A Happy Farewell to Pink October

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

NOVEMBER 01, 2017

First, this is a second entry of the day and will be the last new blog until November 13th. My husband and I are leaving late tonight for a belated trip to Cyprus. We have promised each other that we won't work while we are there. This was a trip planned to coincide with work in Turkey last April. Since we have been to Turkey several times in the past, we wanted to do something different for a few days, and Cyprus is nearby. As it turned out, a very dear friend died just two days before our planned departure, so we cancelled the trip. We had, however, already paid for most of it, and it was a situation of rescheduling it or losing all the money. Hence our seats on Turkish Air tonight.

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. I was delighted to see this essay in The New York Times a few days ago.

As far as I know, there might be half 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? 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.

Here it is:

Breast Cancer Is Serious. Pink Is Not.


October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and I have breast cancer. The country is fully pinked out in support of breast cancer screening and research, and though I know all the pink is meant to make me feel good, to tell me that the entire country has my back, I actually find it profoundly alienating. Pink is not a serious color, though cancer is a very serious disease. Pink is about femininity; cancer is about staying alive.

I am lucky, if one can say that, within the context of possible cancer diagnoses. My breast cancer is small, has the tumor markers most favorable for treatment (estrogen- and progesterone-positive, HER2-negative) and is very slow-growing. A friend of mine, a doctor, trying to allay his anxiety and mine, joked that based on these results, I didn’t really even have breast cancer.

But breast cancer, even when one has a good prognosis, always raises the possibility of mastectomy, a surgery that removes the patient’s disease but is also said to disfigure her in a way that can compromise her femininity. The question that looms, reinforced by the ubiquitous pink, is whether a woman who has lost her breasts to mastectomy will still be a whole woman.

Read the New York Times article for more information.

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