Breast Cancer Is Not Pink

Reluctantly, I am writing a version of the October pink post. I didn’t want to. I’m tired of talking about the stupid parade of pink crap that businesses pitch, using breast cancer as a way to generate business. I’m tired of PR firms pimping their product or person that has little or no value to cancer survivors (I’m sure the beautiful swimsuit model, whose heart is really in helping others and wants to focus on breast cancer awareness – you can see she has a really big heart because her breasts are bulging out of her bikini top, is really very nice, but I fail to see what she has to do with BC). I’m tired of stupid days that seem like a really bad joke – like “no bra day” – supposedly to raise awareness. They do nothing to raise awareness. And doesn’t it occur to someone that celebrating beautiful, sexy, fun tits might be just a bit insulting and hurtful to women whose bodies are forever maimed as their breasts are cut up or cut off?!?

But a few things have come together in recent days to get my head out of the sand and writing a pink post. I hijacked a friend’s FB post last night in reaction to some of the responses to her post about the funding priorities of Komen (specifically, that only 20% of their donations go to research. yes, it’s true. most of it goes to their programs, not to finding a cure. that information comes from their publicly available financial statements). I posted a lot of links to websites and blogs for information. And got all wound up in the process. That, and several recent conversations got me here, writing. Yes, we all have a whole lot of awareness of BC (although we could still use more in some communities in this country and abroad – just because middle class white women know a lot about it, doesn’t mean everyone does). But I am still surprised at what people don’t know, and at the misguided ideas that persist.

Breast cancer is not a pink ribbon. It’s a disease. It’s a really sucky disease. There is no cure. Let me repeat that: there is no cure. This is not the “good” kind of cancer. Early detection does not mean that it can be cured. We are all forever at risk of recurrence. Over time, the risk does go down, but it never disappears. While there are some cancers that doctors consider “cured” if it hasn’t returned in 5 years, breast cancer is not one of those. Breast cancer can and does return – the original cancer – years later. Twelve years, 15, 27 years later.

Cancer in the breast – only in breast tissue – does not kill anyone. Breast cancer kills people when it spreads to other parts of the body, when it metastasizes. Approximately 30% of people diagnosed with breast cancer will become metastatic at some point. Even early stage cancer – stage 1 or stage 0. Thirty percent. (It’s a little hard to know exact numbers because patients are tracked by what stage they were at diagnosis)

Yet, despite that large percent of the pie, metastatic breast cancer accounts for only around 2% of research dollars – most of it goes to early detection and prevention. Certainly prevention and detection are great ideas deserving of research, but surely more than 2% ought to be spent on the people who are dying of the disease.

Keep that figure in mind when you see the sea of pink ribbons and read stories about the brave survivors who have “beaten” cancer. Yes, we all want to be strong. We all want to feel like we can overcome this. We all want to feel safe. But reality is just not that simple.

We can all do a lot to be strong and healthy. But reality is that many of us – and we know very little about who it will be – will end up with metastatic disease. And we will die. That is the reality that we each live with, each of us in this breast cancer community. Pink ribbons and happy faces don’t change that.

Today is also Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day. To learn more about this aspect of BC, please visit They have a ton of information and resources, and a new video which is really excellent.

This might be a little dark for my usual posts. Sorry. Maybe it’s just that after 13 years, I’m tired of losing friends and acquaintances to breast cancer. I’m tired of hearing about how this is the “good” kind of cancer – I mean, if you have to get cancer…. I’m tired of hearing how it’s all behind me. I’m tired of welcoming more friends into this community. And I’m really tired of saying goodbye.



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3 Responses to Breast Cancer Is Not Pink

  1. Gillian says:

    I could not agree with you more. Here in South Africa some cities/suburbs have taken to binding large pink ribbon/swatches of fabric around trees on the pavements. I saw it in Cape Town last week and in Joburg this week. I know that those who have organized this mean well, but really, it’s a bloody waste of time. I think it is meant to raise awareness and I did have to ask what the hell this was about but it makes me want to laugh a bitter laugh; what difference will it make?

    • admin says:

      Yesterday when I was at the Met Museum, one of the big BC walks was taking place in Central Park – like a huge pink snake winding through the park. I applaud – I love – that so many people want to do something useful! There really are so many well-meaning, concerned people. It’s just that too much of the activity is mis-directed. It doesn’t really DO anything. I’m always encouraging people to get involved and try to make the world better, but to make sure it’s actually doing something worthwhile. It can just be so frustrating.

  2. Beth Gainer says:

    Julie, phenomenal post. “Breast cancer is not a pink ribbon. It’s a disease.” This is a sobering post, but it cannot be emphasized enough. The mythology of breast cancer is that it is the “good” cancer. But the reality is that there are no good cancers, no cure, and not enough funding for research.

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