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Boycotting Breast Cancer Awareness Month?

Controversial blog title? Read on and find out what it’s all about…

My friend Susie Collins is the editor of The Canary Report, an excellent site focusing on multiple chemical sensitivity (an illness I have myself).

CanaryReportLogo

Susie consistently writes articles that are high-quality and thought-provoking. The article I’m about to reference is no exception!

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Susie, a breast cancer survivor, wrote a post with a provocative title that caught my eye:

Why I boycott Breast Cancer Awareness Month

pink-ribbon-questionmark

Over the years, I have become more and more aware of the “commercialization of illnesses”. The remarkable story Susie shares in her article and the wealth of blog comments to it are a fresh look at how Breast Cancer Awareness Month is marketed, how it got started, and whether it is accomplishing what breast cancer patients need.

I have a close friend, Roberta, who is also a breast cancer survivor. I thought she’d appreciate Susie’s post and sent her the link. Here was her response after reading it:

I don’t donate money to illnesses anymore because of some of the exact reasons she states. As you look around the more money that is donated the disease becomes a big money pit and no one has ever been cured with that mentality. It just helps big pharma companies spew their money making schemes onto the public with the hopes that they will feel better. Cancer is an especially huge market for a way the drug companies have to promote their “life saving drugs”, yeah right. As you know, I don’t believe that there are any drugs that are good or safe for us.

I am with my friend Susie regarding boycotting Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Her post explains in detail why she boycotts it. I agree with her.

I also support my friend Roberta’s decision not to donate money to organizations that are not getting results for patients. Roberta did research after her own breast cancer diagnosis and discovered that she was not comfortable with how various breast cancer organizations were using donations.

These two friends, both breast cancer survivors, are seeing through the pink ribbon marketing and I have to agree with them.

I urge you to read Susie’s article:

Why I boycott Breast Cancer Awareness Month

I believe it’s important to make informed decisions about how we spend our money in relation to illnesses. For me, Susie’s article is a thought-provoking look at Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I encourage you to check it out. It might just change the way you look at things regarding Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Please check out Breast Cancer Action, a San Francisco-based organization. Check out their very thought-provoking Think Before You Pink campaign (including a video).

Thank you to Susie for highlighting the need to take a peek behind the marketing extravaganza to determine whether it is really serving the needs of breast cancer patients.

This post was written by Jeanne at http://chronichealing.com. Copyright © Jeanne — chronichealing.com. All rights reserved.


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Reading: Boycotting Breast Cancer Awareness Month?

18 comments

1 YayaNo Gravatar { 10.30.09 at 2:04 pm }

Wow, I had no idea the money donated for cancer causes aren’t really going straight to cancer research. Guess I was being naive.
.-= Yaya´s last blog ..Friday Stuff and Adoption Update =-.

2 JeanneNo Gravatar { 10.30.09 at 2:15 pm }

Alicia,

Sadly, there are many “charitable causes” (cancer-related or otherwise) where the money people donate doesn’t necessarily go where the donors think it will. Too often, there is not enough accountability and transparency to enable people to know exactly how their donations will be spent. I found the Think Before You Pink campaign very interesting. If you didn’t catch that link (it’s the one with the video), I recommend it. It’s amazing how often the same companies that make cancer-causing agents are in the business of somehow treating cancer too! The full circle effect is really alarming. It really makes you look at motives. It is sad when profits are valued above people’s health.

Jeanne

3 Jannie FunsterNo Gravatar { 10.30.09 at 3:09 pm }

I read her article, was very eye-opening for me. I had no idea. She is a “stranger” to me but for some reason I felt compelled to trust what she was writing. She seemed very knowledgeable and sincere.

it is VERY sad when profits are valued above people’s health. Very sad.

And Jeanne, I got my new cell phone! Whoo-hoo!!

xo
.-= Jannie Funster´s last blog ..One Blogging Buddy Down, 758 To Go =-.

