This past week, I traveled to the “sunshine state” to give an invited lecture and workshop at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. The Writing and Rhetoric department was hosting its first annual symposium for undergraduate and graduate students in the program, and this year’s theme was “Engaging Your Worlds.” My task was to talk about the ways in which I have drawn on my identity as a breast cancer survivor and rhetorician to engage discourses of advocacy, science, and inequities in health care access and outcomes.
One point that I found myself coming back to again and again as I worked through my presentation and talked with attendees was the need to remain true to oneself. I encouraged the audience not to feel pressured to adopt positions or identities du jour when their personal strengths, interests, and backgrounds are powerful in themselves.
The example I drew on to support my advice was a familiar one from my writing–the disconnect I’ve experienced for more than two decades when the pink ribbon in all its cheeriness is presented as the default symbol of breast cancer. A pastel loop and the uplifting narrative it represents has never felt sufficient for portraying the range of emotions and struggles that we survivors endure. And I’ve said just that in many public venues.
My host at UCF, Blake Scott, a friend and fellow medical rhetorician, asked attendees to consider the kind of world they hoped to create through engagement. I hope that whatever their responses, they envision a world where they can speak freely and honestly.