Friday, October 12, 2012

The Business Of Breast Cancer And The Pink Ribbon Blues

As many of you may know October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month. This is the time of year where a lot of people are seen wearing pink and there are more pink products being sold in stores in the name of the disease.

Depending on the store, at the check-out someone might ask you if you'd like to buy a pink breast cancer pen with a ribbon on it in support of breast cancer awareness. Or you might see a display of kitchen products all pinked out in support of the cause. Young teens are seen wearing "I heart Boobies" bracelets thinking they have done their part towards a cure. People get decked out in pink costumes for the runs and the walks where they play upbeat "Survivor" music and make the events into celebrations... a pink party even.

It seems every company has a pink ribbon on their products these days... bottled water, iced tea, toilet paper, candy, gum, cosmetics,  shampoo, fried chicken, greeting cards, alcoholic beverages, yarn and wool, car companies, pens, nail polish, eggs, athlete socks, USB memory sticks, golf balls, margarine, credit cards and even handguns in the states. Buy enough pink stuff and you too can conquer cancer.

So what is the deal with all of this overkill on the pink breast cancer tie-in products?

First I'd like to tell you about how the pink ribbon came to be...
The woman was 68-year-old Charlotte Haley, the granddaughter, sister, and mother of women who had battled breast cancer. Her peach-colored loops were handmade in her dining room. Each set of five came with a card saying: “The National Cancer Institute annual budget is $1.8 billion, only 5 percent goes for cancer prevention. Help us wake up our legislators and America by wearing this ribbon.”…
Then Estee Lauder and Self magazine approached Charlotte Haley and wanted to use her loops in the magazine and on their beauty products (which, by the way, contain cancer-causing carcinogens). Charlotte said no. So they followed up by hiring lawyers who told them that if they changed the colour of the looped ribbons they could legally get away with using it. They did a focus group with women asking them what colour came to mind when they thought of words like "comfort" "pretty" and "safety" (Everything that breast cancer is NOT)... And they picked pink.

And so became the birth of the pink ribbon.

It wasn't long after Estee Lauder and Self magazine started profiting from using the ribbon as an awareness symbol and donating (tiny) 'portions' for research that other corporations caught on and realized that they too could profit if they were associated with breast cancer awareness.

So much pinkification and exploitation through pink culture is out there claiming that every little bit helps... that by buying the water bottle that has a pink ribbon on it people are doing something towards a cure... But many people don't realize that that water bottle with that ribbon on it actually has Bisphenol A in it and is actually linked to breast cancer. Even some spiked lemonade drinks have been branded with the pink ribbon encouraging people to drink and support breast cancer.

There is something known in the Breast Cancer Action community called "Pink-Washing"... when companies sell unhealthy products that have cancer-causing agents in them while the product claims to support breast cancer. And sadly there are so many firms out there doing this.

Not only is there a heck of a lot of pink-washing... but there is very little transparency as to how much (if any) money is being sent for research. And after some heavy digging, it was discovered that a lot of companies are not actually giving anything at all towards anything breast cancer related but merely profiting off of a disease.

Even the companies who ARE giving something are not necessarily giving enough to really (in my opinion) be allowed to claim to be supporting the cause. They realized the benefit of cause related marketing and jumped on the ribbon band wagon.

They are in it for their bottom line. Period.

There are many companies guilty of this. Guilty of being vague on their packaging. Of slapping a "we support breast cancer awareness" (and that's it!) on their silly pink office supplies. Companies are guilty of only giving .67 cents of the $70 jeans, or 1% of proceeds... Even those chocolate covered almonds for the cure... the ones you can buy for $3 at the till in random stores (first off, these chocolates contain shitty shit in them that are not natural) and second of all they only donate .30 cents to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

And then there's the companies indicating a 'CAP' on their donations... Where only a maximum of $5,000 will be donated but the company still profits well after the goal has been reached. Without us even knowing when they have reached that goal. And who knows how long ago that was!?

And then what happens with the money that actually does make it towards 'the cure'?

