Why You Shouldn’t Go Pink for October

Date Thu, October 15 2015

Breast Cancer Awareness Month has always left a sour taste in my mouth. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it; though, I’ve ranted about it in my personal blog. However, this event has become such a profitable industry that more and more people are speaking up about how wrong it is. It’s not just a “road to Hell” situation, either. Plenty of people are profiteering from slapping pink labels on products and sponsoring breast cancer events in ways that are actually harming the cause and leaving breast cancer patients for dead.

Now that I understand just how many ways this is happening, I cannot help but feel passionate and speak up about it. And forgive me if this is rambling and long. There are just so many things wrong with the way companies and organizations have hijacked Breast Cancer Awareness.

Why You Shouldn't Go Pink for October

1. Pinkwashing

During the entire month of October, stores turn pink as manufacturers change packaging to show support for breast cancer awareness. However, very little of the money you spend on that energy drink will go toward a breast cancer charity, the charity may simply be a front for the company who makes the products, or the charity it goes to might be one that does more harm than good, anyway (more on that below).

Think Before You Pink has a great article on knowing which products/campaigns are helpful, along with those that were deceptive. It’s also worth considering whether other things a company does supports their stance against breast cancer. Does their manufacturing process release carcinogens? Do ingredients contribute to illness?

This isn’t to say that some companies don’t donate a larger portion of proceeds or even match proceeds from customers, but you’ve got to do your research to see whether a company is doing the right thing or simply raking in the profits because you think buying that product is an easy way to support a good cause. And your money is probably better spent donating directly to causes you support and getting the tax deduction, which brings us to our next point.

2. Misleading “Charity”

The most well-known organization around breast cancer is probably Susan G Komen for the Cure, which accepts funds and hosts events such as races/walks. In fact, the specific shade of pink that Komen uses is named after the “charity.” Huh.

If you wanted to donate, you might give some money to this group. However, it’s only rated 2/4 stars on Charity Navigator, with less than 15% of the funds raised going to research. That’s not all, folks. Until recently, the founder and CEO of Komen for the Cure was also paid a slick 500k annually, which doesn’t seem very charitable to me. Many charities pay their CEOs a hefty salary, but the former CEO was receiving more than CEOs from comparable organizations.

Like I said, Charity Navigator specifically lists charities and rates them. There’s plenty of information about where the money goes.

Breast Cancer Research Foundation Rating on Charity Navigator

Breast Cancer Research Foundation Rating on Charity Navigator

Of particular note is the Breast Cancer Research Fund, which spends more than 80% of its funds on research and helps breast cancer patients make more information decisions. Donate now. I just did.

I don’t mean to pick on Komen specifically because I’m sure it has done some good. However, it’s the perfect example of how profitable these nonprofits can be. Proponents of this organization are quick to point out that a total of around 80% of funds raised by Komen go to other outreach, cancer screening (even though it may do more harm than good) and education programs, AKA “awareness.” Of course, awareness programs are problematic in their own way.

3. Awareness

What many companies in the breast cancer industry called awareness would better be labeled as “Advertising.” Because it brings a lot of attention to the companies who are “doing good,” and not just to the cause. But we’ve been doing Pink for October for years. I think it’s safe to say people are aware of a lot of things — that breast cancer is a life-threatening illness suffered through by many women, for example. However, this awareness is hyper-focused on things everyone already knows. It’s not making anyone aware of new facts or less common research such as:

  • The fact that both cisgender and transgender men can get breast cancer as well as ciswomen.
  • The fact that mammograms lead to 25% over-diagnosis of breast cancer while not detecting cancer in some patients
  • …and that mammograms expose women to potentially harmful radiation
  • …and that mammograms are almost completely ineffective at detecting cancer in dense breast tissue of women in their 20s
  • The fact that not all breast cancer is alike — metastatic breast cancer is the only kind that spreads to vitals organs and is fatal
  • …and only 2% of research focuses on MBC

The statistics about breast cancer are frightening. We’re all so very aware, yet very little has changed because of it. Perhaps more money going directly to research is necessary.

I also find it particularly interesting that some insurance companies are only covering Pap smears, which are accompanied with manual breast exams, every three years since the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force changed its recommended for these exams to be performed every three years. I doubt I am alone when I admit how inconsistent I am about performing breast self-exams, and I suspect many women will think about breast cancer in a personally way 2/3 less than they did when they were getting yearly Pap exams.

4. Focus on Prevention

If it hasn’t become abundantly clear, the technologies used to detect breast cancer are ineffective at best — harmful at worst. Many times, breast cancer is caught in a late stage. Doctors cut out the cancerous tumors and hope for the best, meaning that all the cancerous cells go with. Preventative measures will never be enough.

We have to focus on the cure for cancer. You know, the thing Komen claims it does. Money should go directly to research into the cure, even if it involves unconventional medicine, to increase survival rates once breast cancer is finally detected. Plus, finding a cure that’s more than simply chemotherapy may provide the key for patients beating breast cancer with both their lives and their health. Our current treatments are almost as bad as breast cancer itself.

5. Ignoring Patient Struggles

I am fortunate that neither I nor anyone in my immediate circle has fallen victim to breast cancer. However, cancer is often the least of the worries for these patients who miss work, must deal with high medical bills and argue with insurance companies over coverage. They’re worrying not only about losing their lives and health, but their homes and livelihoods.

And so many breast cancer efforts do nothing to help people who are suffering right now. There are a few organizations to consider, however. The Pink Fund provides financial aid to breast cancer patients to help them pay for living expenses.

And with the Affordable Care Act preventing insurance companies from rejecting customers based on existing conditions, more breast cancer survivors will be covered should cancer rear its ugly head again, as it so often does.

6. Hashtag Slacktivism

Perhaps what bothers me most about the current state of Breast Cancer Awareness Month is all the damned slacktivism I see. Slacktivism is the name given to actions taken via social media that do no damned good such as using hashtags, signing petitions and forwarding messages about the color of your underwear. How does any of this do even as little good as mailing in yogurt lids that cost more in postage than the donation to be sent?

This year, it’s all about #NoBraDay. Because not wearing a bra does any good? Because your perfectly health breasts that aren’t scarred and re-formed make any breast cancer survivor feel better in the least? It’s so sad to see life or death issues be reduced to Facebook games and cutesy hashtags. Makes me wanna puke.

Let’s not even get started with the stupid “Save the Tatas” meme. No, assholes. How about we save some lives?!

And you could say all of these things are misguided but harmless, but you’d be wrong. Studies show that thinking about doing something good, let alone actually doing it, actually decreases the chances that humans will actually do any good. Pretty crappy, right? You feel all warm and fuzzy for sharing an image without lifting a finger to actually do something.

And if that’s what this month has become, I say we do away with the whole damn thing.

2 Responses

  1. Robin October 19 2015 @ 9:53 pm

    Cole ~ I am speechless. Thank you for all of the information that you amassed and shared. I am dumbfounded at my gullibility as I don’t consider myself dumb or gullible. I’ll do what I can to help spread the word and just wear purple for Lupus (my own hell) all year.

  2. Cole October 19 2015 @ 10:41 pm

    You’re very welcome. IT’s easy to be tricked by these companies when it comes to good causes. Where your colors and your ribbons to show support, but make sure you’re not throwing money down the drain when it could go directly to a good cause. Thanks for reading!

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