“Pinktober” and Fund Raising for “The Cure”

October 25, 2012 at 12:07 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , )

If you haven’t already been overwhelmed with the amount of pink just about everywhere you shop, October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. As a concept, it’s obviously a noble one; it accounts for 22.9% of cancers in women, and nearly 500,000 women worldwide died from it in 2008. It’s a terrible disease that eats away at something central to most women’s sense of femininity. I have supported various charities that raise awareness about it, talk about it to people of all genders (men get breast cancer too, and even transmen who have had double mastectomies can get it), and have given money to some of the bigger organizations that are trying to find a cure.

But then I read this article on MSN: Pinktober Ignores Breast Cancer Patients Who Can’t Be Cured. It tells the stories of people with Stage IV breast cancer – when it is almost certainly terminal – and how they not only feel neglected by all of the media surrounding breast cancer, which seems unduly focused on survivors and others who are in remission, as well as on the concept of a “cure”. Less money and focus is being given to those for whom a cure would be too late, or not effective, because their cancer is too advanced. These people are most in need of charitable services, and yet because they’re not the face someone like Susan B. Komen wants to put on their website, they don’t get the funding focus either.

This made me think. As a society, we don’t want to talk about dying or death, and of course we want to promote the message that breast cancer can be survivable in order to encourage women to do self exams and get mammograms regularly, rather than sit in the dark too afraid to find out if they might have it. It is much more inspirational to hear from someone who was very sick who has now been “cured”, or in remission for five years or longer, than to hear the story of women who didn’t find the cancer until it had metasticized into other parts of their body. It’s much more uplifting to “Walk for the Cure” than to “Walk for Better Hospice Care For the Dying”.

We don’t want to admit that people die from this, are dying from this right now, and so much less money is being vested in making those lives more comfortable, more livable, in the here and now. It’s easier to drop a quarter into a bucket in hopes that if we or someone we know gets breast cancer, we’ve done a little something that might make it easier to survive, rather than accept the reality that it could also easily kill us.

Of course we don’t want to talk about death, and especially death from cancer. It’s a big bad boogeyman in everyone’s closet. People routinely stay away from doctors and hospitals when they’re ill or have odd symptoms out of fear that it might be something deadly; but when you think about it, that’s a bit backwards. It’s always better to have something checked out only to find out it’s no big deal or is easily treatable because you caught it early, rather than hide in a closet until it’s so bad that there’s little that can be done. We want to encourage people to look at cancer screening as just another boring health thing we do, like an annual physical, and it would be lovely to live in a world if when cancer was detected, it would be as easy to treat as a shot or a regimen of pills.

However, I do think that while we’re off buying pink spatulas and pink rubber bracelets (and if you haven’t seen “Pink Ribbons, Inc”, well, it’s available on Netflix) because we truly do care about those with breast cancer, it might also be worthwhile to send a donation to Hospice, or some other local programs that provide services for people dying, today, of breast cancer. Those for whom the mythical cure will be too late.

We need to make sure that people with Stage IV breast cancer are seen by the media; their stories told by those who know and love them, so that the focus can be widened to make them feel like they have a place in our “Awareness Month”. It’s important to reach out to those who are being underserved by big charitable organizations because their soundbites aren’t as cheerful or inspirational. I personally think listening to the wisdom of someone who is facing death head on is one of the most inspirational things one can do – both to bear witness to what they see and learn through their process, and so we can hold onto these wisdoms for ourselves and those we love.

Also, as if it needs to be said, please do your research and find out if that pink item’s seller actually donates to a reputable charity, and if so, how much. Most have a set amount, and when you buy the item you’re helping replete the company’s account, not the charity’s. There are disreputable companies out there that sell pink items in hopes that you’ll buy them so you can feel like you’ve done something good while acquiring yet another kitchen utensil or sticker for your car, when in fact there’s no proof that’s where the money goes.

If you really care, research local charities that work with all breast cancer patients, regardless of their “curability” or not, and give gifts of time and expertise. Reach out to a family and make dinner, or volunteer babysitting services, or drive them to their appointments. Find out if there’s an organization that visits terminal cancer patients while they’re in the hospital and make one visit a week. That’s a good way to celebrate awareness – being aware of the full spectrum of a disease, not just what looks good on a perfume bottle or press release.

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2 Comments

  1. Moira Parham said,

    A fair point. But statistics show that more women are surviving the disease today than 10 or 20 or more years ago, and that’s due to more early detection, which is due to better awareness, which in turn is due to “pinktober” type drives, etc.

    I’m well aware of the bleaker side of this – my mother died from breast cancer when she was only 33 years old. My grandmother on my father’s side died from breast cancer the year I was born (I’m named after her, my middle name anyway – Constance). My cousin had a bout a few years ago, had a masectomy, and thankfully is in remission. My sisters and I live in fear and are checked often.

    I was too young to remember much about when my mother died, but I watched my stepmother fade away in hospice with colon cancer. One thing that stuck in my mind is that a nurse kicked me out of the room for a while so that she could do her cleaning and such, and change sheets, etc. I was too tired to argue as I had been there all night with her, but I was angry. She was within days or less of death (in fact she died later that day), and this nurse was begrudging me a last few moments because she had a busy schedule. I do understand the nurse’s job is tough, but I think better hospice awareness and training, regardless of the reason (type of cancer, whatever) is a good point. Looking into programs that will help families with loved ones in hospice be with their dying relative, or especially help those in hospice with no families have the best comfort possible is absolutely a wonderful thought.

    One thing I’ve found on the intarwebz that I think is keen is this site –
    http://www.charitynavigator.org
    It rates charities based on their transparency with their money, admin expenses, fundraising efficiency, etc.

    Thanks also for pointing out that men do get breast cancer. I have a male friend that told me of what seemed to him a surreal experience with a breast cancer scare he had. The fact that there were only “Glamour” type magazines in the waiting rooms, the pink that was pervasive everywhere, how weird he felt as the only man in the clinic, etc. I appreciate the power that branding has, and pink is certainly a brand for breast cancer. But I do wish sometimes it was something more “neutral”.

  2. anyakless said,

    I’m not sure if you’ve read this already, but Barbara Ehrenreich has an essay called “Welcome to Cancerland” that might interest you. It’s about her experience with breast cancer and the mandated positive thinking (and the teddy bears and the pink) that surrounded her. It’s now part of a book called “Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America”.

    The whole essay is online on Ehrenreich’s website:

    http://www.barbaraehrenreich.com/cancerland.htm

    -Anya

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