For years we have been running for, cycling for, walking for, racing for and SHOPPING for 'the cure'. How much of the money raised and donated is actually going towards REAL beneficial ground-breaking research? How much of it sits there unused because of lack of resources? And how much duplication is being done by scientists in North America and scientists in Europe? How much of the money is going towards finding ONLY profitable drug related solutions without looking into prevention and cause?

Yes there have been new studies lately and new drugs like Herceptin that have helped with treating the disease. But there really has not been a lot of significant progress. How could this be when so much money has been raised for awareness and research?

The ugly truth is that most of the money doesn't even make it to fund research.Unfortunately more then 60% of the funds go back into more awareness campaigns, more ridiculously expensive runs/walks and more silly pink shopping gear. I said it before... the world is AWARE. We don't need more pink pens and pink crafting products raising awareness. (Having said this, I must add that while every one knows it exists and is reminded to do mammos and self-checks I must admit I didn't actually know I could get it at my age... That being said I still DO support groups like Rethink Breast Cancer and campaigns targeting women in there 20s and 30s since we are the ones who are less likely to be doing monthly self-checks because we think we are too young to get breast cancer... NEWS FLASH! You are never too young to get breast cancer people!)
After three decades of "awareness" campaigns and billions of dollars raised, breast cancer remains a public health crisis of epidemic proportions. Not enough prevention and cause research has been done. In fact less then 5% of the money goes towards finding out what actually is causing it to occur in the first place.

If the scientists are saying that breast cancer is so complex and they don't know what is even causing it, then how can they find a cure for something they don't even full understand? 

A brilliant documentary by the name of Pink Ribbon Inc. was a real eye-opener for me and helped me pin-point how I had been feeling about this issue. I knew there was a disconnect even before I was diagnosed and finally this film was able to sum up a lot of my feelings. Concerns that I had pondered before when I would see a BAD product claiming to support cancer were now justified and validated. The film really explains a lot of what has been really going on with this whole Pinkified culture that companies seem to be forgetting is about real human-beings living with and dealing with breast cancer. Humour me and watch it!

On top of this, I feel that all of this pink crap actually is demeaning to other cancers. Just because it's boobs! Because it can be sexualized and made pretty, sexy, cute and pink. How is this (click link) helping fund breast cancer research? How does this make someone dealing with breast cancer feel good about themselves? How is THIS finding a cure!? COME ON! This looks NOTHING like breast cancer and has nothing to DO with the disease! It is not supportive in any way and I bet most women who have faced it would take offense to this ad if they saw it.

And what about the women literally fighting for longer life? What about the stage 4 metastatic breast cancers and those women dealing with incurable disease? What about the women on chemo for the rest of  their days to be kept comfortable? The women learning how to say goodbye and come to terms with dying... How do you think they feel when they see Pink Hope cupcakes in the grocery store? Or when they see breast cancer balloons with words like 'hope' 'courage' and 'survivor'?

When I see pink I think of these women and what they are going through. And it makes me sick to imagine how they must feel when they finally have a good day and go out with their family to the store only to be slapped in the face with 'for the cure' and 'win the fight' bubblegum-coloured shit. The sad reality is that corporations are ignoring the metastatic breast cancer community. Out of the entire month of October where the 31 days are spent on pink overload, there is only ONE day dedicated towards stage 4 breast cancer and it happens to be tomorrow Oct 13. I think this is awful that the reality of what can happen is being swept under the rug. Pink culture ignores the women living with metastatic disease and this to me is so unfair and disrespectful.

None of us are safe once we have been diagnosed with breast cancer. Unlike a few other cancers we are never given the green light stamp of  "cured" approval. Any one of us who have been diagnosed once could later be diagnosed with a recurrence resulting in a breast cancer that has spread. For this reason, I can't get excited about the pink marketing and pinked out celebratory events. I can't get pumped at a breast cancer run wearing fluorescent leggings and a tutu. I don't 'fight like a girl', I'm not going to be reduced to my anatomy with stupid 'saving the ta-tas' bracelets and I certainly am not going to wear anything on it that says 'survivor' in pink glitter.

