Breast Cancer: Of Secrecy, Shame & Sexuality

Tracey Derrick - breast cancer self-portrait: 'Firing Squad' (mastectomy)


Sedgwick discusses the ways in which breast cancer is not only constructed as a secret, but how this construction defines woman as such.

Sexual and gender identities are reproduced through rituals surrounding breast cancer in which femininity is literally and symbolically reconstructed. She says “with the proper toning exercise, make-up, wigs and a well-fitting prosthesis, we could feel just as feminine as we ever had and no-one need know that anything had happened” (1994: 262).

I find that this silence only affirms woman’s confusion and this contradiction in the context of sexuality confirms the force of woman’s fear of being ‘different’. Encouragement to hide the consequences of breast cancer illustrates the concept of private and public, what is secret and what is revealed and what is shameful.” ~ Tracey Derrick

What did the ‘Firing Squad’ portrait of Tracey do to your heart?

What emotions did it trigger for you?



6 thoughts on “Breast Cancer: Of Secrecy, Shame & Sexuality

  1. What is NEVER spoken about is the sexual dysfunction as side effect of treatment! How chemo impacts on vaginal health, oestrogen-blockers literally “drying” women out and taking away their libido etc etc etc

    1. Now THIS is the kind of response we REALLY appreciate! Thank you, @clamprechts! Would you like us to shine a light on this topic write a series of posts about this issue? Even better, how would you feel about writing a guest blog post for us?

      1. Hi there.
        I am an oncology massage, lymphoedema and yoga therapist and have also had breast cancer (2010 & 2012). I teach yoga classes for people living with cancer/history of cancer. Recently returned to SA from living in Australia for more than a decade – where I did most of my training. Although I had oestrogen + early B/C I refused to take any aromatase inhibitors (because of side effects seen in my clients) – rather opting for removing all sources of oestrogen-mimicking substances from my environment and diet, exercising, managing stress and keeping a strict eye on liver function and health (as oestrogen is metabolised by the liver). I do take some supplements as well – prescribed by my GP in Australia. I am in good health now. For more information on oncology massage, see – the international Society for Oncology Massage.

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