Not to sound like I'm ripping off Jezebel's article from last year on a similar subject, but we really need to stop the focus on the "breast" part of breast cancer awareness. In this sexualized American culture, more importance is put on the actual breast tissue than the woman with the disease. Let's talk breasts for a minute. What are they? According to cancer.org:
Breast tissue is non-essential. Women can easily live without breasts. However, so much emphasis is placed on the breasts being a large part of a woman's feminine identity that women often feel that a mastectomy makes them less feminine, or takes away their womanhood somehow. In '"Does That Make Me a Woman?" Breast Cancer, Mastectomy, and Breast Reconstruction Decisions among Sexual Minority Women,' Rubin and Tanenbaum write:The breasts make milk for breastfeeding. It has 2 main types of tissues: glandular tissues and supporting (stromal) tissues.The glandular part of the breast includes the lobules and ducts (shown in the picture below). In women who are breastfeeding, the cells of the lobules make milk. The milk then moves through the ducts–—tiny tubes that carry milk to the nipple. Each breast has several ducts that lead out to the nipple.The support tissue of the breast includes fatty tissue and fibrous connective tissue that give the breast its size and shape. (source)
Lorde’s (1997) account of her own experience of breastInstead of focusing on the breasts as something that must be saved, let's look at the women themselves, and create a supportive and safe network for them where they don't have to feel like they are less of a woman for having a mastectomy done, or that they are reduced to no more than fatty tissue on their chests. Need to have a mastectomy? Go for it. Genetically cursed and want to do one preemptively? Excellent. It's your choice to have them removed, and also a choice whether you want them reconstructed. Either way, you're still a woman. In the end, it is the person who matters, not a fleshy part of the body.
cancer was among the first to illuminate the sexism, racism,
and heterosexism ingrained in both the clinical and social
context of breast cancer. She was particularly concerned with
the assumption, expressed by medical professionals and
breast cancer support organizations alike, that some form of
replacement breast—whether through prosthesis or
reconstruction—is an essential element of cancer survivorship.
For further reading, here is an excellent article about survivor identity. And here's a wonderful article about post-mastectomy tattooing.