4 shelleyNo Gravatar { 10.30.09 at 3:39 pm }

hey, didnt read but just thought i would let you know i responded to your comment on my blog. Will hopefully update it later and read this. Trying (key word) to clean the house.
.-= shelley´s last blog ..cystoscopy countdown =-.

5 CassieNo Gravatar { 10.30.09 at 4:08 pm }

I just roll my eyes and get a bit sick to my stomach when I see all that crap being marketed. I love how it says in tiny letters on the packaging that a ridiculously small amount will be donated to the awareness efforts. They’re always very vague about where the money really goes.

Instead of buying the pink vacuums and pink lighters, why not write a check to an organization that will put the money to good use?

Awareness weeks and months for different cancers, diseases, etc. should be used to make people more AWARE of it. It’s about educating people so they can help prevent, cope and cure. It’s not about fattening the wallets of someone who probably doesn’t even know anyone affected by it.
.-= Cassie´s last blog ..Which Web Browser is Best? =-.

6 JeanneNo Gravatar { 10.30.09 at 8:30 pm }

Jannie,

Susie really knows her stuff. Her vast/deep knowledge and her research skills constantly amaze me. Susie simply does not mess around. I have a very high level of trust when I read Susie’s writings simply because I have gotten to know her very well and I’m aware of how very good she is at what she does. That and the fact that she’s a wonderful writer on top of being such a wealth of information… She is just wonderful!

Yes, when profits are valued above people’s health, I get very upset.

Yahoo!! I know how much you’ve been wanting that phone. Excellent!

Jeanne
xo

7 JeanneNo Gravatar { 10.30.09 at 8:54 pm }

Shelley,

I’m so glad you stopped by! When I saw your cystoscopy post, it brought up many emotions for me. (You may have gathered that based on the comment I left). I’m very glad I found your blog today. I read your reply to my comment and I’m touched that you feel more hopeful after reading that I finally did receive a proper diagnosis (of interstitial cystitis, in my case). This enabled me to get proper treatment and has greatly improved my IC symptoms. So, it’s nice to meet you! I look forward to getting to know you better…

Jeanne

P.S. I am fully familiar with the concept of trying to clean the house. Say no more. I fully understand! 🙂

8 NatalieNo Gravatar { 10.31.09 at 12:44 am }

Hey,

I’ve boycotted Breast Cancer Awareness since I was a child. I’ve never felt comfortable with the way these charities use their money. I canvassed for the Cancer Society once and after I realized they aren’t making any progress and are using the money more for advertising and paying employees than they are for using it to go towards research and patient care, I decided to stop.

As did most of my family.
.-= Natalie´s last blog .. =-.

9 Susie CollinsNo Gravatar { 10.31.09 at 3:49 am }

Aloha Jeanne and all the gang, thanks much for the shout out and all the kind words. Now my head is so big I won’t be able to get out of my office. Jeanne, you are the most supportive and kind person ever and I really appreciate you. xoxo

Jannie, be sure to check the Environmental Working Group’s report on cell phone radiation http://www.ewg.org/cellphone-radiation/
.-= Susie Collins´s last blog ..Adventurous Canary interviews MCS researcher Martin Pall =-.

10 endochickNo Gravatar { 10.31.09 at 11:16 am }

Wow, Jeanne, the corporate world never ceases to amaze doesn’t it. It’s sad how some people will take adavantage of others’ diseases for a profit. I add the pink ribbons to my avatars and wear a pink ribbon when I can to show support to my 35 year old cousin who is now in her second fight with breast cancer.
.-= endochick´s last blog ..Happy #Halloween =-.

11 JeanneNo Gravatar { 10.31.09 at 2:25 pm }

Cassie,

You are absolutely correct. The wording on so many of those ‘pink ribbon-ed’ packages is in suspiciously tiny font and is vaguely worded. Those packages that specify an amount do tend to list ridiculously small amounts.

