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October: Breast Cancer Awareness Month

"We have to stop being nice girls and start fighting as if our lives depend on it, because they do."
 – Jackie Winnow

A generation ago, the words "breast cancer" were rarely uttered above a whisper. Today, it is no longer a secret or shameful diagnosis. Pink ribbons everywhere attest to the public attention focused on this disease that strikes 1 in 8 women in the United States.

We have many Jewish women to thank for this transformation. First among them is Rosejw Kushner (1929-1990), a pioneer in breast cancer activism. When she found a lump in her breast, Kushner used her journalism skills to help her deal with her illness and to educate herself about breast cancer. Realizing that not all women had access to the resources she did, she wrote articles about breast cancer and the controversies surrounding its treatment. Kushner compiled her research in Breast Cancer: A Personal History and Investigative Report (1975). She also founded a non-profit referral and information service, the Breast Cancer Advisory Center, and was called to testify before Congress on numerous health and cancer topics. Even after a recurrence of her cancer in 1982, Kushner continued to devote herself to breast cancer activism, speaking out against aggressive chemotherapy, serving on President Carter's National Cancer Advisory Board, and helping to found the National Alliance of Breast Cancer Organizations.

Like Rose Kushner, Jackie Winnow (1947 – 1991) faced her breast cancer diagnosis by putting her professional skills to work. A community organizer and lifelong activist on GLBT, health, and human rights issues, Winnow quickly realized that women with cancer had few resources for information, support, and advocacy. In 1986, she founded the Women's Cancer Resource Center in Oakland, California – the first center of its kind in the U.S.

In her professional life, Judi Hirshfield-Bartek is an oncology nurse specializing in breast care. After hours, she is a tireless and effective breast cancer activist, lobbying and advocating for issues including greater funding for breast cancer research and protection against genetic discrimination for carriers of breast cancer genetic mutations. She is a founding member of the Jewish Women's Coalition on Breast Cancer.

Like many women, the writer Deena Metzger describes her breast cancer experience as transformative. In powerful prose, she has explored her experience of healing and of becoming a healer. She also helped demystify and celebrate the post-mastectomy body, posing naked and joyful for the photograph that has come to be known as the "Warrior."

We still have far to go in the fight against breast cancer. But we are grateful to the women who have led the way in speaking out about their disease, creating support networks for women with breast cancer and their families, educating others, and advocating for better treatment, rights, and research. As Deena Metzger writes, "Illness offers us the ability to heal our bodies, our lives, and the world as well."

See also Judith Rosenbaum's blog post on Rose Kushner. 

 

We welcome your comments, stories, and links. Please share them below.

"Tree Poster," by Hella Hamid featuring Deena Metzger
Full image

This poster, know as Tree Poster or the Warrior Poster, features Deena Metzger as the Warrior. Metzger poses exuberantly, revealing her tree branch tattoo. The poster is a collaboration by Metzger, photographer Hella Hammid, and graphic designer Sheila de Bretteville.


The poster contains the following text:
"I am no longer afraid of mirrors where I see the sign of the Amazon, the one who shoots arrows. There was a fine line across my chest where a knife entered, but now a branch winds about the scar and travels from arm to heart. Green leaves cover the branch, grapes hang there and a bird appears. What grows in me now is vital and does not cause me harm. I think the bird is singing. I have relinquished some of the scars. I have designed my chest with care given to an illuminated manuscript. I am no longer ashamed to make love. Love is a battle I can win. I have a body of a warrior who does not kill or wound. On the book of my body, I have permanently inscribed a tree."


Photograph and copy by Hella Hamid.
Poster distributed by Donnelly/Colt.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "October: Breast Cancer Awareness Month." (Viewed on August 27, 2016) <http://jwa.org/discover/throughtheyear/october/breastcancer>.

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