Thursday, October 10, 2013

I Hate Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Yeah, I said it.

We're solidly into October now, and pink stuff is everywhere.

I realized Breast Cancer Awareness Month was stupid in October 2011. I had gone to Ulta to grab a few things. When I was checking out, the cashier asked me if I’d like to donate a dollar to “breast cancer awareness.” I said “no thank you” and was expecting her to drop it. She gave me a weird look and said “Are you sure? It’s for a good cause! Breast cancer!” 

Oh, trust me. I'm aware. Is anyone not aware? Anyone never heard of breast cancer? Anyone? Bueller? 

Nope. We're all aware. And since breast cancer is something that affects 1 in 8 women, chances are you know someone who's been personally been affected by breast cancer, either because they, or someone they know, have been diagnosed. 

Here are the problems with Breast Cancer Awareness Month:
1) It reduces a really huge problem and a very scary situation into a bunch of pink pens, Facebook games, and catchy slogans. 
I bet you can name at least five companies that are selling pink stuff this month. But can you name five risk factors for breast cancer? If yes, did you learn that from the pink blender you bought at Target yesterday? No, you learned it because you're a smart cookie who does her research. Good for you.

2) Few other diseases get the same recognition. 
Did you know that September was Gynecological Awareness month? Or that October is ALSO Domestic Violence Awareness month? Breast Cancer research IS important, but is it more important than other causes? I don't think so.

3) It leaves men out completely. 
According to the American Cancer Society, about 2500 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013. Breast Cancer is significantly less prevalent in men, but it's still something that affects them. So where do those men fit in to the whole pink scheme? Do you think they're comforted by all the "Save the Tatas" shirts? I don't. If we're going to spend the whole month talking about Breast Cancer, let's make it as inclusive as possible.

4) "Awareness" by itself does nothing to fix the problem. 
There are some great things that come from this month. I won't deny that. But when you look at most companies who talking about their plans for the month, you see the word "awareness" a lot more than you see the word "research." We're aware of the problem, now it's time to figure out how to treat and prevent it.

5) Saturation isn't always a good thing.
I hesitated about bringing this into the post, because I don't want it to be about me or my family. But when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 (she's fine now) someone looked her in the eyes and said "well, you'll be fine. There's so much they can do now, it's basically just like getting a cold. Getting cancer now just isn't a big deal anymore. It's not what it used to be." Well, that last part is true. Thanks to some really smart people and some really great organizations, more people are living through a breast cancer diagnosis than ever before. But to think that it isn't a big deal 20-30% of breast cancer survivors will have the disease return and metastasize in the body. 40,000 people still die from it every year. A breast cancer diagnosis changes your entire life for the rest of your life. There's no part of it that isn't a "big deal." Sure, this was an isolated incident and most people understand the seriousness of breast cancer. But I have to wonder where this kind of nonchalance comes from, and part of me wonders if it's because breast cancer stuff is everywhere all the time, and not in a good way.

Here's what we can do instead:
1) Do your research. 
Educate yourself on the things in your life that could potentially cause cancer. Learn the risk factors, and get the lowdown on your family history (if you can). There's no way to guarantee you won't get breast cancer in your lifetime, but making healthy lifestyle choices like exercising, eating right and not smoking all reduce the risk.

2) Please, for the love of all that is good and holy, stop with the stupid Facebook games. 
No one cares what color your bra is, and no one understands why you're putting a heart as your Facebook status. We would never make a game out of remembering 9/11 or Sandy Hook. Why do we try to do it with Breast Cancer? 

3) If you're a woman and you don't do self exams, start doing them now. 
Once a month. Make sure your friends do them too. Breast cancer doesn't reveal itself first in a lump every time, but early detection is crucial, and self exams are a huge part of that. The same goes for going to the doctor every year. I know it sucks, but you gotta do it. "But Alyssa, I'm fine." I know you are. Everyone that was diagnosed with breast cancer was fine at one point, too. And then, they weren't anymore. So please go.

4) Don't buy pink stuff just for the sake of buying something pink. If you want your money to go to a breast cancer organization, donate money directly to them.
If you only get one thing from this post, I hope this is it. Companies and organizations who REALLY care about preventing and curing breast cancer will tell you. The best charities will focus on research and prevention, not awareness - if you see a company that only talks about awareness, it's probably not a good one. All nonprofits are required to disclose where every dollar goes, and you can see the breakdown for each organization on Donating to a charity is something that should be deeply personal, so choose an organization that means something to you. Here is a list of organizations ranked highly by Charity Navigator. (A few notes: Susan G Komen is on that list, and I'm not a huge fan of them. My favorite is the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.)

