Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Pink ribbons go virtual

ssorich@ledger-enquirer.comOctober 6, 2013 

He stares at you seductively, flaunts his hot body — and reminds you to keep breast health a priority.

No, it’s not a cheesy pickup line. In fact, the object of your affection likely wants to keep things platonic.

That’s because he inhabits your smartphone.

Hot guys are a central feature of the Your Man Reminder App, available on iTunes and for Android devices.

The folks behind the app promise “you’ll love the attention our hot guys give you as they remind you to show your breasts some TLC.”

Still not sold on the tool? Don’t forget its potential to send “Man-O-Grams,” a personalized message in which a hot guy reminds one of your friends to stay on top of her breast health.

The app marks the collision of breast cancer and social technology.

An abundance of online breast cancer information isn’t new. But the popularity of smartphones, paired with the growing prominence of the social media world, has given breast cancer awareness efforts a digital presence that extends beyond medical terminology.

Consider smartphone apps that promote breast health. Facebook statuses devoted to awareness efforts. Twitter hashtags promoting digital unity among patients and survivors.

The digital world can potentially ease the uncertainty of a breast cancer diagnosis. Yet for activists, it has added new questions to a push for awareness.

Sources for online support

Your Man Reminder App comes from Rethink Breast Cancer, a group that aims “to continuously pioneer cutting-edge breast cancer education, support and research that speak fearlessly to the unique needs of young (or youngish) women,” according to its website.

You’ll likely find many other breast cancer-related resources available for your smartphone.

In addition to pre-diagnosis apps, other tools provide smartphone-accessible resources for patients.

The National Breast Cancer Foundation Inc. offers Beyond The Shock — a smartphone app featuring “a comprehensive online guide to understanding breast cancer.”

Also, there’s now a social media niche for those affected by breast cancer.

Occupying that niche? The BCSM Community, which fills “the intersection of breast cancer and social media,” according to its website. At the center of its efforts: a Twitter chat anchored by the group’s signature hashtag, “#BCSM.”

“Every Monday night we talk about breast cancer issues for an hour,” the community’s website explains.

Another online forum, MyBCTeam, has a similar appeal. Billed as “the social network for women facing breast cancer,” it provides “a social network to make it easier for women to connect with each other and exchange insights about providers,” according to its website.

There’s also P.INK, a portal on Pinterest that features photos of post-mastectomy tattoos, in addition to other images. “Please use these boards to investigate breast tattoos as a healing option,” the P.INK founders say.

For patients, relying on the forums might literally be therapeutic.

An August 2013 Reuters article cites study results suggesting “women with breast cancer who created a personal website about their health reported feeling less depressed, more positive and having a greater appreciation for life.”

The study was small, and focused on blogs rather than social media sites. But it reinforces the digital world’s possible benefits for breast cancer patients. Arguably, social media has also paved the way for a heightened openness toward discussing certain aspects of breast cancer.

Journalist Xeni Jardin live-tweeted her first mammogram and cancer diagnosis in 2011. Jardin, a founding partner and co-editor of Boing Boing, now tweets about breast cancer beside observations on topics ranging from a government shutdown to “Breaking Bad.”

Social media’s challenges

Discussions of medicine and social media inevitably raise questions about the credibility of information gained through personal technology.

Even the aforementioned BCSM Community cautions, “#BCSM is not a forum for medical advice. We strive to present evidence-based information about breast cancer. The experience of those participating on the chat are not endorsements.”

But on a deeper level, social media’s role in the breast cancer awareness movement has spurred some fears that activism might one day be confined to sitting in front of a computer.

Consider the rise of “slacktivism,” which describes “virtual activism with no real results,” according to an NPR reporter. The term entered conversations a few years ago when women posted their bra colors on Facebook in a supposed attempt to raise awareness for breast cancer.

“Despite apparent good intentions, the lighthearted tone of the message and the resulting ambiguity of the viral campaign rubbed some the wrong way,” according to an AOL News article.

It touches on a major issue surrounding social technology’s approach to breast cancer.

The virtual world might unite and comfort patients. But for the rest of us, it has potential to dangerously simplify complex health conversations. Are breast health lessons from a hot guy better than none at all? Is a pink ribbon profile photo on Facebook better than dismissing awareness efforts entirely?

The answer likely requires analysis deeper than an Internet message board.

Sonya Sorich, reporter, can be reached at ssorich@ledger-enquirer.com or 706-571-8516.

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