choices and investments.


As you may have already learned as an adult with boobs, these things don’t come with an instructor’s manual. Self exams are a great way to get to know them well, so you can detect any potential problems that might arise. By feeling a tiny lump in her left breast during a regular self-examination, my mom decided she needed to get herself checked out by a medical professional. She found out about her breast cancer and was lucky to hear that she caught it at an early, non-invasive stage. Being familiar with your normal will allow you to pick up any changes that occur. Here are the simple steps for self-examination:


+ Find a place where you feel comfortable. I personally like to do it alone in my bedroom, but this can be done practically anywhere: you can check them while you’re reading this article, in the shower, on vacation, in a taxi, or with a friend (just as long as everyone is consensually comfortable with it)!


  1. Lie down and put your left arm behind your head (you can also do this while standing or sitting.)
  2. Place your right middle three fingers inside the top of your left armpit near your collar-bone.
  3. Using the pads of your fingers, make “dime-sized circles” with varying pressure:
      • light pressure: tells you what’s going on inside the tissue that is located close to the skin
      • medium pressure: can detect lumps in the middle of the breast tissue
      • firm pressure: gives you information on the tissue near your ribs and chest

    Healthy tissue should feel a little bit like the tops of broccoli.

  4. Repeat this motion moving in a vertical line down your boob, all the way to your bra-line and then moving back up to your collarbone. Overlapping a little bit is a good way to make sure you’re covering everything.
  5. Switch breasts! Put your right arm behind your head and examine that side.
  6. Let your boobs chill for a little bit. Get yourself to a mirror.
  7. Put your hands on your hips and check yourself out in front of a mirror and note any changes in shape, size, contour, dimpling, or color variation in your nipples and skin.


  • lumps
  • thickening in skin
  • puckering in skin
  • inflammation
  • nipple discharge

If you do feel something that seems suspicious, don’t jump to the conclusion that it is cancer, but try to schedule an appointment to get your chest checked. If you do not have a gynecologist, Planned Parenthood is able to provide affordable (sometimes even free) health care and examinations.

If you would like a more in-depth explanation, here’s a link to the official American Cancer Society guidelines that I explained above in my own words and a link to another simplified explanation by the amazingly inspirational Rookie Mag. Routine breast exams by doctors are recommended by both The American Congress for Obstetricians and Gynecologists for people who are age 20 or older and for people who are sexually active. Screening on your own for changes and knowing your boobies is an amazing, simple, and free way to catch future problems early.

So, be proactive and FEEL YOUR BOOBIES*!

*Disclaimer: Frank discussions about health tend to be difficult to have and I in no way want this statement, which may be associated with the controversial, pink-washed campaign (THAT DOES NOT EVEN EXPLAIN IN-DEPTH HOW TO SELF-EXAMINE), to trivialize the experiences of people whose struggles with disease, or sexualize womyn’s bodies in this post. I’m using these words in an attempt to normalize self-care.

The cover image is a painting by science-y artist Michele Banks of Supernova explosions that resemble dividing cancer cells.

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