Saturday, November 8, 2008

Pinkwash '08

With all the excitement over the election, I truly forgot to toss some confetti when November 1st - the date that marks the end of Breast Cancer Awareness Month - rolled around.

What's so bad about the pink ribbons, you ask? Nothing would be if awareness were truly the goal or if it was all that we needed (in reality, a cure would be nice). Sadly though, the pink that is seemingly everywhere from the end of September through October is sometimes just as much about the money raised for the corporations that design the products than making this cancer go away.

Last year, the product that really made me aware of the "pinkwash" was Campbell's Soup. My local Price Chopper supermarket had a big bin of pink-labeled cans near the front door with a sign inviting shoppers to "Help Find a Cure." Trouble was that no where on the cotton candy-colored labels was there any mention of how much money from the sale of each can was to be donated or where the money was going.

This year, it was the $400 pink Dyson vacuum cleaner I saw in Target that nearly sent me over the edge. I suppose in some marketing genius' mind, pink cleaning products promote consciousness about breast cancer, but I just don't see the connection. Since most women don't think that anything as bad as a breast cancer diagnosis will happen to them, pink ribbons may remind them to get their annual mammogram or do regular breast self-exams, but I doubt the thought washes over us while tidying up around the house.

To me, the real problem is that not everyone is truly aware of the wide swath of devastation this disease can leave in its wake. I lost my mom in '92 to this stupid disease and I still didn't really understand it until my own breasts fell victim 12 years later.

182,460 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in the US this year. That's close to 200,000 women faced with surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy soon after hearing "It's cancer." Almost 41,000 American women will die from it in 2008 as well. That's a whole lot of families, partners, friends and neighbors who now must find a way to get through their daily routines without them. Since breast cancer is one of the most funded cancers, great strides have been made in early detection techniques and treatments in the past 10 years, but still people are dying. Treatments are wonderful – as is helping women find out they have breast cancer while it is still in its earliest, most treatable stages – but where the heck is the cure?

Think about it: if all the pink products that slap an awareness ribbon on their label actually donated a portion of their total proceeds to breast cancer research, this disease probably would have gone the way of the dinosaur by now. But so many of them either cap their contributions, give such a tiny percentage of each sale to the cause or give to organizations that have such high administrative overhead that only a tiny amount actually gets funneled to research and development for finding an actual cure.

Please, before you buy a pink feather duster or toss another container of yogurt or soup with a pink ribbon on it into your shopping cart, read the label to see how much of their donation – if any – will actually benefit women who are battling breast cancer or help ensure that a cure will be found someday soon. Unless it is a product you absolutely need, don't feel obligated to buy just because the label is the color of Pepto Bismol or the words "Breast Cancer" appear on the package. Instead, send a few dollars to local groups you know are helping women and their families (like Miles of Hope Breast Cancer Foundation) - and continue to pray that a cure for this stinking disease will be found before this little lady pictured above grows boobs.


  1. I continue to let people know about the horror of the little pink ribbon whenever I get the chance. I encourge them all to look at the fine print before they purchase that t-shirt, those sox, the dish soap. Finding a cure means getting the $$ in the right hands of the scientists and researchers that can do something about this awful disease...not in the marketers hands. Ug. Where do people get these ideas?

  2. You mention the 41,000 women that will die from breast cancer. Sick thing is...that's only in America. Worldwide, some 465,000 (yes, that's Four Hundred Sixty Five Thousand) will die from breast cancer.

    We need a cure.

    Thanks for the blog.


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