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Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Don’t Drink the Pink Kool-Aid

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This is not something that I have to remember — the pink products everywhere tell me that it is. Cancer is a terrible disease, and I’ve always thought pink was a terrible colour, so I guess the two things go together.

Like most women my age, I have friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances who’ve had to face this diagnosis and live through it the best way they can. Some have been more fortunate than others. And I am so grateful for those who still stand beside me and have been able to resume a life a of mothering, and working, and living all that regular life entails when you are not sick.

I also know it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month because my email box tied to this blog is filling up with “pitches” for me to help raise awareness. But it’s not a request to create awareness around how to do a self breast-exam, or how research dollars are making a difference, or even how fundraising dollars are helping women of low-income families to receive treatments in countries that don’t have socialized health care. These pitches are to raise awareness about the company’s particular cause marketing campaign related to Breast Cancer Awareness Month — i.e. we have a pink-coloured product, that when purchased will result in a donation of $X to X charity.

When I receive charitable requests, I always consider them. They certainly pull my strings more than any other kind of request. But in reading a few of these, I didn’t quite feel “right.”

What’s wrong with pink marketing?

In theory, if I needed to buy a particular product and it also happened to result in a donation if I buy the product, it’s a win-win, right? But the more products that are turning pink, the more I start to think that this must be a profitable endeavour. Just like selling a “green-ified” product is au courant, so it seems is the “pink-ified” product.

Yet, we all know that not all “green” products are actually doing much for the environment. Rather the term “green” is simply a way to help sell more product. Thus the term “green-washing.” And, in turn, a new term “pink-washing” is being used by a number of organizations.

Breast Cancer Action, in particular, is a strong voice on this issue of “pink-washing.” This organization has produced a list of critical questions to ask yourself before buying pink. These five questions are:

  • 1. How much money from your purchase actually goes towards breast cancer?
  • 2. What is the maximum amount that will be donated?
  • 3. How are the funds being raised?
  • 4. To what breast cancer organization does the money go, and what types of programs does it support?
  • 5. What is the company doing to assure that its products are not actually contributing to the breast cancer epidemic?

To learn more about the rationale and concerns that lay behind these questions, click over to the Think Before You Pink site. While I cannot refute the fact that pink marketing has raises millions of dollars over the years, I still think these questions are important to ask before pulling out your wallet.

To learn more about why so many cancer activists are concerned about pink marketing, consider the following:
So what’s a girl to do?

Like most things, I don’t think there’s any easy answer. But this is what I’ve decided to do:
I’m going to remind you what the symptoms for breast cancer are so that you can look out for them:

  • lump or swelling in the armpit
  • changes in breast size or shape
  • dimpling or puckering of the skin – thickening and dimpling skin is sometimes called orange peel
  • redness, swelling and increased warmth in the affected breast
  • inverted nipple – nipple turns inwards
  • crusting or scaling on the nipple
I’m going to encourage you to have a full physical examination with your family doctor once a year that includes a breast exam as well as a discussion around whether a mammogram is right for you.
I’m not sure what else I can do, but if you are currently going through cancer treatment and find the blogosphere to be a friendly place to hang out (like I do), I can suggest the following blogs: We Can Rebuild HerNot Just About Cancer, and Journeying Beyond Cancer.
We need to do something about cancer. I’m just not sure it has to do with shopping.
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Comments

  1. I totally agree and as part of me volunteering for the CIBC run for the cure we had that discussion many times with our committee members and the foundation. The foundation does see that although pink merchandising has been a great help for them to raise awareness over the past 20 years, they are also very concerned about the ‘pink washing’ with no clear understanding of where the funds go to. They are putting into place more strict guidelines and hoping that the partners they affiliate with are more clearly identified so consumers know the funds go to the Foundation or where else it goes.
    I found it particularly enlightening this year to see that the funds raised by the foundation here in Ottawa are going to grants in our region and that some amazing work is being done. Cancer in general is a horrible disease, breast cancer in itself will affect 1 in 9 women here in Canada. Thanks for your post and for additional information the run site and foundation site are also a resource: http://www.runforthecure.com/site/PageServer?pagename=2011_About_Us  and www.cbcf.org.

    • Coffee with Julie says:

      Giulia, Yes, it’s an important distinction (i.e. “we are not pinkwashing!”) that I’m sure must frustrate those working hard behind the Run for the Cure foundation. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.  

  2. This is a fabulous starting point. Thank you for pointing this stuff out as well as leading folks to more great resources. 

    I, for one, resent the idea that breast cancer should be cured when it could first be avoided. Slapping a pink ribbon on a known carcinogen drives me batty. Also, all this talk about saving the boobs… how does that help a woman who just had a mastectomy? Is she less of a woman now? 

    Arrggghhhh… great post. 

    • Thanks for stopping by, Jessica. I couldn’t agree more that some of the campaigns just seem terribly insensitive — like the “Save the Ta-Ta’s” campaign … geez, aren’t we trying to save a life, here? If I’d just had a mastectomy, I can’t imagine I would appreciate this campaign one bit.

  3. I totally agree with you about the pink products. We definitely need to consider what we buy and how much money actually goes toward helping people. I think it is wonderful that you are sharing information to increase education and awareness.

    • Coffee with Julie says:

      I am trying to be critical with what I buy, so this seemed like a topic I should look into. I’m really glad you found it useful joann. 

  4. great post! it’s so important to be critical of what we buy, especially in a society where people will try to make money off of anything. spreading awareness and spreading education is so valuable in the fight against cancer – not so much wearing a bracelet that says ‘Boobies’.

    • coffee with julie says:

      I’m glad you stopped by, Meg. The more pink I see on products, the less powerful the actual message becomes. It’s getting diluted, isn’t it? 

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  1. […] (and me and everyone) to stop and think about breast cancer: how to reduce your risk, what are the signs and symptoms to watch out for, how to support someone going through treatment, and what research is being […]

  2. […] (and me and everyone) to stop and think about breast cancer: how to reduce your risk, what are the signs and symptoms to watch out for, how to support someone going through treatment, and what research is being […]

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