Sunday, October 4, 2009

Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Kind of nice or a load of crap?

Hi there,

So, it's October, which means it's Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The topic came up over the weekend while I was at an annual ladies' getaway to the Jersey Shore with Laura, Mrs. G (Laura's mom), and Mrs. Byrne (Laura's mom's close friend). We discussed whether we were on board with the cancer awareness months. Here's what we decided:

  • Breast Cancer Awareness Month is clearly the most popular and gets the most media attention of any of the cancer months. We need to pay more attention to other cancers, especially pancreatic cancer (which has such a high death rate) and lung cancer (which often has little sympathy because it's associated with smokers).

  • We're a little tired of all the Breast Cancer Awareness products. Stores are stocked with ridiculous items like a pink nail polish with a pink ribbon on it. Sure, some proceeds go to breast cancer, but it's often as little as 3 - 10 %. Why can't companies donate money to cancer charities in a subtle way? The products seem so showy -- for the companies and the consumers.

  • Why should just one month be associated with a specific cancer? Why shouldn't we be charitable and aware every month?
I couldn't help but relate to these arguments. While I feel grateful to the pancreatic cancer foundations like Lustgarten and PanCAN, I don't feel at ease participating in the events like charity walks or fundraisers. Each year I debate doing the walk, especially because my mom, dad, and brother did the walk when my mom was sick. But it just feels forced. I can't tell if I'm being a chicken, or if I just feel funny buying into it.

On the other hand, I admire people who embrace the charitable activities, in particular my cousin Deena who will walk for 3 days straight to raise money for breast cancer, since her mom is a survivor. I wish I had her courage.

What do you think about Breast Cancer Awareness Month, or cancer awareness months in general? Kind of nice or a load of BS?


  1. This is a really good question -- I think it's somewhat of a marketing ploy but if that's what it takes to raise awareness and encourage people to donate, the ends justify the means.

    I also think that the publicized charities aren't necessarily for everyone. I've done charity walks before and they can be fun, sentimental, meaningful and empowering but also sad, overhelming. Everyone has their own way of showing support and I think that's a good thing!

  2. i don't think it's a load of BS at all. i've lost important women in my life to breast cancer and i, myself, have breast issues. it's a killer and should be addressed as such.

    with regard to the marketing i agree with the above comment that if it's bringing in the funds, the ends justify the means. companies are clearly trying to reach out to a wide market of people and know that someone standing in rite aid will be far more likely to spend 1 min buying a bottle of nail polish to get some funds to the cause than they will to seek out a cause, fundraise, participate in a walkathon, etc. it's actually pretty smart.

    the bottom line is that this disease, in general, is causing us to lose important people in our lives. regardless of where it originates (breast, pancreas, liver, stomach) - they all are deadly. i'm sure pancreatic cancer could get a month for awareness. breast cancer has one, autism has april, as well as many other causes throughout the year. i think someone just needs to get the ball rolling on this.

    however, in order to get big corporations involved, that seems to be where the grassroots portion comes in and educates. i'm sure Lustgarten and PanCAN are doing all they can to spread the information but unfortunately, it takes a while.

  3. its bs, just like black history month- when you have a month devoted to something, it implies that you only pay attention to it for that one month, and the other 11 months you can go about your business as if it doesn't exist.

    its also bs that theres no cure yet for any cancer- i find it hard to believe that we cant figure out how to cure these horrid diseases- there was a great article in the NY Times about how the reason there's no cure is because the NIH grants go to research that doesn't search for a cure, because they cant guarantee it will be found (and thus could be money wasted) - basically we need more wealthy private citizens to invest in cancer cure research- that should be recognition of the month- actual scientific advances, not talking about a cure- we need action so hopefully one day lovely thoughtful blogs such as yours wont exist, because they wont need to =)

  4. As a breast cancer survivor I feel pressure to love October and all things pink. I actually think that the same awareness brought to breast cancer should be brought to so many other types of cancer. I think the pink ribbon is sometimes used as a marketing ploy and it seems to be slapped on every product out there from sharpie pens to smart water. And as you pointed out the percentage of donation is usually very low which makes you wonder. Also, there are some companies that claim to support breast cancer and slap the ribbon on their product when some of the ingredients have been linked to cancer.

    As for the fundraising walks I feel the same way marisa. It sometimes feels forced to me and it makes me feel uncomfortable. I do admire those who really throw themselves into that type of fundraising.

  5. Marisa and everyone. I am glad that breast cancer gets recognition and about 7 years ago I was really into it (mainly through 5K races). But since then, my father in law was diagnosed and passed away recently due to Pancreatic Cancer and my partner was diagnosed and is fighting Primary Peritoneal Cancer (a rare form of ovarian cancer). These two cancers get limited attention and although I wholeheartedly support the BC campaigns, I think that corporations/capitalists have taken advantage of the pink ribbon both for marketing and profit AND while these campaigns have taken off (i.e., NFL campaign, make-up, etc), others are not given the promotion that they deserve, including Pancreatic and Ovarian Cancer. I went to an Ovarian Cancer event last week and it lasted ONE day. BC events last ALL month here in Chicago and across the country. I know it is very frustrating for my partner because we have supported BC initiatives and now who is supporting her????? Why doesn't the NFL wear TEAL during September? Pick a color each month and then focus on it. Or would that be too much effort????

  6. Thanks everyone for the thoughtful comments. I hope I didn't piss off too many people with this post. My head swims round and round with this topic... just had to get out my feelings!