Quick follow up on my post from yesterday. It’s not my intention to say anyone is dumb for supporting the breast cancer activities this month. Absolutely do that if you want. It’s important. We’ll never find better treatments if people don’t step forward and help.
My point is to stop and think about what you’re doing. Be…aware. We’ve all been guilty of reposting something online and not checking it out. (I absolutely have, and kick myself very hard in hindsight.) Companies take advantage if this. They know we have an innate desire to help and do good. So they put a pink ribbon on things as a marketing ploy to make money. Sometimes, not a single penny goes to a breast cancer organization.
That’s all I’m saying. If you want to help, make sure you’re doing something that actually helps. If you’re going to spend your time and money, know where you’re spending it. I work too hard for my money.
And remember, it’s not just October. Patients have cancer every day, all year. Doctors and researchers work year round, even when the NFL goes back to wearing black cleats.
First and foremost, I wore a bra because I left the house and no one wants to see me like that. Or if they do, I don’t want them to.
But the the bigger reason is because I’m tired of awareness. I’m sure it does a little good at first, but in the big picture of treating and curing disease, awareness does almost no good.
Raise your hand if you’re unaware of breast cancer. OK, put it down because you probably feel silly. Are you aware of down Down syndrome? Alzheimer’s? Domestic violence? I’m going to assume you’re a functioning member of society and have not somehow missed the existence of these things.
And how does your awareness of breast cancer affect a woman with breast cancer? NOT AT ALL.
But Liz, you say, awareness has made more women do self-exams and get regular mammograms. And that leads to earlier detection, which leads to better outcomes. Well, yes. I’ll agree, although there’s some debate about whether it really has been beneficial. But I’m not addressing that. I’m also not proposing we stop educating about and advocating for effective screening.
The awareness I have an issue with is this idea that slapping a colored ribbon on something means you’re doing something to help battle a disease or condition or social ill. With breast cancer in particular, the awareness campaign has become so pervasive in our culture, I would wager most people don’t really even see it anymore. It blends into the background. There’s even a word for it: Pinkwashing.
It also gives rise to a slew of activities that do absolutely nothing to help the cause but allow people to pat themselves on the back, thinking they’ve done something. I know it makes me sound grumpy and bah humbug-ish and holier-than-thou (and I don’t much care), but posting a random, cryptic Facebook status that men aren’t told the meaning of does absolutely nothing. Except make your male FB friends, and possibly some of the female ones, think you’re silly. (Seriously, if I post “I’m going to spend 3 months living in Mexico” the only thing it does is make my mom call me in a panic.)
Not wearing a bra on October 13? It has a cancer-neutral effect. And, really, how any people do you think will see a woman with her boobs swinging freely at the grocery store and think “I need to do a self exam when I get home”? Plus, not wearing a bra is a good way to draw attention to your breasts. And to someone whose breasts have been a source of pain, and no are likely gone, maybe drawing attention to your healthy breasts isn’t the most supportive thing you can do.
As someone who is both a cancer survivor and a cancer researcher (albeit neither breast cancer), it irritates the hell out of me to see all the things people do or buy in the name of Awareness. But don’t just take my word for it that awareness has gone too far. Here’s what some other people had to say about it:
From a woman diagnosed in her 30’s, who goes by Cancer In My Thirties
http://cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com/2012/10/13/national-no-bra-day-and-breast-cancer-awareness-month-or-please-put-that-pink-can-of-soup-down-put-your-bra-back-on/ (from a year ago)
http://cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com/2013/10/10/national-no-bra-day-an-update/ (this year)
From another Breast Cancer Patient:
From the website The Stir:
So. And this is just a sampling of the blogs I found by dozens of patients, doctors and other people who are tired of pink. And awareness. And people who think doing nothing is doing something.
So. How can you help? Obviously, money always helps. Research costs millions and you probably don’t have millions. But every single penny helps. Just make sure you’re donating to a group that does some good. For all the publicity they get, the Komen Foundation is a poor choice unless you want your money to exist in the perpetual cycle of awareness raising. Only 13 cents goes to research for every dollar donated. The American Cancer Society is a little better (around 22 cents, I think, but I forget exactly and I’m too lazy to look it up). If you’re interested in breast cancer, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation is a great organization that spends the majority of their doantion money on actual research. Or you could donate to your local hospital. Or any number of other cancer (or whatever the cause) organizations. Just check them out first on one of the many websites that rate charities.Two good ones are Charity Navigator or Charity Watch.
Don’t have money to spare? Donate time. Do something with a friend who has breast cancer. Drive her to an appointment. Make her dinner. Babysit her kids so she can take a nap.
Even better? Hang out with her and don’t talk about boobs or cancer or chemo at all. Unless she wants to. But offer to let her have a cancer free day. Let her not think about it for a few hours while you do something “normal,” like go shopping or get coffee or whatever.
Don’t have a friend you can do this with? Then don’t do anything. Because you know what? There are a lot of diseases and a lot of causes in this world. And we don’t all have to do something about every one. Confession time: other than the $5 I give at work (which goes to the American Cancer Society) so I can wear jeans on our department’s Lee Jeans Day for breast cancer, I don’t do much about breast cancer. I realize I have 2 of them that could eventually grow tumors. And I work alongside a lot of people who spend their days fighting breaast cancer. I certainly do my best to support my friend who has lived with metastatic breast cancer for years. But we’re not close enough that I would call her up and take her out. And, well, maybe it’s a knee jerk reaction to the societal message that I HAVE to care about breast cancer and I’m a horrible person if I don’t.
But you know what? It’s not my thing. Cancer absolutely is. And if I find my perfect job working in breast cancer, I’ll go that way. But right now, I’m interested in the cancers that don’t get the hyper-awareness that breast does. I’m interested in pancreatic cancer and other GI cancers because, well, I get paid to be interested in them. I also care about a number of other causes, and they’re where I put my money and my time. Not breast cancer.
And that’s OK. You can do nothing about breast cancer and still be a good person. Seriously. But this idea that putting “I’m going to live in Mexico for 3 months” does something to either support finding better treatments for breast cancer or a woman living with brast cancer drives me nuts. If you want to do something, do something real. Otherwise, don’t pretend.
So this is the awareness I want to see more of. Be aware of what you’re doing and how it helps. And if it doesn’t, be aware of that too.