|Graphic by Kathi Kolb
October has made me uneasy for a long time.
If you put four women with breast cancer in a circle more likely than not one of them will develop and die of incurable, metastatic disease. Or from the attempt to wrestle devilish cancer cells into a chronic condition, like diabetes or heart disease. But cancer is not like diabetes or heart disease for one obvious reason: chemotherapy, as a way of life, ultimately is not sustainable.
For the other three of us from the circle, the treatment that brought about remission (does anyone say cure?) can leave side-effects that are physical and psychic, not to mention financial. In the past thirteen years I have learned to deal with all but one. The repeated distress of losing that one woman from our circle, the one whose cancer cells were simply uncontrollable, is like losing a limb. Over and over again.
In the meantime, medical sociologists like Gayle Sulik, PhD, in her book Pink Ribbon Blues and sharply observant bloggers like Rachel of The Cancer Culture Chronicles keep raising the curtain on 'pink profiteers' and the 'pinkification' of a difficult disease into something far from the reality most women experience. Money that could be used to fund meaningful research or even funds to directly help affected women is instead diverted into piles of pink "stuff" with the pennies (if that) from those purchases ending up God knows where.
"Breast cancer has made a lot of people very wealthy," Lea Goldman writes in her excellent article, "The Big Business of Breast Cancer." in Marie Claire. Here's she's not razzing on the health industry but the undersided tactics of several large, national breast cancer charities that employ telemarketing services to solicit your funds. From those funds, these "philanthropists" pay themselves handsomely, and oops, sometimes "forget" to make those donations made to the cause they claim to help.
Read Goldman's article side by side with USA Today writer Liz Szabo's "Pink ribbon marketing brings mixed emotions poll finds.," developed from questions added on to an exclusive USAToday/Gallup Poll about President Obama. What stuck out like a sore thumb: more than 80% of the sample said that they had purchased a pink ribbon product.
So is this what breast cancer - or any kind of cancer - awareness means to the majority of Americans now? Purchasing a product? What happened to modifying risk factors that can be addressed or helping assure that underserved populations have the same care that those with insurance do? Isn't that part of awareness, too? Without additional surveys and questions directed specifically at the link between the two (and other factors) we can't know for sure. But I'm not sure that would be far off the mark.
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Starting Monday "UPENDING PINK" October on #BCSM with Gayle Sulik, PhD, at 9 PM ET. Please join the conversation.