I share your borderline nausea re: the wave of pink merchandise… There seems to be more of it each year than the year before. I agree that writing a check to an organization that will put it to good use makes more sense.

You are so right about awareness weeks and awareness months for illnesses being for increasing AWARENESS. You are absolutely right!

My dictionary defines “aware” as: Having knowledge or cognizance; mindful.

So, as you so rightly pointed out… the whole point is to educate people about a given condition… which increases people’s knowledge and understanding of it. (By extension, this may increase their empathy and understanding of the people who have said condition). Awareness weeks/months for illnesses literally are about generating mindfulness about the conditions.

I’m a big proponent for encouraging and/or reminding people to have regular mammograms and I have blogged about issues like this in the past. Frankly, such encouragement/reminders can be implemented throughout the year. There’s no rule saying that only in October can people remind their loved ones about the importance of such screening methods (for those who meet the criteria for having a mammogram, of course).

To me, an awareness week or month for an illness (I’m talking in general terms now about various illnesses) is quite literally for the purpose of raising awareness about an illness/condition so that more people might understand it. Many illnesses are horribly misunderstood or under-diagnosed. Other illnesses are notorious for delayed diagnoses (i.e. illnesses that were not diagnosed in a timely fashion due to lack of awareness by the public, the medical community, or both).

Before meaningful headway can be made for the biggies (important stuff in its own right!) like finding the causes of illnesses (for those conditions where the causes are poorly understood or not yet understood at all)… people need to first have a basic grasp of what the illness is. How can a patient recognize telltale signs of a given illness if they have never heard of it?

Let’s take endometriosis as an example illness. When I was diagnosed at the age of 23, after 10 years of symptoms, I had never heard the word endometriosis until my doctor mentioned it shortly before surgery as something he was going in looking for. Had there been more awareness in the community, I would have pushed my doctors harder for answers sooner. In addition, the awareness level of endometriosis and all its complexities was then and still is now not what it should be within the medical community itself. So, again, had the awareness been better in the medical profession… my doctors would likely have started looking for endometriosis far earlier than 10 years into my severe symptoms. Perhaps I wouldn’t have needed the 7 surgeries I have had if my endo had been discovered earlier.

The point is that finding causes is hugely important to the big picture but awareness weeks/months are designed to increase awareness.

Yes, we need people working hard to identify causes and to eradicate them (prevent the given illness) when at all possible. I just love the Think Before You Pink campaign and how they made the connection between how the very same company puts a cancer-causing agent into the marketplace and then it treats people who do wind up with cancer with its pharmaceutical drugs. How messed up is that? They could remove the carcinogenic agent. Instead, they keep using it. Then, down the line when people get cancer that might very well be tied to that hormone… they profit from selling the drug that treats the cancer. That is just morally and ethically wrong. I applaud Think Before You Pink for making people AWARE of this bizarre full circle and working to do something about it. If you missed that link (with the video on it), I recommend it. The video is short (1 min, 18 sec).

I agree with you about awareness campaigns being to help people prevent and cope with conditions. I believe that isolating the cause(s) of illness is important for getting closer to pinpointing a cure. I have also learned that some people use the word “cure” differently than others. So, there are many loaded topics here.

The bottom line is, as you said, the point should NOT be for fattening the wallets of people but should be about what’s doing in the best interests of patients, be they breast cancer patients like this post talked about or otherwise.

I know that with an illness like endometriosis which has historically gotten far less awareness than a condition like breast cancer, simply getting past the myths and misconceptions about endo is a monumental task. Last March, during endometriosis awareness month, we disseminated stats people could relate to. Even a “non-numbers” person like me can appreciate that 89 million women and girls worldwide estimated to have endo is a staggering amount. We sent out messages quoting the Ohio State University Medical Center re: the fact that endometriosis affects “more people than AIDS and more people than cancer”.

