Okay, okay. I'm about to rant about something I've ranted about before, so bear with me, folks. It's just, like all good action sequels, THIS TIME IT'S PERSONAL.
Every now and then, a "game" pops up on Facebook. The purpose of this "game," is to confuse people by posting a status that is not true. If someone likes or comments on that status, then HOORAY, you win at life (or something) and you get to send them a message explaining that the status was fake and now they have to post a fake status to see how many people they can drag into the "game." And guess what, guys? It's all to raise awareness of breast cancer (or another form of cancer, depending on the month...)! So, you're never allowed to criticise this "game," despite the fact that it's about as entertaining and useful as filing your nails on a cheese grater and ending up shaving your fingers off.
Last night, a friend posted that she was pregnant. Being a semi-decent sort of human, I commented to congratulate her. Within minutes, the dreaded message had arrived in my inbox:
Lol, you shouldn't have commented/ or liked my last status Hahaha! Now you have to pick from one of the below and post it as your status. This is the 2016 Breast Cancer Awareness game. Don't be a spoil sport. Pick your poison from one of these and post it as your status. 1. Just found a squirrel in my car! 2. Just used my kids to get out of a speeding ticket. 3. How do you get rid of foot fungus? 4. All of my bras are missing! 5. I think I just accepted a marriage proposal online?! 6. I've decided to stop wearing underwear. 7. It's confirmed I'm going to be a mommy/daddy. 8. Just won a chance audition on America's got talent! 9. I've been accepted on master chef. 10. I'm getting a pet monkey! Post with no explanations. Sorry, I fell for it too. Looking forward to your post. Ahhh don't ruin it. (Don't let the secret out). And remember it's all for the 2016 Breast Cancer Awareness month.
I don't blame the friend in question. It's not her fault that this ridiculousness has taken off to such a level that it pervades Facebook on an irritatingly regular basis. She wasn't acting out of malice. She believed that she was just playing a "game" to "raise awareness." So, the following rant is not directed at my friend.
But I hate this "game." In fact, I have so many issues with it, I don't know where to begin...
Okay, actually, I do. I'll begin with a question: How is this raising awareness of breast cancer? How is this helping cancer research in any way, whatsoever (especially if the damn point is that you have to keep it secret?!)? I have never, in all my many years of existence, heard a scientist say: "Oh Heavens, no, we don't need money with which to research this disease. What we really need more of, are cryptic Facebook statuses."
Maybe I'm asking the wrong people...
But seriously, why? Why is this a "thing?"
I'm aware of breast cancer. And the funny thing is, I'm aware of it without having to post that I've just been accepted on bloody MasterChef (or that my bra is purple, or that I "like it in the hallway" or any other status that's part of some "game"). Want to know why? Because I've known people who've had the disease. I've known people who've survived it and I've known people - some tragically young - who've died from it. The funny thing about about watching someone go through the pain and emotional distress of dealing with cancer in any form, is that you become pretty bloody aware that the disease exists.
The most frustrating thing is that social media genuinely is ideal for awareness-raising. Most of us spend half our lives glued to a computer screen or a phone. Sites like Facebook are therefore perfect for posting illustrations as to how to check your breasts for lumps, describe symptoms of various cancers that perhaps do need awareness-raising (we all know that a lump can be a sign of breast cancer, for example, but are we all aware of the other possible symptoms?), or to share details of how to donate to Cancer Research (or other cancer charities). It's an ideal place to create an "event" to actually raise awareness and much-needed financial support - be it through a coffee morning or cake sale (like the ones being undertaken for MacMillan Cancer Support, currently), or a sponsored run etc.
And yet, we choose to "raise awareness" by posting "orange" as our status and then sending nudge-wink messages saying "ooh, quick, post the colour of your knickers, but don't tell any men the reason why - it's to raise awareness of cancer!" Um... Is it? How? And why are we excluding men from the narrative? Do they not get cancer? Do they not have mothers, sisters, partners and friends whose potentially cancerous symptoms they should be aware of? And just how are we raising awareness in the first place, when all we're doing is posting something cryptic or outright false?
Seriously, I'm writing all this stuff when what I actually want to ask is:
Which brings me on to the part where this became personal.
The friend I mentioned earlier has unfriended me from Facebook. Now, again, this rant is not about her and I am in no way blaming or attacking her. But I do want to talk about the reason for this unfriending.
If you've been paying attention, you'll have noticed that this whole thing started off with a fake pregnancy announcement. Yes, one of the false statements you can put up on your Facebook page as part of this hilarious "game," that really does make us all so much more aware of cancer (I feel like my sarcasm is showing a tad), is that you're pregnant.
I'm 34. I always expected to be married with kids by now. The fact that that hasn't happened is unbearably upsetting at times and I have written about the ache of childlessness on my blog, before. I also have friends who cannot have children for various reasons and I know the pain they suffer as a result, too. For those reasons, I would never, ever write that I was pregnant on social media, only to reveal that it was a "joke."
Now, the friend in question posted earlier today that she was angry with people who'd apparently contacted her to tell her that a fake pregnancy announcement might be deemed insensitive to those who are trying and failing to get pregnant, those who can't get pregnant, or those who worry they'll never get the chance. Said friend was furious that people didn't get the "joke" and highlighted that the status was "to raise awareness of breast cancer."
BUT WE ARE ALREADY AWARE.
Only a few weeks ago, I received news of the death of an old friend, from breast cancer. We hadn't spoken in years, but the news shocked and upset me more than anything I'd heard in a long while. No amount of statuses saying "it's confirmed, I'm going to be a mummy" would have saved that woman, who was far, far too young to die. No amount of "I like it on the kitchen table" would have created a greater amount of awareness of the dreadful disease that killed her. Cryptically writing "red" as a Facebook status and messaging women, imploring that they "don't tell any men" would not have raised the cash needed to increase research into finding the elusive cure for cancer.
So, I say again:
Of course, when my friend posted her annoyance at being moaned at as a result of her "I'm pregnant - actually no I'm not" status update(s), several people piped up to groan about how others needed to lighten up and stop being so sensitive.
The trouble is, when it comes to realising how our words can impact on others, being less sensitive is the very last thing we should be doing.
Then came the "oh my GOD, it's just a GAME!" responses.
In which case, you know what? Keep it at that. Don't make out that it has anything to do with raising awareness of cancer. Because hiding behind the excuse of "but pretending I was pregnant and getting dozens of congratulatory messages from friends and family was all to raise awareness of this dreadful disease" just feels really, really grim. And I would say that whoever made the "joke" or played the "game" - friend or not. I've said it to the friend in question (and got myself removed from her friends list as a result) and I'm saying it here, in public:
Cancer isn't a game. If you genuinely want to raise awareness, Google the symptoms of cancer and share them on your Facebook wall. Write about it, scream about it from the rooftops if you so choose. If you want to support Cancer Research, hold a fundraising event, or take part in one of the many sponsored events that take place every year.
The message you automatically receive if you "like" or comment on a status posted by someone playing one of these "games" tells you that you're a "spoilsport" if you don't join in. Well, maybe I am. But until you can prove to me that sharing these statuses is seriously doing anything to really raise awareness of cancer, or to help those suffering with the disease, it's a label I'm going to continue to wear.