Breast cancer marketers and politicians have the same foundational ideology. They appeal to the part of us that wants to think we’re helping others. By playing to our emotions – the patriotic, flag-waving, pink-ribbon-wearing side – they get us amped up, and our wisdom goes out the window because our hearts are too full of pink mush. The actual issues, though, are deeper than the glib slogans and speeches.
There is a Buddhist mantra – “when the heart and mind are united, anything is possible.” Wisdom without compassion is cruelty. Compassion without wisdom is idiot compassion. Idiot compassion is what gets politicians elected, and it’s what makes money hand-over-fist for the NFL and many other organizations in the name of breast cancer.
Before I got breast cancer, I did the Race for the Cure. I was a pink-ribbon-shoelace wearing gal. My compassion was huge, but I had not once researched what Komen was actually doing to help find a cure. I just assumed that anyone who says they are doing good in the name of cancer is actually doing good in the name of cancer. Apparently, I was a little naive.
In 2011 I got the education of a lifetime. I got breast cancer. Twice. Somewhere in there, among the treatments and surgeries, all that marketing became personal. I’m pretty sure it was October when that happened. Or, should I say, it was “Pinktober.” I realized they they were using my disease to sell things that actually cause cancer. They were selling pink buckets of fried chicken. They were selling cosmetics with known carcinogens in them (too many to link to there). I felt whored out. Without consent.
Suddenly, all those pink ribbons were personal. I began to question how much of the pink money was going to research to save my life. As it turns out, not very much. A quick search on the interwebs produces several companies that make all sorts of pink tchotchkes for sale. Some for as little as forty-five cents! Their sites have a spiel about the products being helpful reminders to women about breast exams. I’m going to take a wild stab and guess that a 55-cent tube of chapstick isn’t contributing much to scientific research. They are literally using a deadly disease to sell pens.
Are any of us unaware of the prevalence of breast cancer? Nope. What some of us might not know, however, is that the rates of survival haven’t really changed, despite all those pink pens and shoelaces. Thirty percent of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer will be diagnosed with metastatic disease and die. Thirty percent. How much breast cancer research funding goes toward curing or treatments for metastatic disease? TWO percent. The average survival for women who are diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer is 18-24 months. Since 1976, the rates of women under age 40 who are diagnosed with metastatic disease has actually gone up approximately 2% per year.
They are marketing pink fracking drill bits while women continue to die. And it works for them, because they are appealing to our sentiment. There is nothing sentimentality hates more than reality. It’s not pretty to think of young women, with young children, having their breasts removed, or their fertility taken. It’s not sexy to see bald, pale, young women at the grocery store. The reality is that there are women out there who are dragging our asses to the oncology infusion lounge, despite our own bodies’ protests, to literally get poisoned, knowing that this time will be worse than the last time because the side effects are cumulative. Some of us are walking into the radiation chamber daily to get burned, for five to seven weeks.
We need to advance the conversation past awareness that breast cancer exists. We need better treatments, at the very least. The fact that, in 2015, we are still doing things as barbaric as breast amputation is astounding to me. I’ve had the surgery. It is not fancy reconstruction to give you perky new boobs. It is Frankenstein-like. Ask any woman who has had reconstruction and she will tell you that she would take her saggy, imperfect boobs back in a heartbeat.
There is another link between breast cancer marketers and politicians. It’s not a metaphorical link, but an actual link. Komen created that link when they temporarily defunded Planned Parenthood in 2012. Though they didn’t explicitly say the reason was connected to abortion, we all knew it was. It was that moment that I realized that Komen had jumped the shark. When you put politics over carved up, poisoned, burned, and dying mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives you have taken yourself out of the helping industry.
Tomorrow is October 1. Before you get out those pink pom poms and spend all your money on pink crap, put your wisdom where your wallet is. Buy what you want to buy because you want it or need it. If you have some dollars to donate, and you want to be wise and compassionate, give them to Metavivor, Young Survival Coalition, or a local breast cancer charity that you know is actually helping breast cancer survivors. I do not give my permission to be whored out.
Photo courtesy of Todd Mestemacher