Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.


Why I’m Not "Going Pink"

Ahhh, October... there's a crisp bite to the air, the leaves have begun to fall, there's 50 pounds of apples in my refrigerator, and I'm once again bombarded by the nauseating pinkness of "National Breast Cancer Awareness Month."

For years it has just been the ever increasing tide of pink consumer crap in the stores, and that has been bad enough. However, for the past two Octobers I've watched cutesy memes take over Facebook. Last year it was women coyly posting the color of their bras in their status updates. When it finally started to come out that bras, therefore, breasts, were the topic at hand I'm sure everyone rushed to donate to the Komen Foundation (more on them later). This year it is the suggestion that we post where we like to put our purses when we get home, e.g., "I like it on the table".

Now, leaving aside my irritation at the assumptions that only women get breast cancer (they don't) or that all women carry purses (they don't), I'm just left with the annoyance that not only does this juvenile status update meme have absolutely nothing to due with breast cancer, but that it uses breast cancer as the reason to make some kind of sexualized joke. How does this puerile humor have anything at all to do with breast cancer? Once again, do you see this kind of nonsense and rush right out to buy something pink or donate money to Komen?

Yes, you might think that I'm being a stick in the mud about this. I mean shouldn't I just lighten up and enjoy the whimsy? Isn't this just a harmless joke used to raise awareness?

To those who might say I'm being shrill and a kill-joy, I say:

Really, is anyone in the western world not aware of breast cancer at this point? Seriously?

If there are people unaware, perhaps it because they are buried under the load of pink consumer crap and juvenile Internet memes that we're bombarded with every October. So much money is spent on enticing us to buy pink M&Ms (yes, really) and BMWs (yes, really) that we're hopefully distracted from the lack of funding that goes to understanding the causes of breast cancer and the utter disorganization of those efforts.

We're so pinkwashed that we hopefully won't notice that many of the companies with products directly related to causing breast cancer are funding our "awareness". Those companies hope that we'll be so charmed by all the pink and whimsy that we won't ask them why the hell they're still producing the crap that is killing us.

Keep in mind that the "National Breast Cancer Awareness Month" was created by a drug company that is now called AstraZeneca. Yes, that's the same company that in addition to producing & hugely profiting off of breast cancer treatment drugs, also profited substantially off the sale of an herbicide known to cause cancer. That alone makes me question all of the happy, cheerful messages designed to raise my "awareness".

I am bashing the Komen Foundation, that sacred pink cow of breast cancer activism, a little bit too. After all, Komen manages to blithely take in thousands in contributions from the very chemical companies who market products that cause breast cancer! They put on these hugely expensive races and events that push mammograms and say nothing about the causes or prevention. This is the very same organization that helps market pink cars while ignoring the powerful link between a chemical produced in the exhaust of cars, benzo(a)-pyrene, that is one of the most powerful carcinogens known and was connected directly to breast cancer by the Peralta Cancer Research Institute in the 1980s. Yeah, go Komen...

What can you do? Well, know your risk and make efforts to reduce it.

  • There is a lot of evidence that shows that maintaining a healthy weight, getting regular exercise, having moderate or no alcohol consumption, and following a diet of fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains is beneficial.
  • Buy organic if possible as many herbicides and pesticides have also been linked to breast and other types of cancer. I totally sympathize to the economic barriers to this suggestion and know this is not an option for a lot of people, but if you can, buy organic.
  • There are known links between r-GBH (recombinant bovine growth hormone - used on dairy cows) and breast cancer.
  • A healthy vegan diet has many benefits; reducing the risk of cancer is only one of them. Yes, this is one of the many reasons I am vegan.
  • Get your vitamin D level checked, particularly if you live in the Pacific Northwest like I do. There have been several studies linking low levels of vitamin D to cancer, particularly breast cancer. People in the Pacific Northwest are known for being chronically low in vitamin D.

Check out Breast Cancer Action, an organization I think is doing things right. They aren't busy "going pink", they are demanding action to reduce causes, educate people (not sell them pink crap), and find more effective, less toxic treatments.

BCA also created the fantastic "Think Before You Pink" campaign to educate people as to where the money goes when those pink Tic-Tacs are purchased.

All of this is said from my perspective as the daughter of a two-time breast cancer survivor. Yes, that puts me in a higher risk category and I take it very seriously.

Comments (27) Trackbacks (1)
  1. beautifully written and very eloquent. Thank you for writing this.

