It’s that time of year again, folks: the time when my Facebook inbox starts to fill up with messages like this:

Hi beautiful, so here it is the time of year again when we try to raise awareness of breast cancer through a game. Its very easy and I was hoping you would participate.

Last year we had to write the color of our bra’s on our status. Men wondered for days what was going on with random colors on status’s. This year we make reference to our love life status as a flavor.

Do not answer to this message just post corresponding word on your status and send this message privately to all the girls on your friends list.

Blueberry is single

Pineapple is its complicated

Raspberry is I don’t want to commit

Apple is engaged

Cherry is in a relationship

Banana is married

Avocado is I’m the better half

Strawberry is can’t find Mr right

Lemon is I want to be single

Raisin is I want to get married to my partner

Last time the bra game was mentioned on T.V. let’s see if we can get there with this one.

Please resend this to all your girl friends then update your status with your answer ONLY!

DONT TELL ANY GUYS!

[Apostrophe abuse and typos courtesy of the original author, whoever s/he may be…]

I’ve received three separate copies of this message in the last week. Now, before I go any further here, I just want to stress that I’m not writing about this in order to call-out any of the well-meaning people who’ve sent me it: or anyone else who’s circulated it, thinking they were doing something good. No, I’m writing it because, as some of you know, cancer – of any kind – is a subject very close to my heart.

My mother-in-law is currently living with it.

My grandfather died from it.

I spent part of yesterday morning with a friend who managed to beat it, but who now has to live with the constant terror that it might come back – to say nothing of all of the follow-up surgeries and various complications she has to deal with on a daily basis.

I don’t think I know anyone – not a single person – whose family hasn’t been touched by this horrific disease… so when I start getting messages telling me that, actually, there’s something I can do to help raise awareness, and it simply involves posting the word “banana” as my Facebook status, and then smugly refusing to tell any OMGMEN why I did it, then naturally my curiosity is piqued. But I have SO MANY QUESTIONS. Like:

How does posting a random fruit as a Facebook status help raise awareness of breast cancer?

Answer? It doesn’t. It just doesn’t. In fact, it doesn’t raise awareness of anything AT ALL, other than the fact that some women enjoy being part of “secret” Facebook memes.

If you want to raise awareness of breast cancer, you have to actually mention breast cancer – and tell people WHY you’re mentioning it, and what you’d like them to do about it. Facts would be good, here. Links to organisations which are actually helping people live with cancer, or attempting to help find a cure for it, would be handy, too. I mean, don’t you think?

Memes like this one, on the other hand, go out of their way NOT to mention cancer. They don’t provide ANY information about it, and they actively encourage the person “raising awareness” to withhold any information they might have on it to almost 50% of the population – i .e. the big bad men, who aren’t allowed in on the “joke”. (Because cancer is SUCH a joke, amiright?)

Which brings me to my next point:

Even if posting a fruit as your status DID somehow raise awareness of breast cancer, how does excluding men from this information help with that?

Again: it doesn’t. Not at all. Because, here’s the thing: men get breast cancer, too. Yes, it primarily affects women, but it doesn’t SOLELY affect women, and, even if it did, keeping the men who are the partners, friends and family members of the women who might one day get breast cancer in the dark about it, isn’t remotely helpful. In fact, reducing what should be a really important discussion to a, “Tee hee, all girls together, not telling those stupid MEN what we’re talking about!” Facebook meme is… let’s just go with the word “puzzling”, lest I cause even more offence than I already have, here.

To be honest, I’m not a fan of Facebook memes in general, but, in this case, it genuinely confuses me why so many women seem to think that excluding men from their important “awareness raising” activities is a good idea? (This is a genuine question, by the way: if you take part in these memes, please tell me what good you think it’s doing, I would really like to know!) In fact, the more I read the chain message, in all its typo-ridden glory, the more it starts to feel like the MAIN aim is “getting mentioned on TV” – not because you’ve helped raise awareness of cancer, but because you managed to get a whole lot of women to buy into a Facebook meme.

