I don’t want to spend the entire month of October harping on the fact that the world goes pink in support of breast cancer awareness. After all, I am aware. It’s different this year because last year, I was in a chemo-induced haze and didn’t really have the strength to give a shit. This year, it is more difficult to escape the pinkness. It is only the third day of the month, and the pervasiveness of pink has invaded every corner of my life.
Yesterday, I took a quick trip to my local mall to pick up something at one store. In less then twenty minutes, I was assaulted twice: the first time by a banner heralding the “Paint the Mall Pink” event taking place today, and second by a woman with dyed, bright pink hair. I wanted to drop my bag, rip off my top and scream, “You wanna see what breast cancer actually is? Here, this is what it looks like!”, and stomp around bare chested with my scars on full display (in the middle of the food court for extra-added impact). It’s not pink; it’s not pretty; it’s something that I personally am all too aware of. Those actions probably would have gotten me arrested and carted off to the local psych ward. But the criminality of “pinkwashing” would still proceed unabated.
I need to explain why I am so upset by all the pink. We see so many charities working overtime this month: Susan G. Komen, the American Cancer Society, et. al., appear to be doing good work with all the events staged in the name of awareness. Painting malls pink, running and walking, mobile mammogram facilities, bra decorating booths, eggs with pink ribbons stamped on them, cups of yogurt with pink foil ids… You name it – it’s out there in an effort to raise awareness about breast cancer. The problem is, the awareness ship has sailed. The more pressing issues are finding ways to prevent breast cancer, new treatments for breast cancer, and goddammit, more money for research to help prevent metastatic disease. Even though I am currently cancer free, I live with the fear of it coming back in another area of my body every minute of every day, and even in my dreams. No amount of pink anything is going to take that away.
Many women take comfort in all this pink, but under the warm, fuzzy façade, there isn’t enough pink in the world to eradicate the scourge of breast cancer. Here’s why:
Susan G. Komen is the biggest offender when it comes to misappropriating well-meaning donations made by largely uninformed individuals. The charity specializes in “cause marketing”, where it partners with corporations to get people to buy special breast cancer products stamped with that ubiquitous phrase, “A portion of the proceeds…” You know the rest.
The thing is, only pennies of those “proceeds” go to actually helping women with breast cancer. The majority lands in the coffers of the corporations, and the administrative arm of the charity. That’s business, not charity. The corporate partners get richer off the increased sales of products, and the CEO of Komen gets to take home a six-figure salary, while millions of people are lead to believe they did a good deed.
I know many of you will continue to believe in the pink despite what I’ve written here. That’s fine; I used to believe in it, too. All I’m asking is that you think before you make that donation. Don’t just blindly whip out your wallet in the name of breast cancer. Research the charity or charities before you do. Find a small charity in your community that is working to help women with breast cancer. Volunteer at your local hospital. Volunteer to drive someone to chemotherapy, cook them a meal, play with their kids for an hour, clean their house. Even though those actions aren’t “pink” they have more of an impact because you are taking direct action, not relying on greedy corporate sponsors to do the right thing. Trust me – you’ll feel so much more fulfilled than if you just recite your credit card information to some anonymous person, or swath yourself in a color that is the antithesis of what breast cancer actually is.
Take it from someone who’s been there: breast cancer isn’t pretty. I will feel its effects for the rest of my life. And no amount of pink will ever change that.
P.S. The documentary Pink Ribbons, Inc. is life-changing. Find out where you can view it and go.