  2. Bravo, well said!

  3. I am sure, by now, you are well aware that your words here are being shared on Facebook… They are wise and insightful and you say what so many think and feel. Thank you. I'm glad to know of you, now… and that someone like you is out there in the world sharing this kind of thing. Wishing you the best… and again, thanks. -Anne Radford

  4. This is such a great blog post! Thank you for writing this. I am vegan as well and hope that more people realize the health benefits of a vegan diet. I'm also sick of all the pink-washing and "save the tatas" crap.

  5. Thank You for writing this, Sherri. It has me teary eyed.

  6. Thank you. This is insightful & thoughtful & worth sharing with everyone!

  7. This is a great post. Thank you for sharing it!

  8. Thank you for this post!

  9. Excellent Post. Thank you!

  10. rock on girl! I totally DREAD October for all the same reasons listed above! Don't forget the American Cancer Society, they are just as bad as Susan B Komen…people at work are so ignorant to this every year with all the fund raising for this!

  11. This is beautiful, although one correction: the bra color thing was less than a year ago and independent of the last Breast Cancer Awareness month. However, that didn't make it any less irritating, or the point behind your message any less resonant.Also, with the bra color thing, there was the additional level of potentially slighting actual breast cancer survivors, who for obvious reasons may not wear bras anymore. Sigh!

  12. So well said!!! I read this to my daughters this morning and they said "Dud YOU write that?" They have heard me gripe about these very issues for years!!! Pink M-n-M's? Seriously??? It makes me crazy! But one can't exactly be "Anti-Awareness" without getting a lot of flack either!!! My Mom AND several Aunts are all survivors, I'm very "aware" but part of awareness is also educating onesself. Bravo!!!!!

  13. Excellent post! Thank you 🙂

  14. Well said, thank you!

  15. I love this post and I will share it on FB – even though I did participate in the "I like it ….. " meme. The meme seems like a fairly innocuous way to keep the awareness going. For me, it does not translate into Going Pink – I will retch right along with you on that. Thanks for the info on BCA – I will visit the website.

  16. I'm here because a friend posted this on Facebook. Thank you so much for eloquently putting into words many of the thoughts I've had for years. I was always too timid to speak up about it because I was afraid of being "un-PC". For example, why the hell would I want to buy your pink breast cancer awareness PLASTIC lined coffee mug? You seriously expect me to put my hot beverage in your BPA laden cup? Many more examples come to mind, but that one was pretty blaring.

  17. Exactly! Well said, Sherri! -I had been wondering why I was so reluctant to participate in the 'I like it…" meme until I saw your Fb status against the idea. It sexualizes something that is not (nor should ever be) sexy, and does NOTHING to help prevent and/or cure it. With your permission, I'm going to post a link to this blog post, too. Thank you.

  18. I appreciate your turning an eye to prevention as well. Numbers 4 and 6 on this list are greats ways to prevent breast cancer in the first place. know not everyone has the chance to nurse their babies, but every month counts. After five total years of breastfeeding, breast cancer risk is nearly 0%.

  19. Excellent. Apart from not wanting tell the opportunist where I might keep my purse, I am completely aware of Breast Cancer. I have had friends who died from it others who have had multiple operations . I am aware.

  20. This is ridiculous. It's not about "Pink". It's about reminding people to go out and get their exams, take care of themselves, and support our loved ones that either survived or didn't. Why not have a common theme to remind people to do this? This is the most ignorant cancer related opinion I've ever heard. You can't bash "awareness." Come on. I'm pink and proud of it.

