I am thinking this morning about the surging tidal wave of pink, in the name of breast cancer awareness, that engulfs us--especially in October. There was a distant time when we did need to learn about breast cancer--when women needed to be reminded to care for themselves with mammograms and BSEs and those who had been diagnosed needed support. I doubt, however, that there is a sensate woman in the US over 15 who is not now aware of breast cancer. Rather than wanting more reminders, we want a respite.
It seems very obvious that much of the pink is really the power of marketing. Each time we purchase something that is decorated with the infamous pink ribbon, we are led to believe that we are supporting breast cancer. What does that mean? Has the manufacturer promised to donate x cents from each item to a particular research fund or community initiative? Where do the dollars go? Do they just, as I cynically suspect, go into the company's coffers?
This past October, my weekly hometown newspaper was actually printed on pink paper--as were most of the papers in communities around Boston. I was so outraged that I wrote a scathing letter to the editor. My letter was not published for several weeks, and I assumed they were not willing to give time and space to a dissenting opinion. To my surprise, it was published as a special editorial at the end of the month.
Here is a copy of my letter and then a link to the wonderful new blog, Join Our Loop, where a recent posting stimulated all these musings:
I am writing in reaction to this week's pink "Concord Journal". 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.