Not So Harmless: Breast Cancer Awareness Games

Patient Expert


"On the washing machine"

"I flashed my boobs to get out of a ticket."

What do these have in common?   They are all possible Facebook posts from people participating in breast cancer awareness games.

It all seems harmless enough.   Someone asks a "secret" question.   Women answer it.   People learn about breast cancer.   Of course, the games never contain actual information about breast cancer.   The goal seems to be awareness in an amusing way.

But plenty of women don't find these games harmless or amusing.   Members of an on-line support group I belong to have recently been writing about how they dread October and the expected proliferation of breast cancer awareness games.

Elizabeth, one of our group members says, "While I have no objection to fundraising being made fun, such as the races, walks, or ALS ice buckets (brilliant idea), could people please not trivialize breast cancer or make it seem sexy? It still mutilates, and worse, it still kills."   Many of the group members find posting a bra color or talking about "flashing boobs" to be particularly hurtful reminders that they no longer have breasts.

What I have found most objectionable about these "games" is that they often urge participants to be sure to "keep the secret" so as not to "spoil the fun."  Keeping breast cancer secrets is counterproductive.   Creating a fun cancer game is an oxymoron.  I hate being told what do and usually just choose not to respond to these kinds of messages, even when I support a cause.

Katherine O'Brien recently posted her own breast cancer awareness game in her blog.  She created a bingo card with phrases metastatic breast cancer (MBC) patients hear all too often with the words "This is my MBC Awareness Game" superimposed across the front.     The card carries phrases that people with MBC frequently hear such as "You look great," "Sounds scary," and "Let's not talk about it."  She turned the idea of a game into information.

Who knows what the next breast cancer game will be?   Whatever it is, I will not let peer pressure push me into participating in anything that does not actually provide facts about breast cancer.   When I do see posts like that, I will provide a link to an organization that is actually doing something to support breast cancer patients or fund the research that will end it forever.   I will post in a kind way because I am a nice person, and I know that most people are not aware of the pain these games can cause.   But I will make sure that my response does more than raise awareness.   I want my response to provide a way for people to make a difference.

As one of my support group members says, "Games don't cure cancer. Research will."