'Think before you pink' during breast cancer awareness month

October is upon us and the leaves are turning all sorts of colours, while the rest of the world goes pink.

Winnipeg writer Don Marks says people should be skeptical of breast cancer awareness campaigns

October is upon us and the leaves are turning all sorts of colours, while the rest of the world goes pink.
Co-run director for CIBC Run for The Cure Teresa Rydberg said thousands took part in Sunday's run to raise awareness and money for breast cancer research. (Lindsay Tsuji/CBC)

Professional football players are running around in pink booties and macho race car drivers are using pink wheel rims as we spend weekends adorned with pink baseball caps, gobbling pizza and chicken delivered in pink boxes and buckets before we don our pink jogging suits and join the many marathons outside. On Monday, the office nerd who always wears pink socks gets to be cool for a change. 

It used to be enough just to wear a pink ribbon to show your support for the fight against breast cancer.

Along with the proliferation of pink comes a pot packed with money (Komen for the Cure alone raises $500 million annually) and a plethora of problems.

'Think before you pink' 

As we head into another month of panoptic pink, it might be a good idea to review why many women want their sisters and brothers to “think before they pink.” 

First of all, we need to keep a close watch on some of the true colours behind the widespread corporate support this campaign attracts through the practice of “cause marketing” that some corporations use to take advantage of this tragedy to sell their products.

Too much of the money is spent on public awareness campaigns and the mammogram industry to detect the disease, drugs and equipment to treat the disease, and keeping a lot of doctors busy processing patients- Don Marks

Come October, pink sells.  Pink vacuum cleaners.  Pink balls (as in footballs, soccer balls, baseballs, all balls).  And pink clothing.  It has now become fashionable to wear pink after Labour Day.

Of course, they all offer a deal whereby “proceeds from the sale of said product go towards fighting breast cancer,” and some of the offers are legitimate.

Beware of red flags

But be aware of red flags so you don’t buy into deals like the infamous “Every Dollar Counts” campaign by American Express in 2002. One cent from every AmEx purchase was donated to breast cancer research. The catch was that it didn’t matter if the transaction was for $20 or $2,000, the donation was a penny per purchase. Sometimes the fine print can be more costly than the selling price. 

The pink ribbon campaign has plenty more legitimate ways to raise money and it is one of the biggest fund raisers in the world. The most obvious problem is that we don’t seem to be much further ahead in finding a cure for breast cancer. 

That is because most of the funds are spent on awareness and treatment instead of research. It starts to get real nasty when accusations fly about big manufacturers and big pharma and big medicine having too much control over the bigger organizations like the National Cancer Institute and the Komen Foundation.

Too much of the money is spent on public awareness campaigns and the mammogram industry to detect the disease, drugs and equipment to treat the disease, and keeping a lot of doctors busy processing patients.

More green should go to research

Critics want more of the money to be spent on research.  But they are compromised by a problem that won’t go away.   

Despite decades of raising funds that dwarfs the amount raised for other diseases (and the GDP of many countries riddled with breast cancer), researchers haven’t been able to develop the kind of coordination that is needed to be maximally effective. A clinic in San Francisco often has no idea what they are doing in Paris. And they both don’t know what they are finding out in Winnipeg. Some speculate that professional jealousy rears its ugly head as everybody tries to be the next Jonas Salk.

Not only that, it is kind of obvious there might be a lot of duplication going on, so it’s a good bet there is a doctor in China experimenting with some  technique that has already proven to be a failure in Japan and somewhere else before that.

An obvious barrier to finding a cure arises when you don’t know what causes the disease in the first place. Again, critics bemoan the lack of funds spent on prevention because if we could prevent breast cancer, it would follow that we would have some of the information we need to cure it, right?

And less patients, of course.

There have been accusations that some of the leading corporate sponsors manufacture chemicals or sell products with carcinogens. Some women don’t like the moods the campaign creates – violence characterized as “battling cancer” (like somehow they are not doing enough if they are losing the fight). Or the overall “cheerfulness” at most events.  This is serious business.

And then there is the middle-aged woman who just doesn’t want somebody to give her a teddy bear. She’s isn’t some six-year-old child. 

There are a lot of reasons to think before you pink. But the best strategy remains to get involved and support the various events. Then put even more energy, heart and mind towards correcting the problems that continue to exist with the pink ribbon campaign to find a cure for breast cancer.

Don Marks is a Winnipeg writer and the editor of Grassroots News.


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