Breast Cancer Awareness?

October used to be my favorite month … until it turned pink.

We’re half way through Breast Cancer Awareness Month — probably the only cancer awareness month that you’re actually aware of unless you were directly affected by one of the others. (In case you’re curious about all of the awareness you’ve missed, here’s the list: January: cervical; March: colorectal; April: National Cancer Control Month; May: skin; June: Mens Health and Cancer Month; July: sarcoma; September: ovarian, childhood, gynelogical, prostate, leukemia/lymphoma; November: pancreatic and lung.)

It seems that Pinktober isn’t as bad this year. Maybe I’ve just been more reclusive.

Despite my extreme dislike for all things Komen, that’s all I’m going to say about that organization in this post, except that if you do some reading about what they’ve turned into and some of the things they spend a lot of money on, you might stop supporting them as well.

Pinkwashing is no different than any other kind of marketing. They slap the ribbon, the color, and/or the name on anything just to get you to buy it. Typically, they will tell you that “a portion of the proceeds benefits breast cancer research.”

Before you do your good deed and buy a pink bucket of fried chicken, find out where the money is going and how much of the money is going there. Most of the time, the percentages are small. Instead of buying a $10 something you don’t need (whether it’s a taking-up-space something or a taking-up-calories something) so that 20 cents can be donated to cancer research, why not donate $1 yourself? Or even the whole $10?

On some promotions, the company manufacturing the item will donate a portion of the proceeds up to a certain amount. So if they’ve sold half of their pink inventory and have already met their maximum donation, the other half of their pink inventory contributes to nothing but sales.

Of course, if you really want to make a difference in the world of breast cancer, there are a few other things you can do that don’t involve pink anything:

  • eat well, exercise, maintain a healthy weight — obesity is a risk factor
  • avoid food and drinks sold, stored, or cooked in plastics, as well as canned goods — BPA and other hormone disruptors are risk factors
  • donate time to a local infusion room or radiation center — there are many people in treatment who don’t have transportation and/or don’t have folks to keep them company (a single chemo infusion can take half a day)
  • donate your hair, or wigs, or hats, or scarves for people who lose their hair through treatment

Everything that I’ve seen that talks about reducing your risk includes breast exams. I’m not going to tell you that breast exams aren’t important, because they are — but they are not prevention. I can’t stress that enough. Early detection is not prevention.

Would you rather have Stage 1 cancer or not have cancer at all? That is the difference between early detection and prevention.

Unrelated to all of this … there are millions of people affected by cancer, either because they have/had it, they are/were caring for someone with it, or they lost someone to it. During October, there is no way to get away from it, short of being a hermit. Breast cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers have their disease in their face at every turn. Those mourning a loss are reminded everywhere they go. Patients, survivors, and caregivers of other cancers have a month of being reminded that if only their cancer was sexy, people might want to support research for it, too. (You can’t tell me that the sexualization of women’s breasts has nothing to do with the popularity of support for breast cancer. Save the ta-tas?) Not to mention my own personal pet peeve — that countless people who learn I’ve had cancer assume I had breast cancer because I’m female. When I was in treatment, people would approach me in public places and ask me about my breast cancer.

I digress.

Really — what does all of the “awareness” do? A friend’s mother was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. She didn’t know anything about diagnoses, about treatment (even that there is a difference between chemo and radiation). She didn’t know anything about what caused it and was surprised that her mom had it because she thought it was always genetic and no one else in their family had had it. (Depending on where you get your numbers, between 10 and 40 percent of breast cancer is genetic.)

Sounds to me like the “awareness” portion is failing. Certainly everyone by now is aware that breast cancer exists…?

The best we can do is not to go out and buy pink. It’s to take care of our bodies, help those around us take care of their bodies, and give time and energy to those who are already fighting the fight.

Mainstream news pieces regarding “Pinktober” can be found here, and here.

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