Pink October

Once again it’s here – the breast cancer awareness campaign that has everyone thinking pink during the month of October.

It’s fluffy and feel-good and surely on behalf of a worthwhile cause. But if you listen closely, you can hear an increasing chorus of grumbling about the pink tsunami or, as I recently heard someone call it, "all this girly pink-ribbon crap."

Ouch. The truth is, many women are becoming weary of Pink October and what seems to be a rising tide of commercialism that doesn’t really match the spirit of what this campaign is supposed to be about.

Jeanne Sather, who blogs at The Assertive Cancer Patient and has been living with breast cancer for several years, is not a fan of the whole pink ribbon thing. "I didn’t like pink BEFORE it became the color of ‘breast cancer awareness,’ and now I loathe it," she writes.

Retailers right, left and center are offering pink-themed merchandise, then donating a tiny share of the profits to cancer research. The reason the pink marketing campaign makes me so angry is that it encourages women to indulge in retail therapy while trivializing a very serious disease.

I Googled the phrase "pink ribbon" and came up with more than 10 million listings: T-shirts. Jewelry. Key chains. Baseball caps. Refrigerator magnets. Pink rubber duckies. Coffee mugs. Party-favor pill boxes. Aprons. Teddy bears. (Does anyone else see a rather sexist theme emerging here?) Dog leashes. Air fresheners. Soap. Yoga sandals. Playing cards.

Men get breast cancer too, and it makes you wonder how they feel about this onslaught of pink. Lonely and invisible? I would say so. Women with cancer other than breast cancer probably won’t say it publicly, but many of them will quietly confide to certain friends that they feel left out of the party and even somewhat devalued.

One of Jeanne Sather’s commenters puts it frankly and honestly:

… It’s all so sexy and glam and cute and about saving young perky boobs and not actually dealing with sick people. I’m coming at this with a husband who has an aggressive blood cancer, and this is probably terrifically immature, but I see all the pink products and fundraising and awareness, and I feel like people with almost any other kind of cancer are orphans in a sea of pink crackers and pink tea.

In past years Jeanne has led a boycott and letter-writing campaign against the pink merchandisers. This year she’s mostly sitting on the sidelines although she plans to continue blogging about it. In a recent post, "Lowering the bar," she explains what has been going on in her life lately:

My health is continuing to deteriorate, slowly but surely, and I can’t do all the things in a day that I did even six months ago. I can no longer travel unless someone goes with me. That is frustrating. It is also tremendously upsetting. But it is true.

And, I would add, it’s one of the realities of cancer that pink refrigerator magnets and pink teddy bears don’t really alter. I’m going to give Jeanne the last word here because she says it best: "If you really want to help people like me, give us affordable, guaranteed health insurance. Don’t buy products with pink ribbons on them and think you are helping. You’re not."

Update, Oct. 2: The Boston Globe takes on this same issue in their weekend magazine.

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