Last month was Leukemia/Lymphoma awareness month. Did you see the thousands of lime green ribbons and shirts, signs at the grocery store, cars with decals, special news reports, pens, pencils, shoes, shirts, towels and garbage pails to support awareness of leukemia and lympohma? No? Oh yes, that’s right- there weren’t any.
What about last March? Did you notice all the professional athletes donning dark blue ribbons, socks, shoes and pins to support those with colon cancer? Did you see all your canned food at the grocery store suddenly get blue labels? Oh right. They didn’t do that either.
What about melanoma awareness in May? Did you see your town rallying around survivors for that? How about testicular cancer awareness pins in April? Did you get one? Were you asked at the store check out line to donate a dollar to fight lung cancer last November or cervical cancer in January? Gosh, me neither.
But this month–ah this month, October– there is pink, cascading pink, everywhere. Bumper stickers, pins, patches, hats, shirts, socks, cups, mugs, bracelets, banners, even cupcakes…Everyone seems to have jumped on the fight-breast-cancer-by-buying-or-wearing-pink-things bandwagon. We are drowning in pink.
Everywhere I go I am bombarded with requests to donate money in the fight against breast cancer by buying something pink. If I decline to donate (sorry, was asked five minutes ago, and again, five minutes before that) I am frequently asked “Why not? Don’t you want to fight breast cancer?” When I recover from the impoliteness of that question, I take a deep breath and generally say something like this:
“Of course I’m against breast cancer. I am against all cancer. But from what I’ve read, eating healthy foods, avoiding pesticides and chemicals, avoiding the Pill, breastfeeding my babies, not aborting my children can help protect me against it as much as is in my control, and bringing a meal to a cancer-stricken woman I know is more worthwhile for the cause than is buying that bag for organic produce laden with pink petals and a ribbon where the proceeds go…to the manufacturer of the organic bag.
I don’t want to be rude but while I am totally against breast cancer, (I mean, who isn’t?) I don’t want to contribute to the thought that implies wearing pink is synonymous with doing something that actually helps.”
Then the clerk looks at me funny. I guess she is sorry she asked.
My younger sister is a beautiful blonde, forty-something mother of nine, who was recently diagnosed with a form of leukemia. She and I were chatting this last weekend as we visited our parents at their home. She told me that a parent of one of the players on one of her son’s soccer team was trying to get all the players to (personally and individually) buy $75 worth of pink shirts and pink accouterments for their games throughout the month of October to ‘bring awareness’ to the breast cancer cause. (We are not aware? Really?) Interestingly, and not uncommonly, unfortunately, none of this money for the shirts was actually going to go to breast cancer research. The real winners wouldn’t be those with breast cancer at all. It seems the real winners would be the tee shirt companies and water bottle makers, and sock manufacturers etc., who would be raking in on the profits from the hype. How does that help anybody, except the business?
Answer: It doesn’t.
What’s more, my sister didn’t mention the irony but I sure saw it– the parent was pushing the team into publicly ‘supporting’ all women with the popular cancer while my sister, a specific person, whose own son is on the team and who is fighting a different form of (less popular) cancer, was expected to rally to support that (one-person) declared cause and could probably, actually use a little support herself (though she’d never say it). That is so odd to me. What is that mindset all about? That it is better to see the forest instead of the tree, in front of you? I guess. It is so much easier to ‘support’ someone simply by donning a pretty, feminine color than by actually going out of your way for someone in a way they need it. I think this pinkmania is causing us to become more callous as a culture, not less…
I have several friends who have fought or are fighting the breast cancer, as is the guidance counselor at my daughter’s Catholic high school, my godmother, aunt…I have a Facebook friend who works for a foundation dedicated to eradicating inflammatory breast disease. I truly want to support and encourage these women in their battles and their very good work, but I don’t think it means I have to don PINK.
Yesterday as I was getting dressed, I heard from the television : NEWS FLASH! Referees in the NFL won’t be tossing down penalty flags in the color of pink any more (apparently they were, in support of breast cancer awareness). The news reporter said that the reason the pink penalty flags were going back to their natural yellow color was that it was too confusing for all game participants. Apparently, the players’ towels are the same pink color (just for this month of course) and nobody could tell which was which. This seems nutty to me. Do men really think that wearing a color helps the women they love who have cancer?
Fact: It doesn’t.
So what can we DO that will ACTUALLY HELP in the fight against cancer? Probably a lot of things, but here’s my list. We can:
1- Know this: Breast cancer is REAL. It is relatively common, among cancers. It KILLS. Fighting breast cancer is not about saving a part of one’s body. It’s about saving a LIFE. It is important to support legitimate, ethical research that has the purpose to eradicate breast cancer.
2. Know This: Other cancers are also REAL. They also KILL. Supporting the eradication of them also is about saving a LIFE. It is equally important to support research that eliminates these.