While spreading these stats doesn’t pinpoint the cause of endo or find a cure, it does focus people’s attention on how very widespread it is. This, in turn, may help attract more researchers to this historically under-funded illness. That research could narrow down a cause (or find a new one)… as there are several theories at this point but no agreed upon cause. Finding a cause is crucial for laying the groundwork for finding a cure. Not a false cure and not a means of obtaining temporary remission only to be mistakenly called a cure. I am talking about a real cure.

These are lofty goals… many of which escape the boundaries of an awareness week/month, like you said.

As an endometriosis patient, I know I am at a higher risk for developing breast cancer. I know several women just locally (from my endometriosis support group) who have endo and have also battled breast cancer.

So, I am extremely interested in any advances that can be made for detecting breast cancer early and treating it effectively. Obviously, finding a cure is the end goal but misleading marketers/corporations claiming to be working for such a cure when they really are focused on their own profits is just not right.

Personally, I don’t think buying packages with pink ribbons is the ticket to success for curing cancer… and, again, it is imperative not to forget how important CAUSE is. In the case of an illness like breast cancer, some of the causes have been identified. Yet, as the Think Before You Pink link makes abundantly clear, there are corporations that continue to use agents that CAUSE cancer. Until we work on dealing with the causative factors continuing to be fed (literally) to consumers, a cure will remain elusive.

Like you touched on, with endometriosis awareness month we focused on coping/educating… we didn’t focus quite so much on prevention simply because endo isn’t as easily preventable as I’d like (although I have blogged in the past about epigenetics and the interaction between genetics & environment)… As far as cure, I wish we were closer to a cure for endo than we appear to be. Since there are a number of conflicting theories on what causes it in the first place, it’s quite tricky to go about setting out to cure it.

I totally agree with you that awareness is about enlightening people… not making profits for those who stand to benefit from the pink ribbon marketing. Educating people about what an illness is and how profoundly it affects patients is very important indeed. It can smooth out tensions in family relationships. It can assist employer-employee relations. It can crash dangerous myths like, “so & so exaggerates/is lazy/is a faker”. It can educate people on BASICS such as the fact that the definitive means for diagnosis of endometriosis is a surgical procedure called a laparoscopy. Awareness can do all this and so much more.

Call me cynical but I have reached the point where any campaign that has as much marketing thrown into it as this pink ribbon campaign for Breast Cancer Awareness automatically gets me suspicious. Think of all the costs associated with marking those packages with pink ribbons and such. Who’s paying for the retooling of the machines to print the ribbon versions for X amount of time when products will be sold in October? Is the company that is printing them absorbing all the cost? I highly doubt it. Why do I think that part or all of the minuscule amount of money that goes to “breast cancer” probably goes towards such packaging changes? It makes you wonder how much money, if any, is getting to where it can help women with breast cancer. It least, it makes me wonder.

Jeanne

12 JeanneNo Gravatar { 11.01.09 at 7:31 pm }

Natalie,

It sounds like you got a handle on this Breast Cancer Awareness situation at an early age!

While I’m not personally familiar with how donations are handled by the Cancer Society specifically, I have become more and more aware over the years of various charities who spend a great deal on administrative costs and who, like you were talking about, don’t make the sort of progress one would expect with the money they take in.

It’s unfortunate because there are good charities out there… but those that are not efficient with donations they’ve received tend to, I think, give people an uneasy feeling about charities in general. I think it’s sad that charities that really put donations to good use are hurt by this.

I know that I’ve seen various organizations over the years that not only are inefficient with donors’ money but that spend so much time and energy soliciting donations that there is little time left for other matters. For some nonprofit organizations, fund-raising seems to be the #1 priority; yet the money that is donated doesn’t seem to be used effectively.

