The Globalization of the Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign in Austria, 2012-2014 Open Access

Bouskill, Kathryn (2015)

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Breast cancer remains a threat to women's lives and wellbeing. Globally, experiences and outcomes of breast cancer are shaped by structural and sociocultural contexts. The globalization of the American-style breast cancer awareness campaign has added new dimensions to the breast cancer illness experience and to notions of breast cancer risk and prevention. This ethnography explores the globalization of the breast cancer awareness campaign in Austria from 2012-2014. In spite of the worthy aims of these campaigns, they paradoxically distract attention away from critical shortcomings in breast cancer prevention and screening, and do little to address long-term issues related to breast cancer. Austria presents an interesting comparative context for exploring this global flow, not only for the cultural tradition of keeping cancer private, but also for the need to question the motives behind bringing the campaign into a wealthy welfare state. Although new in Austria, these campaigns have long been part of the American cultural landscape. American women with breast cancer have a complicated relationship with the campaign. While it created the identity of the breast cancer 'survivor' and de-stigmatized the disease, women resist the unrelenting cheerfulness and inadequate depictions of the challenges of a life-threatening illness. The campaign is also criticized for its corporatization and lack of attention to disparities. Surveys and interviews of 137 Austrian women without breast cancer reveal misconceptions regarding breast cancer risk and mammograms, in part due to the misuse of epidemiological data by the breast cancer awareness campaign. Narrative interviews with 55 women undergoing treatment for breast cancer revealed psychosocial issues that are not addressed by the campaign. For example, 57% (n=31) believe that emotional distress stemming from problems in fulfilling expected gender roles caused their cancer. The sexualized imagery of the campaign and the inability for women with breast cancer to attend key campaign events creates a sense of exclusivity that fails to establish solidarity. This case study shows the spread of feminization, sexualization, corporatization, and misuse of epidemiological data within breast cancer awareness campaigns. This process masks key differences between societies through its creation of a homogenous breast cancer 'survivor.'

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements. 4

Preface. 6

Chapter One: Introduction. 19

Chapter Two: Cancer as a Fight, Cancer as Fate: Comparing Cultural Responses to Cancer. 61

Chapter Three: An Indiscriminate Disease, An Exclusive Campaign. 93

Chapter Four: The Illusion of Risk and Control in the Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign. 148

Chapter Five: "Cancer is the body crying out": Situating Breast Cancer within Women's Lives. 187

Chapter Six: An Epidemiological View of the Long-Term Breast Cancer Illness Experience. 230

Chapter Seven: Conclusions. 254

Appendix. 281

Bibliography. 315

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