  21. Thank you very much for this article, I totally agree with you!

  22. Men get Breast Cancer too! Pale blue ribbon for the Men and their families!!!!

  23. I just wanted to add to the discussion. Hopefully this will get posted as it's a legitimate argument by a non-anonymous poster. First off, Pink is a color that has historically been closely associated with women since birth – look to when young girls are born – pink socks, pink hat, etc. Of course this color would be a common-sense choice for a disease that is so closely related to women. On that point though, you're right, women aren't the only ones who are affected by breast cancer and just because pink is the primary color of the awareness movement and men are not as heavily focused on is no reason to dismiss it completely. What I have a problem with is you using that argument to dismiss the fact that "Breast cancer is about 100 times less common among men than among women. For men, the lifetime risk of getting breast cancer is about 1 in 1,000." – This comes directly from the American Cancer Society's website: How can you look in the face of that reality and say that the breast cancer awareness movement is wrong or not worthwhile? As a previous post stated – the “facebook bra/purse” thing is not alone in the silly things that have been among the “cut-paste” status updates. There have been many others for many other different things. Who are you to say that something is completely worthless or without merit when there are many awareness “movements” out there that have more of an impact on an even smaller number of people? Are they worthless as well? Do those people matter less? Do those people matter more? Who is to say? My suggestion is that you wake up to the fact that you live in America, a capitalist society where making money is #1 and social responsibility is #2. We don’t live in a time where people stand up and fight anymore – more often than not they stand with just the one who created the problem (and profited) and work to find viable solutions/assistance for those affected by the original problem. Also – you claim the disorganization of funding of research? What do you think has happened over the “annoying” period of time that the breast cancer awareness movement has begun? You think it’s gotten less organized? Less supported? Social responsibility programs of capitalist firms haven’t popped up everywhere? Hello, NFL? Since Americans are obsessed with money and entertainment how many millions do you think the NFL has donated in time and money among the BILLIONS perhaps, trillions that they make each and every year? Shall we sit on our hands and not take what’s given or should we be thankful that anyone even cares a little? If everyone felt the way you do – there would be no awareness, there would be no donations, etc. TO BE CONTINUED IN SECOND POST

  24. Also – being a health and fitness professional myself – I don’t know what rock you’ve been living under but I can tell you that since I have been in the workplace and involved with fitness there has be an exorbitant amount of focus placed on the “health-seeker” and prevention of not only diseases like cancer but also diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, etc. The list is endless and the horse has been beaten to death with what the benefits of a healthy diet and regular exercise are for individuals with these issues or those who are looking to prevent those issues. Again, straight from the American Cancer Society’s website: argument that “After all, Komen manages to blithely take in thousands in contributions from the very chemical companies who market products that cause breast cancer! They put on these hugely expensive races and events that push mammograms and say nothing about the causes or prevention.” Just shows your nieveity on the American thirst for money and entertainment. How do you think they attract these people? Ever heard of the phrase you have to spend money to make it? Well, it’s embodied in what you are claiming is so devilish of a practice. They put out the money and they make much more in return. Besides all this – I think my biggest problem with your argument is that you take ZERO time to stop and think of the people who are most closely associated with this movement: The SURVIVORS. What do you think it would feel like to be told you only have so much time to live? What about your wife? What will she do without you? These are questions that people struggle with every day when they get their own diagnosis. Paramount even to the survivors is those who do not survive? Are their lives worthless? Did they mean nothing? I bet you that there are a lot of people who would argue with you that they weren’t worthless and their lives meant a lot – and guess what: those people show up, they donate, they wear pink, they support the cause and they don’t complain that their tired of hearing the message even if it has become a mainstay. Get over yourself.

  25. Wow, you seem exceptionally bitter. I was very disturbed to see the link to this blog on a family member's Facebook page. Based on your rationale, it appears we also don't need a month for Black History, nor Child Abuse Awareness, nor Domestic Violence, nor any other cause that has a month designated for it. Who says that October is the ONLY month one can think about breast cancer? Just as with other causes, it's a month dedicated to that particular issue. As far as Susan G Komen–if my sister were to make it her life mission to find a cure for a disease that killed me, B.R.A.V.O. for her! Have you seen their books to know how their money is being spent? And as far as "knowing my risks and reducing them," how would you want me to go about eliminating a family history of breast cancer? And had it not been for breast cancer awareness month, stories about men suffering from breast cancer would continue to go unreported or receive less attention than women. But once again, since this month spotlights breast cancer, many people are speaking up.As far as memes on facebook, I feel just as I do when people make comments about my regular status: If you don't like what I have to say, please get off my page. Boycott facebook and refuse to continue having an account if you don't like what happens on there

    [Note from Sherri: I have removed a mean-spirited comment made by Eugenia about the person who linked to my blog post her Facebook page. Really, fine, trash my post if you want. If want to trash the person who linked to me, take it up with them and not in some comments here.]

  26. "A study by Yale University researchers showed that women who breastfed for two years or longer reduced their risk of breast cancer by 50 percent." isn't this preventative measure EVER stated my the big pushers of mammograms? The easiest, safest, most beneficial think women cab do for their babies also happens to be the best way to date to avoid Breast Cancer. Why isn't that shouted from the roof tops, put on billboards, t-shirts and facebook pages? Yes not all women chose to have children and yes some women can't breastfeed, but how many lives could be saved by emphasizing this fact?

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