Jeanne

13 JeanneNo Gravatar { 11.02.09 at 1:26 am }

Susie,

Sorry I’m so slow posting your comment. I am positively drowning in work and having trouble keeping up with just about anything these days. I want to thank you for publishing such an intriguing post. Once I read your post about Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I felt compelled to point it out to others since you so eloquently captured it! You are too funny. I’m not worried about your head getting stuck in the office door. You are one of the most modest people out there. So, no matter how much we all carry on about your great post, there’s no way you’d ever let it get to your head because that’s just not you. So, I have no worries for your door frames… no matter how thick we pile it on. 🙂 Besides, everything everyone said about your post and your diligent research is very true. Thank you for your kind words! Hey… What are you trying to do? Get my head stuck in a doorway? Heehee. I appreciate you too. xoxo

Thanks for the cellphone link as well.

Talk with you soon!

Jeanne

14 JeanneNo Gravatar { 11.02.09 at 2:28 am }

Endochick,

Yes, I think the part I found the most telling was actually in the comments to Susie’s blog post. I will quote it directly below:

“Not much of the money from pink ribbon campaigns goes to research, and the research is generally about Big Pharma anyway, not addressing the cause. That’s my beef. Also, the origin of the pink ribbon visual, although usually attributed to Estee Lauder VP Evelyn Lauder, was ripped off from a woman, Charlotte Hayley, a breast cancer survivor, who was making peach colored ribbons. She sold them with a card saying, “The National Cancer Institute annual budget is 1.8 billion US Dollars, and only 5 percent goes for cancer prevention. Help us wake up our legislators and America by wearing this ribbon.” Lauder tried to cut a deal with Hayley to use her concept, but she refused saying it was too commercial. So Lauder’s lawyers came up with the idea to change the color to pink, and rest is history: a pink ribbon campaign, built around October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, sponsored by companies who make products containing toxic chemicals”.

I find it highly ironic that Charlotte Hayley, a breast cancer survivor herself, began making ribbons (the peach ones mentioned above) for the purpose of raising awareness about how little money was going to prevention and was trying to encourage people to contact their legislators about it… only to be a approached by Evelyn Lauder about using Ms. Hayley’s concept… and that she turned the Lauder company down (for being too commercial, of all things) only to have Lauder’s lawyers come up with the idea of switching the color to pink. I think it’s the height of irony that a company like Estee Lauder was involved in this issue considering that Estee Lauder perfume is at the top of my list for those fragrances that make me the sickest with my multiple chemical sensitivity.

I just did a quick search on Estee Lauder in the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database (located in my blogroll) and found an Estee Lauder fragrance immediately that is rated an “8”/Red (red is the “high hazard” category):

Estée Lauder Aliage Sport Fragrance Spray

Results for the above product…

Ingredients in this product are linked to:

yes Cancer
yes Developmental/reproductive toxicity
yes Violations, restrictions & warnings
yes Allergies/immunotoxicity
yes Other concerns for ingredients used in this product:
Neurotoxicity, Persistence and bioaccumulation, Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive), Miscellaneous, Multiple, additive exposure sources, Irritation (skin, eyes, or lungs), Enhanced skin absorption, Occupational hazards

So, this isn’t just my sense of smell sensing danger with Estee Lauder fragrances. The database referenced above ranks the Estee Lauder product above in the “high hazard” category.

How ironic that a company that is still cranking out products in 2009 that are rated “high hazard” would be so hell-bent on using Ms. Hayley’s idea that they would steal it and simply change the ribbon color to get away with it… under the guise of helping cancer patients.

I wonder… if this company is so concerned about cancer, why are they marketing products in the “high hazard” range to this day (2009)?

I am very sorry that your cousin is in her second fight with breast cancer (and at such a young age) and it must be frightening for her. 🙁

It just saddens me deeply that people’s life and death struggles are being exploited for corporations to make money.

Susie’s emphasis on the importance of focusing on cause makes sense to me. So long as people make claims to be working on a cure without showing any sign that they understand causes of illnesses (in this case cancer) and so long as people really aren’t addressing finding and preventing the distribution of agents/items that cause cancer, all of the hoopla about finding a cure seems to be a smokescreen, sadly enough.