3. Know that no one legitimate, ethical cancer research is worthier of support than another. We need to eradicate ALL cancer. Try telling someone who has lost a loved one to a rare form of cancer that research in that area is not important because it only strikes a few people.
4. Honestly, we must face the realities of certain risk factors (some deemed currently merely ‘lifestyle choices’) and not put our heads in the sand because we didn’t LIKE the risk factors or don’t want to stop activities that make cancer more likely (such as promiscuous sex). .
5. Help locally. It is far more helpful to identify someone we know or who is in our community who is suffering from any kind of cancer and find out how we can practically help than it is to join some ‘national cause’ that simply asks we wear a ribbon or bracelet or other object of a particular color.
6. We must do research on foundations and organizations that supposedly do good work before we donate to them. Before we give to an organization that purports to be doing valuable research or supporting cancer survivors or patients, we should check up on the places.. Google ‘Scams in Cancer Research” or similar terms. According to a recent article on CNN, many charities, including those supposedly fighting against cancer, are not doing what they are promising to do. We must be aware of administrative costs and spending of organizations. We must be smart.
7. Reach out to those around us who are stricken with the disease:
**Bring a meal
**Write a note
**Make a phone call
**Offer to babysit
**Offer to pick up essentials at the grocery store
**Visit, without talk of cancer-
**Bring a magazine or light book for reading(not related to cancer)
**Drop off a DVD you think he/she might enjoy
**Drop off some peppermints
**Be a friend: ask them what they need you to do and then DO IT
**Run a race that directly benefits someone in your community with proceeds going to them
**Participate in an event that directly benefits someone in your community
**Wear colors or tee shirts of support for specific people you know who are battling cancer to provide them with actual support and real encouragement.
8. Live in a healthy way, for ourselves, our families, and as an example to others. Here’s one list of suggestions on how to do this..
9. Do something substantial to raise knowledge (not just awareness) of one type of cancer Awareness lets us know something exists. Knowledge informs because it is fact-based and it often leads to productive action. Knowledge would be things like being informed of risk factors, symptoms or other information about cancer. Raising KNOWLEDGE is helpful. Raising AWARENESS (ie: wearing a color to say we know something exists) is much less so.
10. Do something practical:
**Call the hospital and find out about volunteer activities in the chemotherapy room
**Volunteer at a worthwhile cancer-fighting organization or at an event to support a local person.
**Be open to talking about our personal experience (symptoms, signs and what you’ve learned when someone asks.
**Write a blog post.
**Pray for patients, doctors and nurses in the cancer field.
**Write THIS GIRL a note of encouragement.
**Live a healthy life.
I am tired of colors being ‘called’ for certain causes, no matter how good those causes might be. When I wear pink….or blue….or rainbow colors, I am not doing so to state a political agenda, promote a cause or ‘say something.’ I wear pink (or any of the other colors) because … I like pink (or any of the other colors). That’s what colors are for- to enjoy, not produce a Pavlovian response which makes us think of a particular disease.
And so, if this craziness about pink and breast cancer has done anything, it has shown that it does very little in actually helping reduce cancer. It has shown that we can’t as a society simply buy a product and think that we have done enough.The pink hype has demonstrated that peer pressure is still a powerful force that can control not just children on the playground, or young men in a college fraternity, but even adult professional sports teams athletes. Even us. And that marketers are as clever as they’ve ever been. We need to take charge of the situation and steer very good intentions into a better and right direction.
On a closing note, if you don’t already know, I was diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma in 2005. It’s a form of blood cancer. I was diagnosed two weeks after my ninth baby was born, just days after my youngest brother died in a car accident. I took six months of chemotherapy. I lost all my hair. I’m okay that the whole nation wasn’t aware, but it sure was nice when my neighbors brought dinner, my mom’s friend watched my baby, my mom drove me to chemo, my husband held my hand, my siblings showed up at the doctors so I wouldn’t be alone, my church community prayed for me, my priest blessed me, my children hugged me, my nurses encouraged me, my doctor gave me information, my chiropractor made suggestions, my friends sent me cookies, and complete strangers said a kind word to me and sent me helpful notes of inspiration. And I also appreciate greatly the researchers working tirelessly to provide a medical drug remedy for a disease that could have killed me. Yes, those things are the kind of support every cancer patient needs.
So please, people, let’s purge the pink and do something that really matters.
Me in the middle of chemo treatment. My friends from college sent me this cookie bouquet. Don’t ask me why I’m smiling. I’m probably just grateful or something . This is one of only two pictures that exist of me bald. Blame vanity.
Everything has gone pink. Does it really help?
You may also like: LYMPHOMA, LOVE and a BALD HEAD - I met a 13 year old with cancer and took off my wig for him.
or IS COMMERCIALIZATION NECESSARY FOR A BREAST CANCER CURE? from Minnesota Public Radio
and SICK OF PINK from the Boston Globe (about profits and commercialization and how the pink thing really works.)