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Posted 10/14/2015

Posted in

  When did the single word, Pink, become a code for all that is wrong with October? It had seemed a little better this year until I saw the pink shoes on the football players. Would someone explain to me how pro athletes wearing stupid pink shoes helps women in any way?

  At least this year, the first local paper in October (it comes weekly) was not printed on bright pink paper. Even so, I sent this letter to the editor as there was plenty of other distressing rah-rah content:

I am writing in reaction to this week's paper. After my initial surprise, I had a range of other reactions to your wish to support breast cancer awareness.

Since 1979, I have managed the Oncology Social Work Program at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center; my own clinical work has been primarily with women with breast cancer. I have been diagnosed and treated, with surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and hormonal therapy, for two separate breast cancers, one in 1993, and one in 2005. No one could have more identification with or empathy for the cause.

However, I believe that the "pink campaign" has taken on a life of its own. Breast cancer is not pretty and pink. It is bloody red and brings fear, grief, sickness, pain, and too much death to everyone it touches. Although early detection is touted as the likely cure, the truth is that many women eventually die who were first diagnosed with early/Stage 1 or Stage 2 breast cancers. Even the best treatment, such as is available in the Boston area, cannot save every life When wearing pink or purchasing pink-ribboned products or donating to one of the many excellent breast cancer foundations or research centers enables us to imagine that this monster has been tamed, we are sadly misinformed.

Most women who have been treated for breast cancer find healthy, adaptive ways to identify good that has come from the experience. We can be proud of our grit, our courage, grateful to our medical teams, and very glad to have found the friendship of other women. None of us think it was worth it.

The abundance of funding and resources and attention for breast cancer can also be painful for people diagnosed with other cancers. Where is the public outrage about gastric cancer or rectal cancer or lymphoma? In my clinical work, I often hear the pain of women who feel less well supported and angry that, because their cancer is other than breast, they can't qualify for some benefits or find appropriate support groups.

Yes, please, let us support awareness of all cancers, encourage one another to take full advantage of appropriate screening tests, donate what we can afford to cancer foundations, and be very wary of anyone or anything that encourages us to think that the cure is near.

Hester Hill Schnipper

For me, the bottom lines are that pink has become a marketing tool. that there is absolutely no promise that early detection will save your life.,and that money spent on pink merchandise often just goes into te company's coffers. Ask before you buy the special October-We-Give-Money dessert; where does the money go?

If you would like to read another thoughtful piece about this, here is the start and then a link to Heather Millar's excellent essay:

Metastatic Breast Cancer: What Pink Doesn't Cover

Kelli Parker was flying on business the first week of October when she saw a flight attendant wearing a
pink smock and a pink bracelet that said, “Early detection saves lives.” The attendant was offering pink
martinis and pink lemonade in honor of breast cancer awareness month.
The flight attendant was probably just carrying out an “everything pink” marketing campaign dreamed up
by the airline, but she most certainly had good intentions. So Parker grabbed a moment with her to make
her aware that there’s a perspective that the pink campaigns often seem to gloss over.
Parker, 33, is a wife, mother, and has a successful career at Wal-Mart headquarters. She also has
metastatic breast cancer. Though her cancer isn’t currently progressing, she knows that, for her, there is
no cure.
She’s made it one of her missions to point out that early detection isn’t the cure-all that popular culture
would have us believe. Sometimes, of course, early detection does save lives. So far, I think it saved mine:
My cancer was nasty, but caught early. I’m five years out, fingers crossed.
That’s the story we all want to hear.

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  • Linda Floyd said:
    10/14/2015 10:10 AM

    Good letter Hester.

  • Jordan said:
    10/14/2015 1:03 PM

    Some great points. Sometimes we get so caught up in easy to notice symbols and phrases that we forget that the struggles we're talking about are happening to real people, right now.

  • Maryann said:
    12/6/2015 10:12 PM

    I know it's just a color.... My color is orange, it's not pink. And yet it's more than just a color. To me it provides strength, maybe even control. Control over something I have no control over. When I wear orange I feel as if I am in charge, conquering the beast, taking control. I know it really is all in my mind - but isn't being strong in mind just as important as being strong in body? Maybe it is just a color - but that one little orange wrist band, or shoe lace, or hat, or whatever is a statement to cancer - I've got you, you don't have me.