Tuesday, October 11, 2011


This October has a whole new meaning for me. October, as many of you know is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and up until 2011, it has had much less of an impact on me. I have always been a fan of pink but I am certainly more conscious of it now. Wearing my pink wig to chemo meant I was a supporter of all women (and men) going through breast cancer but it also represented me kicking cancer's ass. Now, when I see someone wearing a pink ribbon, I feel supported or feel like I have some connection with that person because he or she has felt the effects, whether it was directly or indirectly, of breast cancer.

What actually is breast cancer awareness? Does wearing a pink ribbon signify that you are actually aware? What do people mean when they say they are promoting awareness? Does being aware of the disease provide you with the knowledge to arm yourself against breast cancer? Do you know how to give yourself a self-examination and if you found a lump would you know what to do? Awareness is more than the colour pink and buying something like mushrooms that have pink ribbon packaging doesn't make me aware. Does buying items that support breast cancer organizations who provide awareness programs, funding, and outreach initiatives make the consumer aware?

There is talk about reclaiming October; so many people on social networks are outraged by 'Pinktober' because it overshadows the other awareness months. How many people knew that September was Ovarian Awareness Month?, probably not that many. In October, the whole world seems to turn pink; NFL players wear pink, 'breast cancer' is plastered everywhere and grocery stores start selling things like fruit trays in the form of pink ribbons (not joking, saw it with my own two eyes last week). Now, I've always been one to be conscious, even prior to my diagnosis, not to buy something based on a product stating they 'support cancer research/funding/awareness'. My 6 year old nephew supports all those things, it doesn't mean he donates any money to them. Just because a product supports a program or charity doesn't mean that by buying that product, any money is going to be donated to the cause. There is also sometimes a limit. So, a company can say "$1 from the purchase of every (insert product here) will go towards (insert group here)', however it can say in fine print "up until $10000 is reached" but they continue to sell the product with the pink ribbon and get 100% of the profit because their maximum has been reached.

Take the fruit tray for example, there was nothing different about the pink ribbon fruit tray compared to the yellow round fruit tray beside it but the company who makes them are going to sell more pink ribbon fruit trays because of what it represents. Is that smart on their part? Absolutely! Is it right? Maybe not. Breast cancer sells and companies know that. And, who could possibly look down on a company for supporting the pink ribbon? Right? Again, maybe not! I think a lot of the argument is, if you want to support breast cancer research, why not donate directly to it? Why buy a product that is going to donate $0.50 to a charity (the specific product that I am thinking of supports an American charity which is fine except I am going to benefit more from research and studies done in Canada) instead of donating $5 to the charity of your choice? Or instead, get involved yourself. You don't have to have had cancer to be a volunteer for a cancer organization. This way you know 100% of your support is going towards the cause not into a company's pocket. There's a belief that activism was replaced by consumerism and it's money that 'they're' after not awareness.

In my case, I felt like I wasn't aware. I am a well educated girl but I assumed that breast cancer didn't happen to women in their 20s. After I was diagnosed, I thought I was going to be in textbooks and world record books for being the youngest person diagnosed. Then, I find out that I am far from alone. I don't think awareness among young women is properly funded or supported. It wasn't easy for me to find any information about women in their 20s getting breast cancer and quite frankly all I heard was "26? You're so young to get breast cancer." You're telling me! Now walking the line between needing more funding for awareness among young women and needing funding for women like me who have been diagnosed, I don't know the appropriate division of funds.

There was a recent magazine article that stated that less than 40% of all money raised goes to actual research. I see that this stat can be bothersome however, with no money raised, no money goes towards research and charities can't run themselves. I don't have a huge problem with this because without the charity, group, etc. there would be no money donated. This is assuming that there isn't a frivolous amount going to overhead and that no one is becoming a millionaire while posing as an activist for the cause. Volunteers do a lot but there are still employees, costs for programs, events, bills for the headquarters (rent, etc.) so I think it's a little naive to assume that all money raised will go directly towards research. Research saved me from a second surgery a week before my surgery date so I realize the importance of it but without money going to support the financial needs of the organization there would be no organization to support any research. Maybe it should be made public where the funding goes and the break-down of the allocation of all the money raised, that way someone could make an informed decision of if they want to donate and to whom they want to make the donation.

Some think that the pink ribbon has taken away from the severity of it all, that being represented by a cute little, pink, perfect ribbon doesn't represent breast cancer properly or the way it should. Wrapping breast cancer up in a pink ribbon can give the impression that it's not as severe as other cancers. Breast cancer isn't always curable, many people die from it and have people forgotten that is it cancer? What about metastatic breast cancer? I've read that as many as 1/3 of all breast cancers can become metastatic and if that's the case then why isn't there more funding/focus on it? I didn't even know what that was prior to being diagnosed. If you want to be aware then look it up. Some (maybe even most) 'pink' money is going to awareness but what about the women (and men) who are already diagnosed, how does the money generated from the pink ribbon go to help them? Does the pink ribbon focus on those without breast cancer (awareness, early detection, screening, prevention) rather than those who have been diagnosed?

I've heard the same thing about calling breasts anything other than breasts like boobs, knockers, tatas, (you get the point), by calling breasts 'cute names' it takes away from the severity of breast cancer. I realize I'm a newbie to this whole thing and maybe in 2-5-10 years I will feel a whole lot differently but for right now, I don't care what you call them, if money is raised and it brings awareness to young women then call them whatever you want.

I am trying to present the argument that is out there right now about the pink ribbon but I don't necessarily believe that Breast Cancer Awareness Month represents evil the way some people seem to perceive it. I think there is some truth with being inundated with pink in the month of October and that it makes us a little apathetic and overwhelmed. It's like we are used to it and it gives the illusion of being aware of breast cancer (prevention, screening, symptoms, stats, research, funding, odds, etc.) when really we are just aware that pink signifies breast cancer. I also think that some people put a little too much pressure on the pink ribbon. There is a difference between what it was initially created to do and what it has been manipulated into representing. I have seen some pretty angry individuals who think the pink ribbon should be destroyed and never heard from again but isn't it the message that needs to change not necessarily the medium. It is (one of) the most recognizable symbols for a disease and you want to start all over? I would rather put my energy into making all other coloured ribbons equally as recognizable than starting all over with the most popular.

Again, I am new to breast cancer and the pink ribbon has a whole new significance to me but the way I see it; we need to educate the general public about the consumerism of the pink ribbon, the importance of knowing how your donation is being allocated and the true meaning of awareness.

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