(It’s worth mentioning here that none of the news articles I’ve seen about this fad have provided any factual information that could actually help raise awareness of breast cancer itself: they’ve all just focused on the LOL-worthy idea that, OMG, women are posting about the colour of their bras – or whatever that year’s meme is based on –  on the internets!” I’m not saying there haven’t been any, or that there’s no possibility of some ACTUAL awareness being raised from this – I’m just questioning how effective it really is, and whether there might not be a better way to go about it…)

And there’s the problem: I have no evidence to back this up, so please take this post purely as the personal opinion it is, but my main concern with things like this is that they manage to convince people they’ve done something to help, when, actually, they’ve done nothing at all. I really hope no one has sent this message to my mother-in-law, for instance, because I’m pretty sure that if I asked her what she felt would be most helpful to her right now, as she battles a terminal cancer diagnosis, she would NOT say, “If you could possibly just write the name of a fruit as your Facebook status, that would be golden.”

So: if you’d like to help raise awareness of breast cancer – or any other form of cancer – here are some organisations that are actually doing that, and who’ll be able to provide tons of information on the various ways you can get involved:

Cancer Research UK

Breast Cancer Care

National Breast Cancer Foundation

Marie Curie

Macmillan Cancer Support

If, on the other hand, you simply want to broadcast your relationship status to a small number of your Facebook friends who probably know it anyway, and you want to use fruit to do it, go for it: just please don’t expect me to join you…

25 Comments
  1. Yes to the whole of this. If people want to brag about being engaged or single and ready to mingle, that’s fine, but please don’t believe you helped raise awareness of breast cancer. You helped Facebook raise advertising money, period.

  2. Thank God it’s not just me.

    Quite soon after my mother died someone in my family posted one of those status along the lines of
    ‘Let’s see who my REAL friends are. If you hate cancer and want to see it cured copy and paste this status. I’m sure I know which of my friends REALLY care’

    Not my finest hour but I posted a comment along the lines of ‘Did you care enough to make a donation to the charity we selected in lieu of flowers at the funeral?’ Along with an explanation of why all the shares in the world wasn’t going to change anything and, by the way, do you really have the sort of nutter that’s like cancer as friends?

    Like I said. Not my finest hour.

    1. Argh, I’m so sorry you had to deal with that 🙁 And honestly, you may not think it was your finest hour, but I actually think we SHOULD be questioning this kind of thing: I really dislike the idea that, just because someone “means well” we should allow them to do something that could be hurtful, or just plain silly – so, the more people who question these memes, the better, I reckon!

  3. This infuriates me every year. I usually post a link on my Facebook about how to check your breasts. I’m going to point them to this article because you put it much more eloquently than me! The bit about don’t tell the men really gets me!

  4. Awesome post, Amber! I am in full agreement. And I also don’t understand why excluding men, or man-bashing is so popular. 😪

  5. Thank you. Most people I know – probably ALL the people I know – are aware of breast cancer. Some of them have lived with it. Some of them contribute to organizations that do something about it. We’re good, thanks. No fruit salad necessary.

  6. Really appreciate this post. And excellent point about this silliness of excluding men as they get breast cancer too! While stunts/gimmicks/etc do grab some attention, it doesn’t seem like they ever sheds light on the actual disease, symptom, real awareness. Thanks for posting this!

  7. Having watched my wonderfully bonkers aunt have an undignified and painful end to her battle with cancer last year, getting messages from people wanting to make it fun makes me want to punch…the unfriend button. It’s attention-seeking, hiding as slacktivism. I’d rather people shared an infographic of how to check themselves, but I guess that’s not as fun and self-serving is it?

    Also, as a side note, don’t these memes make us look a bit like silly little girls, rather than strong women?

