#$@*-Off For Breast Cancer Awareness

Flipping off breast cancer awareness month

Flipping off breast cancer awareness month

The much-hated (for me) Pinktober is now in full swing.  What is Pinktober?  It’s the 10th month when yogurt suppliers, kitchen appliance manufacturers, carmakers, Facebook pages and other media messages are tagged with “breast cancer awareness.”  They want you to buy stuff and do stuff for the cause.  They want to take your money, later donate some of it, and not tell you how they use the funds.  Some call this “Pink-Washing.”

This year, there is a “Go Braless for Breast Cancer Day.”  WTH?  What does going braless have to do with breast cancer and what are people really thinking?  Will men go all day with an open fly for prostate cancer awareness?  Will teens decide to cut themselves for leukemia awareness?  Maybe women with mastectomies and no reconstruction ought to go shirtless for the day.  Wouldn’t that raise some “awareness?”


If someone wants to relate to those who have walked the path of breast cancer, there is a Go Bald Day on the 18th of this month.  You order and wear a skullcap to honor those who have experienced cancer.


Perhaps for breast cancer awareness, just put a big red X on a section of your breast that you might have lopped off should you end up with the disease (you can do this if you’re a man too), put a giant gauze pad over the top, secure the gauze with uncomfortable tape, and wear that under your shirt all day.  Then think about what it might feel like to have something growing inside you, but you don’t know what it is yet and you don’t know if or when it will kill you.  This could be “Be A Nervous Wreck for Breast Cancer” day.  It’s not about “Saving the Ta-Ta’s” – get real, people!

Do NFL players wear pink wristbands because we aren’t aware of breast cancer, and watching 350-pound linebackers in pink accessories cause people to want to look into issues surrounding the disease?  Thank goodness the NFL has an online shop to sell NFL branded breast cancer awareness items.  Too bad their message is “A Crucial Catch:  Annual Detection Saves Lives” when it’s not totally true.  Some of the videos on their pink site, although compelling, do not support the message and are about self-diagnosing the disease and not annual screening.  And the NFL isn’t even putting any cash into this campaign.  You, as a supporter, can bid on the pink items the players wear in the game.  Then your money can go to…um…something.  Lucky us!


OK.  So I’m being a bit morose.  But seriously, what awareness are we raising this Pinktober?  What is the new news?  Other than writing some insipid remark on your Facebook page “in support of breast cancer awareness,” like answering the question “where do you like to place your purse when driving in the car?”  Now your cryptic posted answer needs to start with ‘I like it on the….’ And wow!  You’re supporting breast cancer awareness!

But I digress.  Again.

What are we raising awareness of?  That people get breast cancer?  That people are living with breast cancer?  We certainly don’t focus on the fact that people are dying of the disease.  Everything is pink and rosy in Pinktober.  Someone might have been sad for a few months, but now, look how happy they are!  They caught it “early.”  Aren’t they the sweetest things?  Don’t you just want to hug them?

Are we listening to those cute twenty-something women with doe-eyes on ads who think they need mammograms when there is no proof at all that mammograms do anything to save lives in women of that age group?  And for that matter, are we aware that mammograms have not been proven to reduce breast cancer death rates in populations under 55 or over 70?

Do we know that death rates have improved only marginally despite the millions and millions of dollars raised in the name of research?  And that we have made only a tiny bit of progress, finally discovering that breast cancers are not alike; that most of the time, breast cancer tumors are filled with different types of cancer profiles, not just one? And that most of the treatments used today are based on discoveries made over 30 years ago?

Do we know that we’re not looking for “a cure” for breast cancer but for several “cures”, because all breast cancers are not alike?  That a drug that kills cancer in one person makes absolutely no impact at all in another?  And that we might kill the bulk of the tumor through surgery, radiation or chemotherapy (the “Slash/Burn/Poison” triplets) but some cancer stem cells laugh at all that hoopla and sit dormant for months or years, and then decide for whatever reason, to start growing?

