It is fashionable to make fun of certain magazines. Few people think Reader’s Digest ups their cool factor. And many women my age would snicker at the prospect of eagerly perusing Family Circle or Good Housekeeping.
And yet there are two things we should remember:
- Women do read womens’ magazines.
- So do an awful lot of other people.
Better Homes and Gardens , Good Housekeeping, Woman’s Day and Family Circle are among the top 10 US magazines with the highest circulation (paid and unpaid):
2005 total paid circulation
1. AARP the Magazine 22,675,655
2. AARP Bulletin 22,075,011
3. Reader’s Digest 10,111,773
4. TV Guide 8,211,581
5. Better Homes & Gardens 7,620,932
6. National Geographic 5,403,934
7. Good Housekeeping 4,634,763
8. Family Circle 4,296,370
9. Ladies’ Home Journal 4,122,460
10. Woman’s Day 4,048,799
Given the massive circulations of these “service books” why do we give them a free pass when it comes to lousy breast cancer and health related articles?
Good Housekeeping claims its content “reaches” 25 million people each month–granted it doesn’t claim that these teeming millions actually READ its print or electronic offerings, just that like the Sword of Damocles, that possibility is ever looming.
So it’s really annoying to read a Breast Cancer Tease article like editor-in-chief Rosemary Ellis’ “Family History” (October 2011).
Noting that October is breast cancer awareness month, Ellis recalls that her mother had “radical mastectomies on both breasts.” Ellis,then 9, recalls being terrified because she thought “benign” was a fancy word for “cancer”…”years later I learned the surgeon [thought my mother’s] breasts were ‘precancerous’ [and] I realized the news had been bad in a different way.
“Therefore, even though I don’t officially have a history of breast cancer in my family, I’ve always been on my guard…the reason for my mother’s mastectomy–having fibrocystic breasts–was proven years ago not to cause cancer…but what if the surgeon was right but just jumped the gun? What if my sisters and I really are predisposed? “
Most journalists follow the Inverted Pyramid structure: You state the really important facts up front. But Ellis favors an approach many of us honed telling ghost stories around the campfire at sleep away camp.
She is quick to tell us she was 9 years old when her mother had a radical double mastectomy. (“On both breasts,”)
Ellis then mentions her terror “because somehow, in the way children get confused by unfamiliar words” she thought benign was synonymous with cancer.
Ma Ellis did NOT die from breast cancer when Ellis was a little girl. Nor was further treatment apparently required.
But the key facts which could be paraphrased as “My mother had fibrocystic breasts then deemed precancerous and endured a radical mastectomy, something which wouldn’t be done today,” are buried deep in the editorial’s third paragraph.
Having revealed (albeit in a really confusing fashion) that her mother didn’t actually have breast cancer, Ellis then bolsters her breast cancer connection with:
“The fact that two of my closest friends lost their mothers to the disease and that several friends have themselves battled it in recent years doesn’t do anything to quell those fears [that my sisters and I might be predisposed to breast cancer].”
(I wonder if the Stretch Armstrong Award Committee for Outstanding Achievement in Tenuous Connections is still accepting nominations?)
Prior to joining Good Housekeeping, Ellis was senior vice president and editorial director of Prevention magazine.
I used to edit Surface Mount Technology magazine, but hey, even I can tell you most cancer just happens–it’s sporadic vs. heriditary. The majority of people who develop breast cancer didn’t inherit an abnormal breast cancer gene and have no family history.
But about five percent of people have a genetic mutation which predisposes them to cancer. Two abnormal genes BRCA1 (BReast CAncer gene one) and BRCA2 (BReast CAncer gene two) are associated with a higher lifetime risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer.
Ellis notes that October issue features the latest in breast cancer research–amazingly it all fit on one page (49). But “latest research” sounds better than “Four Random Breast Cancer Press Releases Culled from the Associate Editor’s Email Box.”
There’s also “a heartening story of three generations in one family who all got [breast cancer] and survived.” Tomomi Arikawa, a 31-year-old news editor for ABC, has Stage 2B cancer–what’s heartwarming about that? (There is much more that could be said about that article, but first things first.)
Ellis concludes with:
Things have changed pretty dramatically in the approach to this killer since I was in third grade. Screening techniques, new medicines, and, for some women, genetic testing have made detection and successful treatment a far greater possibility than even two decades ago. And those friends who developed breast cancer in the past few years? Every one of them beat it. And is thriving.”
Sorry about that.
But THAT’s the message Ellis is giving 25 million people? That things are looking up in the world of breast cancer? What about the 155,000 of us people in the U.S. currently living with metastatic breast cancer? What about the 45,000 US people it will kill this year?
What about my mom who died at 54?
What about my friend Samantha who was barely 40 when she died?
What about my high school classmate Mary who died a few weeks ago?
What about my high school principal’s daughter, Jen, who died at age 37?
What about Olga? Irina? Maria? Elizabeth?
And too many others.
Where are our stories?
This is my message: Metastatic breast cancer claims 45,000 lives annually in the U.S. As one of 155,000 U.S. people living with MBC, I have a vested interest in educating people about this incurable disease and urging them to support research that helps people with advanced breast cancer live longer.
As we approach National Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day, Oct. 13, I will be sharing stories of people who died from MBC as well as those who are living with every day, 24/7, 365 days a year.
I urge you to do the same.