I will keep your cousin in my thoughts!

Jeanne

15 Angie CroixNo Gravatar { 11.11.09 at 6:20 am }

I would also like to make a comment as a person that has 3 close friends that are currently fighting Breast Cancer and personally know others that have lost their battle.

Yes, there ARE in MANY charities, a number of them that do NOT pass on the MOST possible $ to the Victims or Research. But there ARE also those that DO.. The same was true after Katrina and any major fund raiser project, just like with the foreclosure scammers also. The rotten part is that WE as donors need to fins a main Charity Clearing House ( like the Contractor’s Board or Consumer’s Reports) to learn which ones are Legit… I remember the scandal with United Way also.. but the less publicized ones many time DO the BEST work.. Maybe we can start a list of the GOOD ones? Or id someone finds the list where they are Rated to post it so we can know whom to Trust, cuz I KNOW many of us still want to Help those that will REALLY Benefit from any donations…

Most recently, my close friend received a LOT of help from a charity that helped her after her masectomy and gave her a FREE wig and counseling that helped her a lot. I do NOT SAY abandon the Pink Ribbon…. It DOES help Raise Awareness, just DO your research about to whom you donate any money … there are scams in EVERY industry….

The Pink Ribbon does serve to Raise Awareness just as the Blue Ribbon is starting to for ME/CFS/FM/MCS/Lupus and all related illnesses.

Let’s not throw out the Baby with the Bath water…as they say…
just my 2 cents..IMHO

16 Susie CollinsNo Gravatar { 11.12.09 at 7:48 pm }

Aloha Angie, I’m the author of the original post.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the Pink Ribbon Campaign are synonymous in people’s minds. My post addressed the problems of those campaigns and the culture of “cure” that they engender in patients and in the public’s perceptions of breast cancer.

Here are the sponsors of the National Breast Cancer Awareness Month organization: http://www.nbcam.org/about_board_of_sponsors.cfm . Only two of their sponsors even mention “cause” and even then, their greater emphasis is placed on after-the-fact screening (ka-ching, ka-ching).

This is the action that NBCAM recommends to women in addressing breast cancer:

“… we remain dedicated to educating and empowering women to take charge of their own breast health by practicing regular self-breast exams to identify any changes, scheduling regular visits and annual mammograms with their healthcare provider, adhering to prescribed treatment, and knowing the facts about recurrence.”

Nothing mentioned in their literature about putting money and resources to discovering the cause of breast cancer. The fact is that NBCAM and the pink ribbon campaign are fully funded by corporate interests that make money from breast cancer or from products promoting breast cancer awareness. It appears they have no vested interest in pursuing the cause of breast cancer.

With due respect and sympathy for your friends who have breast cancer, my post was addressing a much larger social and corporate construct than a wig could ever solve. What would help your friends far more would be if resources were being put to discovering the cause of breast cancer so that this epidemic and the threat of recurrence could be stemmed. I’ll bet your friends would go bald if it meant the resources that paid for after-the-fact wigs and counseling were redirected to that end.

You might be interested in taking a look at this film: http://www.japanesepopsongs.com/idiotcycle/play_trailer.html

Aloha,
Susie
.-= Susie Collins´s last blog ..In the news: Newborns, homeland security, and chemicals =-.

17 JeanneNo Gravatar { 11.12.09 at 8:04 pm }

Angie,

When I read your comment, I thought my friend Susie was better equipped to respond than I am. She is a breast cancer survivor and she wrote the article that inspired me to publish this post. (Please see her separate comment that just posted). I wish your friends the best of health and thank you for commenting.

Jeanne

18 JeanneNo Gravatar { 11.12.09 at 8:08 pm }

Susie,

Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to provide even more information on this important topic. I hadn’t seen the movie trailer link before. I really appreciate you taking the time to address Angie’s comments.

Thank you and mahalo!

Jeanne

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