After 30 years of awareness campaigns and billions spent on pink-ribboned merchandise, women continue to face breast cancer. Some activists are saying, “Enough with the pink already!”
Called “pink nausea” or “pinkwashing,” the backlash comes from the heart as survivors and supporters urge us all to Think Before You Pink, which is the campaign started in 2002 by Breast Cancer Action, an education and advocacy organization that views breast cancer as a public health emergency rather than an individual crisis.
“We need to move beyond awareness and into action,” said Breast Cancer Action executive director Karuna Jaggar. “Thirty, 40, 50 years ago, breast cancer was in the shadows, but we no longer have an awareness problem. You’d be hard-pressed to find a person younger than 12 who doesn’t know what the pink ribbon stands for. What do we have to show for all the awareness?”
While pink inspires some, others are disgusted by it, said Matthew Zachary, founder and chief executive officer of Stupid Cancer.
“There’s been so much negative feedback and exploitation of goodwill and a lack of responsibility by corporations. People, especially younger people, are sick of it. Awareness means nothing. Awareness doesn’t do anything; actions make a difference,” he said.
“I’m becoming more and more concerned every year about the river of pink that engulfs us in the month of October purporting to focus on breast cancer awareness,” said Debra Madden, a resident of Newtown, Conn., who is a two-time cancer survivor (Hodgkin’s lymphoma as a young adult and breast cancer 20 years later as a late effect of her original radiation treatment). She is a cancer research advocate who blogs at draemadden.wordpress.com. “Everywhere you turn, every marketer with a product to sell, a tarnished image to rescue or a need to appear health-conscious to potential purchasers splashes their products with pink.
“Last October was truly the kicker: I nearly ran off the road as I turned my head in complete disbelief, watching a pink oil truck with the ubiquitous ribbons turning onto the highway. Honestly, what’s next?”
For breast cancer blogger and Stage IV breast cancer survivor Jody Schoger, the most offensive are pink handguns.
“That’s repulsive to buy something that is used to kill for a disease that kills,” she said. Her Women With Cancer blog is at womenwcancer.blogspot.com.
Is it bad?
But what’s so bad about a heightened level of awareness? Is the avalanche of pink products taking away from the real cause? Cancer survivor Jackie Fox believes it is.
“It desensitizes people to breast cancer. There is so much pink everywhere that you just start tuning it out,” said Fox, author of “From Zero to Mastectomy,” the story of Fox’s journey from stage zero to eventual mastectomy after a 2008 diagnosis of ducal carcinoma in situ, an early-stage breast cancer. Fox blogs about breast cancer at secondbasedispatch.com.
Page 2 of 2 - “The other thing that happens is that people see these shiny happy people with shiny happy products and lose sight of the fact that this is a very real disease that’s still killing people. It also promotes ‘slacktivism’ — I can feel like I’ve done something because I bought a product or posted my support on Facebook,” Fox said.
It’s a harsh assessment, but all that pink-ribboned merchandise might not be helping as much a people think.
Because the pink ribbon symbol is not regulated, there are examples of corporations that have exploited consumers by selling pink items that have no connection at all to breast cancer, said Zachary. When companies do indicate a donation to breast cancer, beware of the cap, Zachary said. A portion of the proceeds will be donated up to a maximum donation cap. Once the cap is met, the company may continue to sell the pink product without alerting consumers that no additional donations will be made.
In other instances, consumers are bogged down by forms to fill out and mail in before a donation can be made, Zachary said. Even more egregious, some companies have marketed pink products that are linked to increased risk of breast cancer, Zachary said. To see examples, visit thinkbeforeyoupink.org.
So what can you do to be sure your donation is really doing good? “Do your homework” to find out where the money goes, Fox said.
“Metavivor.org is a good organization. One hundred percent of donations go to their research grants unless specified otherwise. They focus on metastatic cancer, which gets very little support,” Fox said.
Other organizations that focus on metastatic cancer are Metastatic Breast Cancer Network, mbcn.org, and BC Mets Community, bcmets.org, said Madden.
Madden also suggests you support organizations that are truly focused on conducting impactful research to prevent primary breast cancer and metastatic breast cancer and to find a cure, such as the National Breast Cancer Coalition and its Breast Cancer Deadline effort to end breast cancer. Visit breastcancerdeadline2020.org.
Zachary suggests “writing a check directly to a doctor or hand your money to who you want to help.” It’s also better “to donate an hour of your time, rather than buying a pink baseball hat,” he said.
The Think Before You Pink campaign suggests you ask these critical questions before a charity purchase:
1. How much money from the purchase goes to support breast cancer programs?
2. What organization gets the money and what do they do with it?
3. Is there a cap on the donation and has the maximum been met?
4. Is the product free of toxins linked to breast cancer?
When in doubt, write a letter to the company and ask that it be transparent in its donations.