I want to clarify that I am not against the colour pink or the pink ribbon itself. I am against what it has become. What selfish companies have turned it into. How they have prettied up a horrible disease. How it undermines women dealing with the disease (and people dealing with other types of cancer too!) I am against the disconnect between what breast cancer really is and what marketing it has made it appear to be. And how so many people are clueless about what really is going on with the pink 'movement'.

We are STILL so in the dark when it comes to knowing what is causing this disease and yet the breast cancer awareness industry has become a multi-billion dollar steamroller touching every continent on the planet.

So yes... I admit, I do like the colour pink. I have always worn it and don't plan on becoming all anti-fuchsia and getting rid of anything I own that could be perceived as being associated with breast cancer awareness. I just can't support the abuse of what the cause has grown into.

In some ways it really has become a monster. I often think of how all of the people dealing with OTHER cancers feel when they are out shopping and are bullied by pink breast cancer chocolates, pens and tied-in ribbon shit. There are more cancers out there and I think the in-your-face-pink is insulting to people dealing with different types of cancer. You never see purple ribboned lymphoma mittens. You don't see grey brain cancer hair products. And what about blue colon cancer stationary?

And what about the MEN? Men get breast cancer too. I imagine they must feel really left out. Embarrassed even to admit they have it perhaps? How awesome they must feel about not being included!! Ya, NOT.

What has happened to the pink ribbon sadly has turned breast cancer into the pink-bully in the playground of cancers. How unsupported and alone do people with bone cancer feel when they are inundated with pink? And the thyroid cancers? The pancreatic cancers? And the childhood cancers? How frustrated do people with brain cancer feel when they don't get the awareness they need and deserve this October? (Which btw, October is brain cancer awareness month too although you may not know it because pink has taken over! Read more about brain cancer awareness over at Kristy's blog in a post she wrote earlier this month)

I just wish others could see what has happened here and understand that buying the pink food processor or the pink handbag is not really doing anything. We have allowed breast cancer awareness to be commodified for profit. The pink loops started out as a social movement serving urgent health needs for women and have now been robbed by disgusting spotlight-seeking greed-driven corporations. It is giving consumers a false feeling of a job well done when they purchase ANY kind of breast cancer cause related item.

Breast cancer is not just a disease anymore. It's a product.

So even though we are already mid-month of Pinktober and the pink stuff may teeter out a little bit towards the end of the month (in Canada maybe more then the United States)... Even though there are some legit companies actually doing some good out there, please second guess and think twice about supporting companies who are tied to the breast cancer cause only for their own advantage and gain. Here are some shopping tips:

- Look on the packaging and see where the money is going. If it doesn't say who ends up with the money, don't buy it.
- Check to see how much money is even going to fund research (if at all).
- If it simply just says 'for awareness' that is not good enough.
- If the packaging is vague and in no way indicates a specific donation amount but still has a recognized breast cancer research foundation logo on it... We don't know how much they are giving and you're not helping by buying it.
- More importantly: If the product is related (in any way!) to environmental pollution, activities known to contribute to higher cancer rates or directly known to be linked to cancer and other health issues... PLEASE DO NOT BUY INTO IT.
- If you truly want to help... donate directly to a specific research related initiative. And please don't forget that there are other cancers desperately needing more funding.

This pink sea of so-called awareness and hope has gone too far. It has lost its roots. It needs to be brought back to its original intention. We need to take back the pink ribbon. 

For the people who actually care a lot about this issue... we can only hope that one day the pink ribbon will be regulated and that cause-marketing laws force companies to demonstrate full transparency. Simple awareness is not enough. Refuse to support companies who have jumped on the cause-marketing money making train. Action and 100% proceeds given to funding real progress towards a cure and cause/prevention research are the answers.

If you have been touched by cancer in any way, please consider downloading or ordering the film Pink Ribbon Inc. I know I have already gone off, ranted and rambled on about it enough for you to get the picture... but the movie really covers the issues much better. (And in a less rampage-like angry way! lol. I can't help but get MAD and riled up about the many flaws in this pink 'movement' and culture)

Please rethink how you look at pink. Breast cancer is not pretty, safe and comforting. It's scary, ugly and traumatic. These are lives. These are women (and men) dealing with a disease. We are not just breasts tied with a pretty pink bow.