    *climbs down from soapbox*

  8. Totally take your point about breast cancer not just affecting women. I am in a choir where one of my fellow singers had breast cancer, at the same time as his wife did. They are both now cancer free, thankfully. I also had a mature (male) student in my evening class who had breast cancer, at the same time as his daughter. He survived, his daughter didn’t. It is really important that this is highlighted. And yes, totally agree about not using fruit on Facebook in the name of breast cancer – which doesn’t highlight anything, except for your relationship status. Good post, Amber.

  9. Oh man I was torn to shreds for questioning the whole bra thing on Facebook a few years back when it started. I was treated as if asking how it helped anything, made me against women. One of my “friends” said it caused awareness because it got people talking and how could I not believe in that? I pointed out exactly what you said – “so it gets people talking about their bra colour in some hush hush high school girl private club way? How does that help anyone with breast cancer?”

    I mean give me a break! I don’t know anyone who doesn’t know breast cancer (or any cancer for that matter) exists. Giving people the false sense that writing a fruit as their Facebook status actually does anything is ridiculous. Give back to organizations that fund cancer research, that create treatment, that support patients and fund families who can’t afford treatment. If you wanna post something on Facebook that helps, post a link to an organization that doesn’t spend money on awareness but actually fighting the disease, or helps people detect it early and then ask people (men and women!) to circulate that.

    There’s a lot of good we can do to fight cancer, but if you think fruit status is doing anything other than playing a silly game on Facebook…

    1. I was actually quite worried about posting this for that exact reason, but you’re so right – the only discussion I’ve seen it generate has been about bra colours!

  10. People are certainly “aware” of cancer. It doesn’t need more awareness. It needs dollars and research and a cure. Thanks for posting this, and not a banana or whatever.

  11. Oh Amber, yet another reason to convince me that I will never, never ever join Facebook !! A number of years ago a very good friend of mine was devastated by things an evil girl put on Facebook about her son, all totally untrue and there is absolutely nothing you can do about such appalling behaviour.

  12. This time last year I was undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. A well meaning but thoughtless and insensitive acquaintance sent me that year’s meme. I think I’m off her Christmas card list for good after I exploded in several different directions and pointed out the many ways in which she could raise awareness of and support cancer of all kinds.

    I think that was a long winded way of saying Amen to this blog post!

  13. Memes shmemes! I totally agree – how can it help? And if it does then please tell me how as well (and I ask in a non-accusatory way simply a curious one).

    I do get sick of all these things going round FB. I even disabled posting on my personal page (only to get a ticking off because my friend wanted to announce my birthday to the world!).

    Seriously though, I do have a good friend who has survived breast cancer and she was brave enough to write about it on her FB page so she could let all her friends know quickly (though she wouldn’t have been less brave if she hadn’t). It’s much better that we speak about and share important information. I have no experience of that hateful disease thank goodness, but I’d certainly consider friends and acquaintances who might before reducing it to my own personalised fruit of the forest.

  14. Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I so rarely agree 100% with what anyone says, but that is absolutely true.

    And I don’t know that it will help, but I’m loving on and praying for you and your family from afar. I’ve lost all but one grandparent to cancer, and both of my parents have had multiple forms of cancer (survived and are cancer free). It’s a such a hard battle. You are never far from my thoughts.

  15. Completely agree with you on this one.

    I’ve got a picture of the egg box of lemons which demonstrates what you are looking for when examining your breasts saved on my phone, and every time something like this pops up I’ll post along the lines of “everyone knows my relationship status, so I’m not going to be posting a random fruit emoji as my status – I agree Breast cancer awareness is a good thing, but believe images like this are far more useful”

  16. I was thinking about this recently as I’ve received the first of these round robin emails yesterday. I do receive quite a few on various mattes – whether you are a ‘true friend’ or other similar playground-type circulars.

    I admit that usually I do just ignore them and move along. I don’t share them these days but have in the past, probably due to not wanting to be left out.

    I am also fully aware that breast cancer affects men as well as women, and that cancer doesn’t just affect the person with it, but affects their loved ones as well. Warm wishes to you and your family, Amber.

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