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Why I’m Not a Big Fan of Breast Cancer Awareness Month


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NOTE:  this post was originally offered on my non-commercial blog (www.enjoyingtheride.net), which at the time of this posting is still up and running (but may not be in the future).

This may come as a complete shock to you, but I am not a big fan of Breast Cancer Awareness Month (also known as BCAM).  Why?  Have a seat and I will lay it out for you (assuming you aren’t already sitting, that is).

For starters, I’m pretty sure that most people are aware that breast cancer exists.  I don’t see a need for more “awareness”.  What I do see is a need for money to go to research – both for treatment and for prevention.  Especially prevention.  Don’t even get me started about how much money is “raised” versus how much actually goes to research.  All I can say is: be careful what “pink” products you purchase, as very little of the proceeds raised from the sale of these products actually goes to cancer research. 

And can we please talk about the pink washing we see everywhere?  It seems to me that Breast Cancer Awareness Month has become a marketing gimmick for many companies.  Everyone has gotten on the bandwagon of BCAM – to the point of tackiness in some instances.  And much of it seems to be more about the sponsoring company getting it’s name out there (“hey, look at me; I care”).  If they really cared, they would donate a chunk of money to breast cancer research instead of tagging their name to every pink product they can think of.

I’m also quite uncomfortable with the “survivor” focus.  Sometimes it feels more like we are patting ourselves on the back for all of these great results we must be seeing (early detection and all must mean that we are doing something better, right?).  Unfortunately, the results haven’t been so great.  Although deaths from breast cancer have gone slightly down, this slight drop isn’t anything to write home about.  Moreover, more women are being diagnosed with breast cancer and more young women are dying from metastatic breast cancer (unfortunately, when you get breast cancer young it tends to be much more aggressive).

I also think that, as a result of this focus on survivors, many people lose sight of those living with metastatic breast cancer.  At my first chemotherapy treatment, I met a woman about 10 years older than me with metastatic breast cancer.  She was just finishing up her latest therapy to keep her alive as long as possible.  She had three kids between the ages of 8 and 13 – she was way too young to die.  I remember that one lady who was in the transfusion room didn’t quite understand what “metastatic” meant and asked her to explain.  Her answer: “I will live until I die from this cancer.”  Heartbreaking.  I wonder how she feels about the focus on “survivors”, assuming she is still alive to feel anything at all.

When I was in treatment, one of the common themes that would be relayed to me (often, in the hopes of trying to make me feel better) was to explain how someone they knew had been through it and was a “survivor”.  People often hinted that treatment was now much better than it used to be and therefore the odds of survival are actually great (some didn’t just hint at this – they pretty much said it).  I won’t get into how wrong this response is to someone who has been diagnosed with and is fighting cancer (I will get into that in a future post), but I can tell you that they were plain wrong.  The unfortunate fact is that LOTS of people still die from breast cancer.   It just seems tacky as can be to be so “rah rah” about breast cancer when we have so many people dying from it as we speak.

Instead of focusing on “awareness”, what about raising money for research?  We need to prevent it in the first place and get better research to cure cancer.  In highlighting the prevention and cure aspect, why not highlight the women currently fighting and living with breast cancer?  It shouldn’t be just about the survivors.

Finally, what makes breast cancer so important that it gets its own month?   What about all of the other cancers out there?  One of the most depressing things about the transfusion room was how many different people with different cancers were there for chemotherapy.  I saw just about every type of cancer I could have imagined.  It really didn’t matter what type it was.  Yes, I know that treatment is different from a medical perspective.  However, the fear was the same for each one of us.  Even though our chemo drugs had different names, most of us still lost our hair – and we all felt like death because of the chemo.  We all knew we could die (and some knew they were dying).

Breast cancer isn’t special – it’s just one of numerous types of cancer.  Cancer steals life.  It is that simple.  And it sucks – no matter what type of cancer it is.  All cancers deserve “awareness”.  Moreover, all cancers deserve funding for research.  I want to try to prevent all cancer (not just breast cancer) and find a cure for (or at least great drugs to fight) them all.  Everyone dealing with cancer deserves this.

So, here is where I ask you to do something.  Instead of throwing your money away on the plethora of pink products out there (because the “support” that those products provide to actual research is typically pennies on the dollar), give money directly to charities who use most of the money researching both prevention and a cure.   You don’t even have to give specifically to breast cancer.  Any cancer will do.  

How to know which charity to give to?  Take a look at the American Institute of Philanthropy (go here) or Charity Navigator (go here) to see how the various charities measure up – and which one will fit your needs. 

Until next time…

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Hey there, I’m Heather.


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