Why I Hate Pink October

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work, emeritus

OCTOBER 22, 2018

Tell us: How do you feel about pinkification?

Most of you know, or could easily guess, how much I hate the pinkification of October. I have included my thoughts in various talks this October, written letters to the editor, and generally talked about it to anyone who would listen.

It has been reassuring that this year during national breast cancer awareness month, the annual pink mania seems to have subsided a bit. The local newspaper did not come on pink paper on the first Thursday of the month, and there are fewer billboards or pink lighting of important buildings. I will acknowledge that not everyone shares my perspective on this issue, and it is possible (likely?) that some of my distaste could be ascribed to my cynical outlook. It is even possible that some would accuse me of just being negative. However, as a color, pink is generally assigned to small girls and is always considered to be feminine and unserious. Breast cancer is deadly serious.

As far as I know, there might be a dozen adults in the US who still need to be made aware of breast cancer. Those limited numbers don't seem to have stopped all the commercialization of the color and the disease. How is anyone helped by pink potato chips or pink toilet paper? In what way are we helped by NFL players sporting pink shoes?  And, if you read the small print on the packages, maybe some money is being donated to a breast cancer research fund or charity. Or maybe not. And, if so, maybe it is a good organization. Or maybe not.

One of my patients had a lively discussion with a Boston restaurant manager one evening this week. The restaurant advertised that a small donation would be made “to breast cancer research” for each special (no doubt pink) dessert that was ordered. When she questioned the waitperson about the donation, he was uninformed and sent over the manager. The manager reportedly was not much better, and could not name the planned recipient of any funds. To her, and to me, this seems to be a gimmick, a marketing ploy to perhaps bring in a few more customers and sell a few more expensive desserts.

Here is the truth about breast cancer: It can kill. Even when it does not, it leaves women forever changed, usually physically and always psychologically. It steals our innocence and confronts us with our mortality. It exposes us to what Dr. Susan Love famously summarized as slash, burn and poison treatments. It does not make us better people. It does not improve our sex lives. It definitely does not make us more agile or thoughtful. If we are very lucky and stay well, it does give us the opportunity to consider our lives. Since the treatments force us to step outside our usual busy schedules for a period of time, we have a chance to think about how we are spending our one wild and precious life. We may or may not make any significant changes, but we could.

We also learn about courage and how brave we can be. Do you know the Audre Lorde quote: When I use my strength in the service of my vision, it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.

This what matters, and it has nothing to do with pink. 

How do you feel about Pink October? Tell us at: 

http://www.cancercommunity.bidmc.org/