October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and the world is awash in pink. But all the pink products you see on the shelves this month? Some purchases have minimal to no benefit for breast cancer patients (and a few can actually harm us). Before you buy pink, it’s a good idea to do some research and find out what charity the product supports, what they do, and how much of the purchase proceeds actually go to the charitable organization. There are also other (and better) things you can do to support women with breast cancer year round.
Pinkwashing Can Cause Cancer
Some of those pink products contain carcinogenic chemicals or ingredients, or are produced using processes that have been linked to causing cancer. But corporations are smart – they throw pink on a potentially carcinogenic product – a practice known as “pinkwashing” – and rely on well-meaning consumers to purchase it to support someone like me. If you want to buy pink in support of breast cancer patients, please read this article from Breast Cancer Action that explains how to ensure your purchases are making a difference and not harming you.
Let’s Raise Awareness of the Breast Cancer that Kills
Aside from the pink politics of this disease, there are other reasons that October makes me cringe. First is the fact that the month is almost exclusively focused on breast cancer awareness and the importance of screening and early detection. I believe at this point, 32 years after the first National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the majority of women are quite aware of the importance of mammograms and self-exams. At least some of the press and funding Pinktober generates is better focused on research towards improved treatment and a cure for the only breast cancer that kills – metastatic breast cancer (MBC, or stage IV).
Out of all the research dollars that fundraisers, private donations, and government grants generate year-round, only 5-7% goes towards finding a cure for MBC. So if you’ve ever asked yourself why we don’t we have a cure for breast cancer yet, this is surely a part of the reason why. Pretty in pink, treatable cancer patients are more consumer-friendly and more easily marketed than the face of the terminal, stage IV patient. Please understand that my intention is not to downplay the struggle non-metastatic patients face, for it is a difficult one both physically and emotionally. But far too many of these women don’t realize, through no fault of their own, that they have a high risk of developing MBC themselves one day.
Understand that Stage IV is a Threat to All Women
When I was diagnosed with stage 0 ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) in 2012, I was scared but I was told that with this early stage breast cancer, after I underwent a double mastectomy, I would never have to worry about breast cancer again. In fact, when Tim and I went for a second opinion at the renowned Dana-Farber cancer center in Boston to find out if radiation and/or tamoxifen were necessary treatments for me, the oncologist told us that I was already “cured” and we should go out and celebrate and not worry about a thing.
Wrong. Three years later a hard lump in my neck and severe back pain showed up, and I learned what most women don’t realize until it’s too late. Three in four women diagnosed with invasive, non-metastatic breast cancer will eventually have their cancer spread and develop stage IV metastatic breast cancer. And when you have MBC, you have a limited number of treatment options. Cancer, being the smart little f*cker it is, keeps changing to adapt to the chemotherapy and other anticancer treatments you take. So you cross your fingers and hope you live long enough for the FDA to approve more (and hopefully better) drugs to fight it. Which is when you realize that the lack of funding for MBC research is a bigger problem than you ever understood, and pink ribbons are not currently helping it.
The Future Isn’t That Rosy (But We Can Change That)
Finally, every time I see a pink ribbon it reminds me I am living on borrowed time. The median survival time of a woman my age living with stage IV is 38.7 months (3 years and change) from diagnosis, and the five-year survival rate is 36%. I was officially diagnosed through a lymph node biopsy in the fall of 2015, but given my symptoms throughout that summer, consider myself stage IV since June of that year. That means I’ll hit the three year mark with MBC this coming June. That said, I’m more than a statistic and there are women I know that have lived with stage IV for ten years or longer. They are my role models. I continue to do what I can to stay healthy and hope that I’m an outlier on the statistical path of stage IV breast cancer.
If you are still with me at the end of this post, thanks for hanging in there. I know it was a downer (here’s a cat meme for you to lighten things up). If you had been planning to buy pink this October, now you can do so with a little more knowledge behind the purchase. If you want to donate to a breast cancer organization instead of going pink, let me suggest Metavivor, one of the only non-profit currently focusing exclusively on funding stage IV research.
Top 10 Worst Pink Products
And now for some comic relief (and in some cases, a bit of righteous indignation), here are the top ten most ridiculous products I’ve seen that go pink in October this year. Have some of your own? Post them in comments.
- The Oil Fracking Drill Bit. Classic pinkwashing – fracking has been linked to cancer.
- 5-Hour Energy Drink. When you need that 3:00pm energy boost before your mammogram.
- TCP Lightbulbs. Because breast cancer lights up my life.
- Pink Kiss Martinis. Actually, these may not be such a bad idea.
- Casket & Coffin Cremains Urn. When you look at your loved one’s urn, you really want to be reminded of the disease that killed them.
- The Calf House. Hat tip to a certain Facebook friend for making me aware of this monstrosity.
- Fisher Snowplows and Salt Spreaders. Plowing through to spread awareness?
- Citron Feminine Hygiene Disposal Boxes. Bloody hell, someone in the Citron marketing department is really reaching for a buck. Also – newsflash – many chemotherapies induce menopause.
- Natural Contours Vibrator. At least this is a useful product.
- Callahead Portapotty. All I can do is shake my head.