I believe that breast cancer awareness, research and treatment are very important, but all the pink products seem out of control. Is the money really getting to the cause? – Brad N., Texas
You raise an important question and one that is being asked by many people. The pink ribbons associated with the October observance of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month have been with us for 20 years. But the blizzard of pink products now associated with the cause and the observance of this special month has many people concerned and confused. Among the concerned are potential supporters, clinicians, researchers and even nonprofits engaged in fighting this devastating disease. Some even have begun using the term “pinkwashing” in reference to the number of companies and organizations mounting pink-themed product promotions.
As consumers and supporters of this cause, we need to read the fine print, look closely at the organizations that receive funds and be clear on how much of an allocation is being made to breast cancer research and treatment and exactly what program it is going toward.
An even larger and still unanswered question that is being debated is, Has the awareness campaign gone too far afield?
Health studies professor and author of “Pink Ribbons, Inc.: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy,” Samantha King, calls it a “tyranny of cheerfulness.” She believes that much of what is being done distracts from the more complex issues on which the public needs to be educated.
As a fan of football, I can see her point. Tuning in to an NFL game in October, you are likely to see pink socks, shoes, towels, chin straps, mouthpieces, sweatbands, hats and Gatorade coolers filling the field, along with more elaborate pink signage. You have to wonder whether a simple patch on the uniform and a message from the booth telling us that one woman every three minutes will be diagnosed with the disease might be as effective – maybe even more so.
A recent article in The Dallas Morning News addressed the question of whether National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, one of the most successful charity campaigns in recent history, has lost its focus. In the article, Karuna Jaggar, executive director of Breast Cancer Action, laments that though at one time “pink” was a means, it almost has become an end in itself.
Others engaged in the fight against breast cancer disagree. Leslie Aun, a spokeswoman for Susan G. Komen for the Cure, says, “We don’t think there’s enough pink.”
Her group believes that it is able to make important investments in research, awareness and treatment because of these private-sector support efforts. Aun is quick to remind us that according to National Cancer Institute estimates, nearly 40,000 women will die of breast cancer this year, and 230,000 cases will be diagnosed. We need to continue to do more to reduce those numbers.
Maybe this debate about emblematic pink promotions and the cause they are meant to advance will, in the end, serve a positive purpose. Let’s face it; people are talking about breast cancer, and the media are covering that discussion as never before. A recent article in USA Today by Liz Szabo, for example, talks about some important nontraditional ways in which people can support people with breast cancer throughout the year. Among them:
Get a flu shot. Catching the flu can be a life-threatening situation for people undergoing chemotherapy. People around them need to be vaccinated to keep the virus out of circulation and to protect the vulnerable.
Give blood. Donating blood provides a chance to save the life of a cancer patient needing surgery.
Join a research study. You don’t need to have cancer to help cancer research, especially studies that focus on prevention.
Don’t forget people. Cancer patients generally receive support when they are first diagnosed. Some patients remain in therapy for years, perhaps the rest of their lives. Keeping in touch and offering to lend a helping hand can mean a lot.