I don't actually think Breast Cancer Awareness Month in itself is a bad thing. I think it started out with good intentions. There are meaningful programs and good people who DO work incredibly hard (all throughout the year, not just in October) to make a difference, and I would never, ever want to diminish the work of those people. And if you DO decide to start doing self exams after you buy a pink bra, or you're comforted by a pink thing you bought, good for you. I think that's money well spent. 

I just hope that after reading this, you'll approach this month a bit more critically. Prevention is key. Research is the only way we're going put an end to this. 
Facebook games, pink highlighters and girly football jerseys are not awareness. The pink ribbon movement was started by a phenomenal woman who didn't want to market her idea en masse because she didn't want to water down the message. Now they're everywhere, under the guise of awareness. 

We're all aware. Now what will we do to fix it?
post signature


Anonymous said...

Good post girl. I feel the same way.

Chandler said...

I love this!! I'm not all about the pink stuff and the up play that this month gets just because it's "Breast Cancer Awareness month." I think that if people know their stuff, they know that not all of these "pink deals" are even helping the cause... it's sad but true.

Stevie C said...

I do a little bit of both. My mom works for the American Cancer Society, so trust me when I tell you that I get your side of things... but she also has a great friend who is a breast cancer survivor and LOVES all the pink crap. So, I just roll with it. I buy her lots of pink stuff, participate in pink giveaways, and touch my boobies a lot to make sure they're healthy. Bam.

Kate @ Another Clean Slate said...

I read an article about this a year or two ago where it basically said these "pink products" are just gimmicks and the money isn't even going to research or patients... I'm with you on not being a fan!

Kate @ Another Clean Slate said...

I read an article about this a year or two ago where it basically said these "pink products" are just gimmicks and the money isn't even going to research or patients... I'm with you on not being a fan!

Abby Norris said...

Your honesty is great. I've never considered the points you brought up before, but after reading them I have to agree. I did know that October is also Domestic Violence Awareness month. I went to an event last week in my town called "Walk a Mile in Her Shoes" the event has different speakers and tons of different women's shoes and men (and women) get to walk a mile in them.

Monica @ The Empty Teacups said...

This is seriously the best post I've seen all week! My grandmother died from breast cancer metastasizing to all of her organs 18 years after she beat it.

1) I hate the color pink so I wouldn't buy that stuff anyway.

2)You're right about the other awesome charities not being recognized/being overshadowed by Breast Cancer Awareness.

3) I love that you wrote about the difference between awareness and research. That's why I love my favorite charity (Leukemia/Lymphoma society). Funding goes to providing treatment and finding a cure, and counseling.

Natalie Hinkley said...

yes x infinity! The whole 'buy our pink stuff' is what turns me off to the whole thing. Its like they are just trying to scam money out of good intentioned people, but does it help a soul? Doubt it. And while it is great that all the pink everywhere might remind a person to check themselves, maybe they should instead have a day of the month thing. Like, hey everybody, it is the 1st, remember to check your ta-tas today. Money for awareness of pretty much anything is pretty lame in my opinion - especially with no education factor as you said. The problem needs solving, not a parade thrown in it's honor.

Renee said...

Great tips lady, it's always nice to get a little reminder of some things we should be doing!

Meg {henninglove} said...

good post, there are so many other diseases that deserve as much recognition, i mean a whole month does it really need that why can't it be a week?


great post! :)

Kerry @ Till Then Smile Often said...

So true! Breast Cancer is my number one cause that I donate to every year! I click every day at the Breast Cancer Site and buy from there often too. It is important to not just pay attention once a month buy all year long.

Hopeful Wandering said...

LOVE this!! I completely agree, i think it creates a sort of holiday out of a tragic situation, and a majority of the time the money does not even go to Breast Cancer research or people with the disease. It's just a marketing ploy and it's very upsetting. :( Great Post, love the honesty and love love your blog, new follower :)

Emily @

Tracie Everyday said...

I love this post! I volunteer for the American Cancer Society and one of my friends works for them, so this is a subject that we've spoken about frequently. I wish more people were as informed as this post.

Kaileigh said...

I've always thought that the whole "awareness" thing made no sense. I'm pretty sure everyone is already aware. We need to be doing something to cure it not letting people know that it's out there.

Linda Cassidy said...

Please never forget that it was the concept of having this month and all the pink that helped generate the awareness. It was not that long ago that breast cancer was the unspoken/ not discussed disease. As much as you may hate the Pink please try to remember it has done a lot of good and raised a lot of awareness. Try not to hate the NFL for wearing pink, they have generated a lot of awareness and a lot are wearing pink because the survivor they care about cares about the pink. To put a positive slant, if I have to buy a blender what actually is wrong with the pink one that makes a statement that I do support and i do care. Always two sides and your comments are well thought out and researched. I just wanted you to be aware that some of us who wear the pink have also done our research.


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