Are we aware that the 5-year mark of being “clean” after breast cancer treatment means little because breast cancer can easily return ten, twenty, thirty years later, even in the mildest cases?  Do we know that breast cancer is not curable, but it is treatable for many but not all?  Are we aware that someone dies of breast cancer just in the US every 14 minutes even on holidays?

Do we know that mammograms are not like getting a flu shot?  That this screening technique does nothing to prevent cancer; it just detects SOME cancers, while providing huge numbers of false positives causing unnecessary angst and needless biopsies?  Would we want a 40% false-positive rate in dental x-rays but declare it’s OK for breast cancer screening?  (“I’m sorry, Mrs. Spivey, but it looks like I didn’t need to do that root canal after all.  Oops”)

Do we know that we don’t even have a national goal for eradicating breast cancer?  (See http://www.breastcancerdeadline2020.org)  That scientists have only recently started to share their positive and negative research results to prevent repeating unsuccessful studies to eliminate wasted research time and money?  Are we aware that science has found several major links to know how breast cancer acts in the tiniest of cellular mechanisms, but they still don’t know what causes breast cancer to grow in the first place?

There is a lot of awareness that could be raised during Pinktober, but I haven’t seen much that means a whole lot.  It’s turned into a salacious time of the year focusing on “ta-ta’s,” “boobies,” and things that jiggle in the night.  It’s about selling the latest pink-washed wine or perfume or shin-guard.  It’s really not about raising awareness any more.  It’s about the selling of “pink” and exploiting all things feminine.

8 thoughts on “#$@*-Off For Breast Cancer Awareness

  1. Reblogged this on The Healthcare Marketer and commented:
    Pinktober is not for everyone. Sandra’s post, from her Cats & Cancer blog, gives you another perspective on Breast Cancer Awareness Month and all the merchandizing and promotion that goes along with it. I appreciate Sandra, a cancer survivor, lending her voice to this conversation.

    • Thanks, Dan, for both re-blogging and tweeting the link. There are a lot of stage 4 “Mets Sisters” who cringe every October. It’s usually the time when we focus on the fact that breast cancer in October is falsely depicted as a disease of young women who beat the disease because their doctor told them they are in the clear. Unfortunately, I’ve talked with far too many women who thought breast cancer was behind them, only to have it rear it’s ugly head years later. They feel betrayed by their bodies and the carnival-like atmosphere of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

  2. Reblogged this on Just my two cents and commented:
    This is an amazing post. Many of us, especially health care marketers, get all wrapped up in the topic of the month without thinking about how those living with the disease, condition, etc. feel about all the hoopla. Thanks to Sandra for sharing her thoughts on this – I’m sure she represents a large population.

    • Thank you, Nancy, for your comments. I nearly threw up when I saw an ad in NYC asking for “bald, attractive women” for a breast cancer awareness ad. I wonder if they were also asked to remove their shirts?

      • Oh Sandra, I can’t imagine how that must feel to you and others who are living with or who survived breast cancer. I know being in health care communications it was always our intention to encourage women to do the exams, screenings, etc., but I think the people who have been impacted already are, unfortunately, not considered during these “awareness campaigns.” I just saw a commercial for a gym chain that was trying to recruit new members, saying a portion of the membership fee would be donated to “breast cancer awareness.” Really? What does that mean? Why not say what organization they are donating to? And people miss that and sign up thinking their money is going to something positive and they feel good. Just wrong.

  3. I’ve wanted to make a tshirt with a speech bubble that points to a 1.5 cm dot on the exact place my tumor was that says “This little spot tried to kill me.”
    Great rant, sister!! Fuck Pinktober!!

    • Thanks, Robin for stopping by. I love your idea of the bubble pointing to the place where your tumor used to live. I’d have to make a cat suit to do the same thing with bubbles pointing to two places on my breast, three places on my hip, a few ribs, my sternum and a few spots on my spinal column. Your shirt would be a whole lot less confusing in message than my suit! LOL

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