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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Pink-tober -- do we really need more awareness?

A week ago a friend of mine, Greg, posted on my Facebook page that he half expected to hear me during an NPR piece lamenting breast cancer awareness month (click here for the link to the story, where you can also hear the piece). And, of course, I've never been the only person who has expressed a distaste for the pink ribbon (although I might be the only person to have a blog decrying them as "fucking" pink ribbons--those missing asterisks don't leave much for the imagination). Karuna Jaggar, executive director of Breast Cancer Action, recently discussed the insidious pink-washing being done every October on the WBUR NPR show, "On the Point."

But I do find it heartening not to be the only one questioning pink ribbon culture. There is Samantha King's work, which I've written about previously (and the film version, I hope, will reach LOTS OF PEOPLE). And there's Gayle Sulik's book, Pink Ribbon Blues, which also questions the dark underbelly of pink ribbon culture. And of course there's Barbara Ehrenreich's essay, "Welcome to Cancerland."

But it also seems like more and more people are really questioning what's going on with breast cancer philanthropy and whether we have "pink fatigue" and the efficacy of breast cancer research--the fact that only 3% of breast cancer funding goes to treating metastatic breast cancer--which is the stage IV kind that kills women--it's the kind emblemized in those stats that tell us that breast cancer is the 2nd leading cause of death for women. Women don't die of stage I, II, or III breast cancer, and usually they don't die due to complications in treatment (although it does occasionally happen). Women (and the few men who are diagnosed) die because their cancer has metastized to other parts of their body (and this blog that I recently discovered chronicles what it's like to live with metastatic cancer, as well as the frustration at the lack of funding for metastatic cancer treatment).

And this should make us ANGRY. And we should turn our anger into ACTIVISM. Because really, the time for awareness is over. We all know about breast cancer. We all know someone who has had breast cancer. And we certainly all know someone who has had SOME type of cancer. So what we need, right now, is action. We need to get mad and we need to do something. Not to just detect it early. Not to just get appropriate treatment. But to try to prevent anyone from ever getting this disease and needing treatment.

Just what type of action to take...I suppose this is part of the problem. I'm thinking on it. And if you have suggestions, please post them. I really do want to be part of the solution--to be an activist not just someone who raises awareness every October. And certainly not by wearing or buying anything associated with a pink ribbon.

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