Retying The Pink Ribbon

It’s here. There’s no denying it. Pink. Like a river swollen beyond it’s banks, it’s flooding the land.

There is much written and discussed within the breast cancer community about the commercialization, sexualization, profiteering, forced positivity, denial of reality, party atmosphere of what breast cancer awareness has become. We’re tired of our disease being used to sell products. We’re tired of scantily-clad, fresh young things being used to highlight a disease that kills and maims. We’re tired of awareness somehow being equated with the idea that all we need is a positive attitude to “beat” this thing. We’re tired.

The cry, “Enough of all this awareness – we’re all aware; we need a cure!” rises up. But rather than turning our backs on the pink tide, I’m hoping we can pile the sandbags and re-direct it.

It’s hard to imagine that anyone isn’t aware of breast cancer, at least in this country with it’s mountains of pink ribbons. But anyone who cares about women’s health – not just American women’s health – needs to still care about awareness. Breast cancer is not just an American or developed country disease. Women around the world still need better awareness of the disease and it’s risk factors, as well as accessible and affordable screening and treatments.

Here at home, vast disparities exist in awareness, screening and treatment. We may feel like we’re drowning in all the pepto bismal pink, but we still have large segments of the population who are not getting the message.

We still have young women who think of this disease as something that belongs only to their mothers and aunties. They are unaware of their own risk factors. They, and their doctors, are still far too willing to adopt a “wait and see” attitude to anything unusual.

We still have poor women who do not have good access to screening, and even worse access to treatment if they are diagnosed.

We still have women in rural communities who are less likely to get regular checkups and timely followups.

We still have African-American and Latina women who tend to be diagnosed at later stages when their cancers are more difficult to treat.

We still have little attention paid to men. Men have breasts; men get breast cancer. Male breast cancer accounts for about 1-2% of all breast cancer diagnoses. But because of lack of awareness, men are usually diagnosed at later stages.

And we still have an appallingly small portion of money that goes to research on metastatic breast cancer. We don’t die from some abnormal cells in our breast tissue. We die when our cancer metastasizes. We die when our cancer spreads to other, vital parts of our bodies. And yet, a surprisingly small amount of money is spent researching MBC – about 5%, according to the organization METAvivor Research & Support.

You see, I’m not really sure it’s true that we’ve had enough awareness. Yes, we need more money for research for better treatments and potential cures. Yes, we need more attention to ways to reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. But, I think we still need awareness.

I do believe we can redirect the flow of the pink river. I – possibly naively – still believe in grassroots action, in the power of collective action. It’s up to us; it’s up to how we spend our money and our time.

We all must be more responsible about how we give of ourselves. Organizations depend on us, on our dollars. If we don’t like how they are spending our money, we need to withhold our money and tell them why. This, of course, means we have to pay attention. We cannot simply give some money to a campaign that makes us feel good. We must give wisely. We are all responsible.

That means that if finding a cure is the most important thing to you, don’t give all your money to the Lance Armstrong Foundation. LAF does such wonderful work that helps the lives of cancer survivors, but it has never been about research and cure. If that’s your priority, give to an organization that is funding research, like the American Cancer Society.

If you are most interested in helping younger women, give your money to groups that focus specifically on young women – like Young Survival Coalition or Bright Pink.

Metastatic breast cancer…. how about looking into METAVivor?

Programs to improve the lives of survivors? Livestrong, or Above & Beyond Cancer are good organizations to start with. Or find a local program to help closer to home. Or donate your time to one of the American Cancer Society’s local programs, like driving patients to appointments.

Unfortunately, I don’t actually know of any organizations dedicated specifically to male breast cancer. I found a couple sites in a quick search, but they seemed mostly to be offering information. Clearly, this is an area where much more awareness is needed! If any of you have good resources for male BC, please let me know. I would love to share.

And if you don’t agree with the priorities of any organization, raise your voice. If you find their ad campaigns offensive, pull you money and tell them why. Then make sure you tell your friends. Same thing if you think they are less than truthful about where the money is actually spent.

It’s your money – pay attention to where it goes. Be a responsible giver. And maybe if we all do that, and raise our voices together, we can alter the course of this raging pink river – retie the ribbon.


This entry was posted in Above and Beyond Cancer, American Cancer Society, breast cancer awareness month, Bright Pink, Livestrong, metastatic breast cancer, METAvivor, personal responsibility, young survival coalition. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Retying The Pink Ribbon

  1. gillian says:

    Great post. Had a tiff on twitter today about an American cosmetic comedy donating a fortune – R400 000 – to Look Good Feel Great in South Africa which helps women feel good about themselves when having chemo.I think that is a lot of fluff. Don’t really feel it is money well spent. Ok, they are a cosmetic/beauty company so they have those resources, but I am supposed to be impressed? Bah!

  2. Personally, I didn’t care that much about makeup & all the look good stuff when I was in chemo. But I do know lots of women who really love the programs; help them feel a little more normal & good about themselves. It is, after all, hard to feel beautiful when you have no eyelashes/brows.
    It might be cool if next time they split their donation – equal amounts to look good & research.

  3. Julie, Thanks for your perspectives on the ribbon. I think you raise some excellent points. We still need awareness, just the right kind.

  4. BlondeAmbition says:

    Julie, I have been incredibly conflicted by the yearly onslaught of pink, especially in the three years since I was diagnosed. Your post highlights an important point that I think has gotten lost. It’s not pink itself that is causing the problem, it’s how it has been misused, commercialized and hijacked. You are absolutely correct about certain groups not getting this valuable message, as well as the disproportionate allocated towards metastatic disease. I think what is needed is balance and for everyone involved to take a collective breath and make some tough choices and perhaps even issue some guidelines that might eliminate some of the abuses. Most importantly, the pink ribbon isn’t all or nothing. Great insight. : )

  5. Thanks, Nancy & BA. The hard thing is to figure out how to influence how it’s used. I think the best thing is for all of us to keep highlighting the issue – and not just amongst ourselves, but publicly. Send emails to the offending companies; write emails; tell our friends/family when they’re making poor support choices. That last one is the hard one – we don’t want to offend our friends, and we understand they are so well-meaning. I still believe that if we work together we can reign in this behemoth, get it back to something more useful.

  6. Jody says:

    I am with you 150%, Julie. Turning the tide! Great post,

  7. Stales says:

    Julie – you’ve put to words what I’ve struggled to say for too long. Great post!

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