October 14, 2011

What Color Is Your Cancer?


Cancer Pink Washing

Every year leading in to October my inboxes have been filled with email after email about some company and their newest promotion of pink stuff to help raise awareness of breast cancer. Literally, hundreds of emails. All sales pitches cloaked in a message of ‘Buy our pink emblazoned product and we’ll give money to some organization that has something to do with people who have breast cancer.’

Other than one post about a company doing a pink promotion, you won’t see a month’s worth of ‘Support Pink’ stuff here. No, I don’t hate on breast cancer. My grandmother had a single radical mastectomy years ago. But that was after her diagnosis of colon cancer and before the cervical cancer. Breast cancer reared its ugliness when my cousin was finalizing the finding on the HPV vaccine for her work at the CDC. Breast cancer has impacted my life since I was very young and it tried to take my mother.

So why do I dis the pink? Because it’s come to stand for an elitist view of cancer. It’s pre-packaged breast cancer as the pretty, cool, fun kind of cancer. Sure, there was a time when we saw millions of yellow bracelets for the Livestrong foundation and the efforts they undertake in the cancer arena. But we don’t see yellow on everything from men’s athletic gear to kitchen appliances. We see pink, and in many instances I just see red!

Years ago when the Susan G. Komen foundation began to pair breast cancer with the color pink, it was a way to feminize a cancer and bring together a diverse sisterhood to support each other. But then it took on a life of its own and was given away to anyone willing to pay the foundation, regardless of what the product or service was. It became nothing more than a way to have companies feel good about exploiting the people they’re supposed to help. Pink shows up on products that contain known carcinogens, fast food companies color their packaging pink and we’re supposed to believe that their fat-laden, potentially carcinogenic oil is all OK now because they’re giving money to some breast cancer research organization.

But, guess what? Breast cancer isn’t the only kind of cancer affecting women. And let me tell you that the other kinds of cancer are equally terrible and destructive to lives. They’re just not as pretty and pink. Also, there aren’t legions of people walking, buying, wearing their cancer. And when these women with other types of cancer try to get support from the breast cancer support groups they’re looked down upon because they don’t have the ‘cool’ cancer. I know this. I’ve seen this happen to my friend. She had pancreatic cancer and she’s was not shrouded in pink, nor was she offered a welcome hug, because she doesn’t have the pretty pink cancer.

I know people who have or have had skin cancer, lymphoma, bladder cancer, prostate cancer, ovarian cancer. We all know people who have been touched by some other cancer besides breast cancer. And we don’t spend a month (or more) talking about how we can bring awareness to their disease. We don’t pay money to companies who are not upfront and forthright about which cancer research or cancer support organizations they’re giving money to.

Many of these cancer research organizations reaping millions of dollars are pharmaceutical companies that are more about pushing drugs than finding a  cure. Some of the organizations donating the money are doing it to clear their conscience for not making better products that don’t use ingredients that have some link to cancer. And still, there are organizations, that paint themselves pink simply for the press, to get people talking.

Every movement these days has some sort of awareness color. But unless that color really makes people stop and think about what we can really do to help then it’s nothing other than a marketing ploy. Throwing corporate money at a cause without full disclosure as to where the money will really go is lame. Just telling me you’re sending $500,000 to cancer research organization is worthless. But you know that, corporate do-gooder. And you know that we, your consumers, are so conditioned now that we’ll buy your pink-splashed whatever so we don’t look like haters.

Well, I’m here to tell you that CANCER HAS NO COLOR! It doesn’t see color, it doesn’t care what you’re wearing, where you live or what you drive. It doesn’t care if you’re rich or your poor, college educated or not. Cancer is NOT cool. I don’t care how much pink you put on it, it will never be fashionable.

And I don’t want people to think that ‘if only I had breast cancer’ they’ll get the support. Nearly 30 years of Breast Cancer Awareness month and we’re no where closer to a cure. Where has all that money gone?

Cancer isn’t pink! And we need to stop pushing the pink. We struggle to find ways not to force our daughters into a pink world yet we’re painting women into this same stereotype.

I support every one of my women friends who, in the face of a deadly disease fought for their lives. I encourage you to think about this: What Color Is Your Cancer?



Jennifer Grigsby October 14, 2011 at 10:28 am

OMGOODNESS! This is exactly how I feel! I’m 37 and lost husband two and a half years ago to colo-rectal cancer. Oh and I have asked that same question many times. How on earth could that much money not provide a cure? I think the money is actually being used to invent new chemo meds. I remember reading somewhere that lung cancer has the lowest amount of fundraising out of all the cancers. Do people not realize you can get lung cancer even if you don’t smoke or have ever been around anyone that smokes. Thank you for writing this, it made me feel better about my thoughts on the subject.

Sara October 14, 2011 at 12:01 pm


Thank YOU for commenting and sharing my sentiment. It’s been years in the making but I’ve finally had it with places saying they support but in reality it’s not about support or awareness, just some other corporate agenda. I’m sorry for your loss and know it’s been a challenging two and a half years. I hope you know that even though I don’t know you I wish you the best as you live on knowing you were the best wife you could be. We’re just 2 people, but now our voices are heard!


Nancy October 14, 2011 at 7:23 pm

Oh! Sara! Thank you! I feel this was a courageous post…and one that I have written in my head many times. It’s not that I don’t support breast cancer research….but as you said, what about the others…..that are not “fashionable”? My father died from leukemia….we don’t have a month for that. And don’t even get me started about terrible diseases that are not cancer, but are taking our loved ones in as equally cruel way…like Alzheimer’s Disease? This is not a “pretty” disease either…but let me tell you, it is just as deserving of the attention that we spend for an entire month on breast cancer…… Thank you for saying so well what I have felt guilty about thinking….

fairygirl October 15, 2011 at 11:16 am

I cannot commend you enough for such a thought provoking article! You put into words what alot of us have been thinking.Being the cutsey pink cancer has also given way to all kinds of crude sayings on T-shirts to coffee cups about, for example, “A Boob is a terrible thing to waste” all under the guise of supporting breast cancer. There’s nothing sexual or cute about cancer of any kind.
Tnak you for sharing your thoughts with us.

Maura October 15, 2011 at 11:41 am

I was just having some of this very conversation with my cousin, who has come through a type of lymphoma, the other day. It frustrates the hell out of him that all the money and attention goes to breast cancer when there are SO many other types. I suppose I hadn’t thought enough about it…but now I am. 🙂

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