“Think Pink” this month. But Differently…


October is the month of “pink”. We all know it is coming and what it represents.  Over the years we have been inundated with pink ribbons and pink products ranging from yogurt and candy to jewelry, clothing, makeup, footwear and pink newspapers. The list goes on.

The pink ribbon was introduced 1991 as a way to support women, promote awareness and support fundraising.

pink_ribbon_2-484x484Importantly, the pink ribbon has formed a supportive community and created an open dialogue on a topic that was once rarely discussed.

pink_ribbon_2-484x484The ribbon has drawn attention to the most commonly diagnosed cancer and has educated people on the importance of mammograms and early detection.

pink_ribbon_2-484x484The ribbon has generated financial donations to fund many aspects of the breast cancer experience.

pink_ribbon_2-484x484The ribbon means something to many people and is a source of strength and hope a way for us to stay focused on making a difference.

Wearing pink makes us feel good. It makes us feel like we are doing something positive.

I will let you in on a little secret about myself. I love to shop. I admit it, but yes, I have fallen victim to on-line shopping and all the promotions I find in my email “inbox” each morning. Those 40% off coupons lure me in. My husband knows I have been “at it” when he arrives home to see all the boxes sitting at the front door. So, Tuesday seemed like any other day as I woke and checked my email. Once again my inbox was flooded with deals only this time they were all promotions to benefit breast cancer. Typically I would look at the deals and not give a lot of thought to the process but this time I started to think differently. I took a step back and tried to figure out what was bothering me about all these promotions. On the surface, they seem well-intentioned and supportive but honestly, I have always questioned them.

Have you noticed over time, little by little, these products and promotions have been infiltrating the breast cancer campaign? It is the kind of thing we don’t think about until one day it just kind of hits you over the head and you realize what is happening. It is that tipping point when you truly realize how the breast cancer movement has become incredibly commercialized, over saturated with pink and lost some of its’ mojo as we become desensitized to it all.

I really wonder, is this activity truly benefiting patients or distracting us from what we should be focused on? Are these companies forgoing profits to make large donations to the cause or are they generating business and good publicity while making a donation they may have made regardless of sales? Have we lost our way?

This may surprise some but I have never bought into the whole pink thing and have never worn items with breast cancer logos or even a pink ribbon. I never really could quite put my finger on it, articulate why I had these mixed feelings but have had them for years.

Why am I so torn? After all, I been treated for breast cancer and ironically diagnosed in October, the month of “pink” and “breast cancer awareness”. One reason may be because I was diagnosed with a different lethal cancer as well, one without a colored ribbon (at least that I know of) or an “awareness month.” Cancer needs to be stopped no matter what type it is.  Should I wear different color ribbons for each one?

Two years ago, the NY Times Magazine ran a cover story called “Our Feel Good War on Breast Cancer.” The article seemed to validate a lot of what I was feeling. I felt like there was a disconnect between the pink paraphernalia and the seriousness of the situation; women increasingly diagnosed with breast cancer, enduring the difficult ordeal that follows and many still dying of the disease.

The ribbon has created “awareness.” But today, unless you live under a rock, you are aware. So, what are we really trying to accomplish with all this pink saturating the market and are we really changing outcomes? Have people moved on to other causes?

When I am trying to form an opinion, I always go back to the facts. After 14 years of pink ribbons the numbers have not changed significantly year over year, despite all the awareness and pink products.*

imagesBreast cancer is still the second-most common cancer overall and second leading cause of death among women.

imagesEach year it is estimated that over 220,000 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer and more than 40,000 will die.

imagesUp to one-third of all breast cancers will metastasize, even when found in the early stages.

imagesBlack women are still 40% more likely to die of breast cancer than white women

imagesMammograms, though a useful screening tool, do not prevent breast cancer.

Not a lot of ways to positively spin these facts.

This year I say, let’s not turn away but think differently when we see pink all around us.

imagesWhat is the message? Is it the right message?

imagesAre pink products just a gimmick or is their real value to the patient

imagesWhere does all the money raised go and how is it directed?

imagesAre we focusing on what is most important in this breast cancer fight?

Think about becoming more proactive than just buying something pink or wearing a pink bracelet.

Think about where your hard-earned money is going.  Take control over your donation and support programs where you understand how your donation being used and how is it making an impact.

Let us start thinking about how to take this cause to the next level and start to ask ourselves questions about why these numbers haven’t changed and how we can look at ways to minimize risk, prevent occurrences and support efforts of researchers to find better ways to treat it. We all should have a vested interest and not settle or become uninterested.  1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. We are all in this together.


NY Times Article. The Feel Good War


Breast Action

Think Before You Pink

But Doctor I Hate Pink

About Shari

I am a two-time cancer survivor and patient advocate. Diagnosed as a young adult, at age 25 with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, I had to quickly face the reality of life’s curveballs. My treatment offered a potential cure while at the same time, underestimated the long term side effects including a secondary cancer (breast cancer) nine years later. Shortly after my breast cancer treatment ended, my youthful, seemingly healthy mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer and passed a year later. I have lived the cancer experience as a patient and a family member/ caregiver and understand both sides. Life after treatment is often challenging emotionally and physically and there is a gap in providing needed support. I don’t consider cancer a gift as it is not something I would ever want to give to someone. Rather, I view cancer as an opportunity; one I received at an early point in my life to live intentionally, understanding how things can change at any moment. I live without regrets, fully understanding the gift and fragility of life.
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