Some of the ridiculous “fund raisers” for breast cancer awareness have included (but not limited to), balloons on dogs, decorating bras, boysinbras, take off your bra day, bra pong, motorboating, titty cams,tee shirts sporting all kinds of slang for breasts (boobs, boobies, second base, man’s real best friend, hooters, headlights, racks, melons, etc.), mamming photos, singing mammograms, and of course, the ubiquitous pink ribbon slapped on any product in order to generate sales … all in the name of doing something“good.” (One website touts tons of support for breast cancer awareness by funding mammograms for women in need. The fine print reveals that each purchase of a product (regardless of cost) funds 1% of a mammogram … which means 100 products must be sold before ONE mammogram is funded or 1000 products must be sold before TEN mammograms are funded. This is obviously not about helping women in need, but about profit pockets.)
Pink cakes, pink cookies, pink cupcakes, pink chocolate, pink popcorn, pink candy corn, pink flowers, pink decorations, pink party favors, pink bracelets, pink cars, pink flags, pink everything surround breast cancer awareness. Everything is pretty and pink and well, just plain festive! Pink is such a happy color and breast cancer awareness events are happy occasions.
Except for when you think of those who have died. Each year, in the United States alone, 40,000 women (and men) die of breast cancer metastases, the only kind of breast cancer that kills. Yet, very little of the party atmosphere of October focuses on that reality.
I want to put a big number in front of you. I’m going to go back 40 years and assume 40,000 deaths due to breast cancer for each year. That’s 1,600,000 people. The real number is actually higher because we know the death rate was higher than 40,000 per year in the early days of tracking such things. But, for the sake of simplicity, let’s keep it at this number.
Now … let’s move into November. November is the month of Veterans Day and the time for us to turn our attention to our veterans. We hold parades in their honor and we carry flags in their honor. We cry on their behalf and we welcome their safe homecoming.
With the exception of a soldier’s first return home, we don’t have big parties. We don’t paint the town a certain color for them. We don’t demean what they’ve gone through and play silly games in order to bring awareness to their plight and to their recovery from a traumatic experience. We are very respectful of how we celebrate our veterans. As one high ranking military officer told me, a soldier never forgets those who died. The survivors of war always know what it meant to be alive and always know those who didn’t make it. Their remembrances of their fallen comrades are poignant and courteous.
Breast cancer and the military have more in common than you would think. The yellow ribbon (inspired by the song, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Around the Old Oak Tree”) first came into play after the Iranian hostage crisis of the late 1970s. A wife of one of the hostages tied a yellow ribbon around a tree as a sign that she wanted her husband’s safe return. She asked fellow Americans to do the same as an act of solidarity. In addition to ribbons on trees, people began wearing the yellow ribbon on their clothing. The “ribbon awareness” was born.
The yellow ribbon was used again in the first Gulf War in1991. Yellow ribbons were everywhere,along with the “Support our troops” and the yellow ribbon is now recognized as a symbol of support for our service people. The AIDS movement of the 90s solidified the role of a ribbon as an awareness tool. All it took was a well placed, simple looped ribbon on the lapels of a celebrity and people became aware. http://thinkbeforeyoupink.org/?page_id=26
The pink ribbon followed a similar path in becoming the recognized symbol of a disease. However,the pink ribbon morphed into something never dreamed of by the yellow ribbon or the red ribbon. Due to cause marketing,the pink ribbon became more and more about parties and shopping than it did about bringing actual awareness to the fact that breast cancer kills.
How many American soldiers have died fighting wars since the founding of our nation? 1,309,000. That number includes ALL wars and conflicts in American history. http://www.militaryfactory.com/american_war_deaths.asp That’s a huge number of men and women and every November, we stop and we honor them, as well as those who returned home, in a very deferential way. The goal of Veterans Day remains “A celebration to honor America's veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.” http://www.va.gov/opa/vetsday/vetdayhistory.asp
Remember that big number I threw out earlier? 1,600,000 Americans have died in the last 40years alone due to breast cancer. That number would be significantly higher if we go back to 1774 … 240 years. Here are the two numbers, side-by-side: 1,309,000 dead in 240 years and 1,600,000 dead in 40 years. More Americans have died due to breast cancer than Americans who have died fighting in wars.
While it is true that no one “signs up” for breast cancer,it is also true that the “battle” metaphor is the most common description used for someone with breast cancer (or any cancer, for that matter). How many times have you read an obituary stating that someone has “lost their battle with cancer?” One is encouraged to “fight.” One is called a “warrior” or a “soldier”against the disease invading their body. Chemotherapy is described as a “search and destroy” mission and surgery is called “evacuation.” Those who don’t die of the disease are known as “survivors.”
Survivors of battle never forget those who didn’t make it. It’s often difficult for a soldier to celebrate survival because so many did not survive.
What would happen if the breast cancer community was the same? What would happen if the same level of appreciation and respect was shown for those who have died rather than having a month-long party celebrating that one has “survived?” What would happen if all the silly games were set aside and just simple hard work went into generating funds for research? What would happen if we stopped shopping for a cure and actually spent the money on research?
By the way, were you aware that November is the following?
- National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month
- American Diabetes Month
- COPD Awareness Month
- National Hospice Palliative Care Month
- Lung Cancer Awareness Month
- Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month
- National Stomach Cancer Awareness Month
Where are all the fun and game fundraisers for these deserving causes? There’s the Movember campaign that addresses prostate and testicular cancer awareness,along with men’s health and there’s the Great American Smokeout on the third Thursday of November, but that’s about it. By the time October is over, people are most likely exhausted beyond measure to even consider other cancer causes.
Breast cancer should not be about fun and games. There’s nothing fun about 40,000 people per year dying of this disease. There's nothing festive about 1,600,000 deaths in 40 years. It’s a matter of life and death and the party atmosphere of October gives grave disservice to those have died and to those who are dying of this disease.
It’s time for a cure.
NOTE: To make donations that will 100% go towards metastatic breast cancer research, please make your check out to UC Regents.Write "Rugo Breast Cancer Research in honor of ____________" on the memo line. Mail checks to:
Attn: Hope Rugo, MD
1600 Divisidero St Box 1710
San Francisco, CA 94115
Alternative donation sites that directly fund research: http://www.standup2cancer.org and http://www.metavivor.org
In memory of: Franca, Michelle I., Catherine, Shirley, Michelle H., Carol, Kate, Mary Margaret,Sheila, Brigitte and Wanda. These women are all personal friends of mine who have died of metastatic breast cancer in the past year. Also, in memory of Bill (metastatic prostate cancer) and Bryant (metastatic testicular cancer), both who died in this past year as well.
ADDED on November 9, 2015: For a list of organizations involved in both breast cancer research and support, please see: http://www.iwantmorethanapinkribbon.com/effective-donations.html