Our B.K. passed away last October from a resurgence of what started out as breast cancer. She originally wrote this three years ago because she felt very strongly that our priorities around breast cancer awareness and research were way off. It’s as good now as it was then, and as it is October once again, we’re rerunning it in honor of our Melanie Baldwin.
October . . . ARRRRGGGHHH!!!!
I am not a big fan of October. In fact, I dread it for months ahead of time. Oh, there are lots of really good things about October: cooler weather, changing leaves, hay rides, pumpkin patch visits, Fall Festivals, Halloween, and even my husband’s birthday is in October. We have a lot of fun things going on in my family during October. But the month as a whole has really been ruined for me. It’s been ruined by that menacing, irritating, life-stealing disease called breast cancer. Well, sort of. It’s actually been ruined by that menacing, irritating, annoying phenomenon called Pinkwashing.
I am sure most of you Thinkers can relate. I’ve seen your posts on Facebook; you have the exact same feelings that I do, only yours are mostly directed at a little thing they like to call, “Light It Up Blue.” Oh, yes. It’s something cutesy that “non-profits” and big organizations like to do in order to make it look like they give a big care about about big problems. “Autism is on the rise! We care! We put some blue light bulbs in all of our buildings! See? See? We want you to be aware of autism. Woo hoo! Aren’t we awesome?” And, in the meantime, what is really and truly being done to stop more kids from falling victim to autism? Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Ugh. “Light It Up Blue” is an attempt by Autism Speaks and its supporters to make people think that action is being taken and work is being done to try to help our kids. It’s a smokescreen. It’s P.R. It’s not real.
Pinkwashing is the exact same thing — but change the cause to breast cancer — and it is practiced on a much larger scale. During October, it seems that everything turns to pink. Everything that you can think of to buy, from baseball caps, to jewelry, to cell phone cases, to ink pens, almost everything can apparently turn pink for the month of October. The plastic grocery bags at your local grocer turn pink. The labels on your favorite processed foods turn pink. The employees at your favorite stores wear pink shirts. Pink balloons are flying everywhere. Even Buckingham Palace is turning pink. All these things are happening in the name of breast cancer “awareness.”
This phenomenon really takes advantage of people’s emotions, especially women. Almost every woman these days is related to, or knows someone, who has gone through breast cancer. It’s gone from being a taboo topic in the 1970s to being a topic that we hear about constantly at the present time. The numbers of women diagnosed with breast cancer have increased dramatically. Every woman is afraid of it. Every woman wants to avoid it. Every survivor hopes and prays for a cure.
My first October after my breast cancer was in 2010, two years ago. When the month began, I remember seeing a big poster and some pink buttons about spreading breast cancer “awareness.” “Oh, awesome!” I thought. I was just starting radiation therapy at the time. I wanted people to know what I was going through. I wanted people to care. Yay for the pink! People will remember! People will care! Yay for October! Well, by the time October was halfway over, I was over it. I “got” it. And I was angry. October had turned breast cancer into one big party. Pink cakes! Pink party decorations! Pink celebrations, oh my! My struggle had been turned into some weird, freakish sort of “celebration.” All of those cakes, streamers, and balloons made October seem like we were throwing breast cancer one big party.
Even more disturbing was the realization that breast cancer is an enterprise. I realized that “breast cancer awareness” is merely one giant opportunity to merchandize. It’s profitable. Just because you buy a pink baseball cap, doesn’t necessarily mean that the proceeds go to any sort of breast cancer charity. Or, the company selling it can take a small percentage of the proceeds and donate it to a charity, and pocket a substantial profit for themselves. Just like our healthcare system itself, it is a business. Only in this business, there are a lot more people that can profit off of an illness than the healthcare industry. The list of businesses that can potentially profit off of breast cancer is limitless. No one owns the pink ribbon; therefore, anyone can use it and there is no regulating it. So, if you own, say, a dry cleaners, you can put a couple of pink ribbons on your door and pink hats on your employees, and POW! You look like you support breast cancer awareness/research/charities. And you don’t even have to actually give any money to breast cancer. Amazing, huh?
Now, I know that not everyone who has been through breast cancer feels the same way I do. I know many survivors and loving family members who love to wear pink. They probably love October. That’s okay. I love them for it. It is truly an honest and sincere attempt on their parts to “do something.” I completely get that. I know that most of them probably don’t know that it’s a big scam. I think that, because of our long journey with autism, I see things through different eyes than most people. I don’t think I’m more cynical, but I do think I am more skeptical. I can’t help it. I know now that many things in life are usually not as they appear. To find truth, you usually have to do a little digging. I’m thankful for that knowledge and wisdom, although I think it makes me a bit of a freak to “normal” people. I just feel like with this wisdom comes the responsibility to pass it on.
If you have a loved one suffering from breast cancer, there are many things that you can do to help them. Call and check on them. Make dinner for their family. Pray for them. Offer to help with their housework. Offer to accompany them to treatment. Give them a gift certificate for a mani/pedi, or even a massage. If you want to give money, consider giving it to to someone who is going through breast cancer, to help pay for the things that insurance or the pink organizations don’t pay for. Or just BE THERE for them. Listen to them. Tell them you support them. Show them that you are aware and that you care by your actions, not by some dumb ribbon.
If you REALLY want to buy something pink, do some research before you spend your money. This website , Think Before You Pink, has some great guidelines on what to do before you buy pink. You can also request a toolkit from them on how to change the conversation of breast cancer. And before you do any fundraising, or walking, or jumping jacks for breast cancer, do some research on the organization that you are actually raising money for. If you are fundraising with the goal of finding a “cure” (that is a WHOLE OTHER blog in itself, know what I mean?), find out what percentage of the money that they take in actually goes to that goal. Find out where the money goes. This website has great information about how the Susan G. Komen organization spends their money.
So, before you plunk down your hard-earned cash on what seems like a good cause, think before you buy pink.
For more blogs by B.K., please click here.