I was diagnosed with breast cancer during the month of October, the month which, as many of you know, has been designated Breast Cancer Awareness month. Every year, the color pink takes over in October, valiantly fighting the oranges and blacks of Halloween. When you know somebody with breast cancer, every time you see the pink, you think of her. When you have just been diagnosed with breast cancer during October, the pinkness engulfs you, acting as an unceasing reminder of a horrible disease. There is almost nowhere to turn for non-pink. Even the NFL gets in on it.
Right about the time my mother was battling breast cancer, the pink ribbon started to work its way into popular culture. I remember the year my grandma gave my mom a gift she had just purchased from the Avon lady–a pink ribbon pen with a matching pink ribbon pin. When we got home, my mother gave the set to me. She said she didn’t need any cancer reminders. I began to notice the pink ribbon stuff more and more, but I did not indulge in any of it. The pinkness became something for me to battle. I did not want to be reminded of the darkness cancer brought into my mother’s life and I didn’t want any part in what I saw as mindless support.
When I was diagnosed last year, I was very clear about the pink ribbon propaganda: I didn’t want any of it. I read everything I could regarding pink ribbon fever and I felt great unease toward anything emblazoned with the color. I decided that the pink ribbon started out as a noble cause, but then slowly degenerated into just another way to make a buck. I did admit, however, that because of the movement to bring breast cancer into our consciousness, I knew that my symptoms were typical of something gone awry. Without awareness programs, I would have assumed my lump and serious fatigue were just part of aging and bad luck.
I am not the only woman who has seen pink ribbon culture as an adversary. If you delve into the Internet, you can find find plenty of people who think the pink of Pinktober is vile. There are pages and pages of online message boards where women post pictures of what they see as ridiculous advertising gimmicks to “raise awareness for breast cancer” or to “raise funds to help in the fight against breast cancer”. Try heading over to Oriental Trading Company and type in pink ribbon in the search box. You can support breast cancer awareness with pink ribbon rubber duckies, pink ribbon hackey sacks, and pink ribbon cowbells. (All sold by the dozen, of course!) Other sites will sell you pink ribbon toothbrushes, pink ribbon perfume, and pink ribbon car seat covers. Now go to your local supermarket…the possibilities for breast cancer and marketing to meet is endless:
(Hmmmmmm…pizza? I don’t usually get all science-y, but do some research on the link between breast cancer and obesity. You could do way more to help in the fight against breast cancer than to eat food like this. Go for a walk. Eat something green. Take your vitamins. But triple cheese? No.)
So, what does a somewhat intelligent, slightly sassy, and overly skeptical girl like me do during the Pinktober rush? Well, for several years, she fights an inner battle and makes things difficult. And then, when it comes time for her to teach her daughter a valuable lesson, it is she who learns the most.
I have been trained by the Breast Cancer Resource Center as a speaker in support of their local efforts at supporting women affected by breast cancer. When I found out there was a speaking opportunity at Brighton (cute purses, beautiful jewelry), I jumped at the chance. I invited my daughter Grace to come along. The Brighton store was selling several pink items in support of the BCRC, and I discovered that a portion of the proceeds would go directly to the center. The manager of the store was doing some good math–she was calculating how many bracelets, purses, and make-up bags they would have to sell to be able to support women in need of mammograms. I spoke to several women in the store and found myself drawn to a very pretty silver bracelet with flashy pink bling. A beautiful pink and silver heart hangs from the clasp, along with a dainty pink ribbon.
“Mom, look at this bracelet!” Grace squealed. “It’s perfect for you! And if you buy it, you’ll get something pretty AND support ladies with cancer!”
Is this kid smart, or what? Acquiring special jewelry while helping a charity that I KNOW is legit? Yes, please.
So I did what was right, and I bought the pink ribbon bracelet. I had to. Really. It’s not every day that I can support my daughter’s belief that I need pretty things.
But after so many years of pink ribbon angst, why did I finally give in? Because I needed to teach Grace a lesson in being mindful. I explained that the original intent of the pink ribbon movement was to bring awareness to breast cancer detection and to support the need for cancer research. I also mentioned that there are really a few reasons for pink ribbon gear:
1. Awareness: you want to share the message of self-examination, yearly mammograms, genetic testing, etc.
2. Honor: you want to honor the memory of someone who has suffered the ickiness of cancer.
3. Money: you want to donate money to research or to programs that assist women who can’t afford treatment. The money part, however, is where things can get tricky. If your intent is to truly give money, I almost think it would be wiser to skip the middle man and donate directly to a legitimate organization. Find out the truth. Do not assume that because there is a pink ribbon accompanied by claims of donation that you are being told the truth.
So it comes to this: if buying one dozen rubber duckies emblazoned with pink ribbons helps you honor your aunt’s memory, then buy them. If putting a pink ribbon sticker on your bumper helps you remember to get regular check-ups, then stick away. If you want to donate money to a breast cancer charity, and you know your money is truly going to the right place, then write that check, kid.
I think that if pink ribbon haters would put their attention to helping friends make informed decisions, a lot could be accomplished. Truly, the heart of pink ribbon propaganda is pure. Some organizations exploit our need to feel like we are doing something, but if you are smart about how you spend your money and if you use the pink ribbon to honor or raise awareness, it’s all good.