  1. I have to say I have always purposefully steered clear of all products that are for donations. (to breast cancer or anything really) I never drop change into a donation box, I never give money when they ask me at the cash register...etc. Of course I get dirty looks but I don't want to donate to something I know nothing about. Anything I have ever donated to I have researched online extensively before donating the money to make sure what my money is doing.

    1. Thank you for sharing this. I think it is important to research where the money goes in all cases absolutely. It is always good to do a bit of homework if it's something you are considering putting your money into.

  2. Well said, Ashley, and I could not agree more. Lisa

  3. ROCK on.... Ashley... Rock ON!!!


  4. Another very well written post! That documentary.. *sigh* so shocking but heartbreaking and what an eye-opener!
    I actually saw an interview with Kylie Minogue the other day... it was so moving. I respect her for keeping her emotions to herself and not writing ten books about it. All of a sudden I understood her so well. It must be hard being a public figure and not wanting to share everything she went through. She was struggling with her emotions during this interview and it was so moving. It definitely is scary, ugly and traumatic what we're going through!

    1. It is SO heartbreaking. I will look for Kylie's interview online... thanks for sharing Ciel. xo

    2. Maybe you already found it but it's this one: :) I also saw an interview on Dutch TV and she spoke about her new album and a new song called Flower. She described the song as "a love song to the child I may or may not ever have." Made me cry as well after my whole IVF disappointment. It's a sad but very beautiful song:

    3. Thanks Ciel... just watched it and got teary eyed (as expected)...

      *big sigh*

  5. Great blogging girl. I do live the pink crap but totally agree with you at the same time! It's hard because my boys want to show their momma support this way, so we educate them on which products to support. You are a fabulous writer, I see a book here:)

    1. Thanks Anne Marie for this message! Big hugs lady!

      (Still have not received the package btw, I will let you know with a photo!)

  6. Thank you for this post Ashley! It is amazing and moving and says everything I could ever want to say. That picture you posted a link to infuriated me!! God forbid we see the real side of breast cancer, because you know, I totally look like those women after my double mastectomy! Ugh! You've got me all riled up! Great post as usual. - Jessi

    1. Jessi, thanks for your candidness. I also appreciated you blog post on these issues and the lack of support for women facing stage 4.

      I too was disgusted by this ad. They should do one with REAL breast cancer women. Scars and all!


  7. Hi Ashley,

    This was so heartfelt! And what you wrote about how people with other cancers must feel -- you really helped put readers into their shoes and realize how WRONG pink culture is. I've read so many informative, passionate blog posts, Tweets, news articles and more about pinktober and exploitation. I'm so moved. I especially liked that you included a call to action: what can people do to stand against pink and actually help people with breast cancer. THAT is true awareness. It doesn't surprise me that this component is absent from corporate awareness campaigns, but that so much of the public is ignorant... That's dangerous and wrong. I am confident that you and the other amazing bloggers campaigning against this will help make the public aware of what true awareness is.

    Do you find that you are more conscious of the impact true awareness has since you were diagnosed with cancer? I have had some health issues for my whole life and so I have a good perspective on the importance of awareness. I think a lot of people don't and so don't see the issues, or not as clearly.

    I also like how you touched on the permanence of breast cancer: you're never really free of it. Pinktober and related breast cancer campaigns seem to imply that breast cancer is temporary, a fork in the road. How insulting. How are you emotionally and physically dealing with having had cancer?


    1. Hello fellow Ashley! Thank you for stopping by and commenting on this post.

      I believe that I am definitely more conscious now about true awareness then before I had cancer. Before I think I recognized the disconnect but didn't have it directly affect me so was able to just have it in the back of my mind. Now that I am IN it, I see what is going on.

      Yes, breast cancer is never over. It is something I have a difficult time with. Many people think it just ends once treatment is over and life should just resume back to normal again. But it is just not the case. I am working on finding my footing again and know it will take time.

      All the best to you!