Embarrassing Bodies Cancer Special: Review


Embarrassing Bodies Special

Thursday 18th October, Channel 4, 9pm

Julie no longer sees herself in the mirror. Just an outline of a woman who is no longer attractive. Since her double mastectomy she has been, in her own words, “left with hideous scarring.â€? Without her breasts she no longer feels feminine, suffers intense discomfort and is unable to clearly define her own identity.

She tried prosthetic breasts, she explains, blushing self-consciously, but went swimming once and only realised that she was missing one when another swimmer spotted it floating in the middle of the pool.

No matter how much we value our own hard-won identity and what we consider to be ourselves, it is the normality of actions which we can participate in that determines whether or not that individuality is chosen for us or by us. That might be conceiving a child, retaining a gender specific silhouette or merely leading a life without being constantly within prudent distance of a hospital.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK; it affects approximately 50,000 people per year, more than attend a sold out football match at Anfield, yet it can isolate the sufferer regardless.

This Embarrassing Bodies special deals sensitively with an issue that will affect one in three of us during our lives. Beyond some of the facts and figures, it is unlikely to teach you anything that you aren’t already aware of, but for those people who usually watch the show for some low-engagement schadenfreude, it could well provide a necessary corrective.

To “raise awarenessâ€? is an easily-substitutable goal for other, more difficult objectives. However, since cancer survival is often measured merely by life existing five years after treatment, simply making people more aware of the warning signs could have excellent tangible results. The hypochondria, which I realised I had acquired midway through conducting a mammogram on my (non-existent, male) breasts, perhaps demonstrates its success.

Given how well the patients and the doctors and nurses come across on screen, it seems a shame that the appeal for greater funds was left to minor celebrities with cancer connections – but perhaps I am just Z-list averse.

Nick Arthur