Yes, I have received emails telling me that I should be grateful.
And on some level I am. My mother died of breast cancer metastases to the bones and lungs at age 52, back in 1989 when breast cancer wasn’t talked about much. I heard people ask her what she had done to “deserve” breast cancer. I heard well-meaning people tell her that she needed to confess the sin that caused the cancer. In short, I pretty much heard it all.
In the few years after her death, the pink ribbon became more and more well known. I purchased a ribbon pin with pink rhinestones (that I still have) and I cross stitched a pink ribbon and framed it and put it next to a picture of my mom.
After a couple of years, though, those items just didn’t “do anything for me.” My mother was so much more than the disease that took her life and I didn’t need pink ribbons for me to remember her. I didn’t need pink ribbons to talk to others about her.
A pink ribbon doesn’t memorialize my mother’s life. She loved to read … what better way for me to remember her than to read some of the books she enjoyed? My mother also loved trendy eyeglasses … what better way for me to remember her than to have some glasses similar to what she wore? She liked fashion jewelry, some of which I own and still wear upon occasion. In other words, I ditched the pink ribbon long before my own breast cancer diagnosis at age 48. I made my memories about my mother to be about HER.
When we moved overseas back in 2005, I finally donated the cross stitched ribbon to charity. I discovered the pin at the bottom of a jewelry box, where it still is to this day. I do understand that those early days of awareness are important in the history of breast cancer. While I have had people try to tell me what caused breast cancer in my life (Yes, I have had several people tell me what I did wrong to get breast cancer), it’s a different tone than it was 25 years ago. It’s a bit different now that I have Stage IV breast cancer … there’s a bit more of the “You must have done something wrong for the cancer to come back” mentality. This is an example of “awareness” without real education.
Breast cancer is out in the public eye. It’s no longer a hidden disease, nor is it considered to be one of “shameful origins.” There’s no going back to it being veiled in secrecy.
In fact, we’re so “aware” now, that almost everyone knows about breast cancer. Elementary school kids are wearing “awareness” bracelets and high school cheerleaders are waving pink pom poms. Society is very aware, but it’s time to move beyond that awareness. In the 25 years since my mother’s death, billions of dollars have been spent on awareness and research, yet we seem to be no closer to a cure than we were back then.
“In 1991, 119 women in the U.S. died of breast cancer every day. Today, that figure is 110 — a victory no one is bragging about. [That equals FOUR women every HOUR! However, there are those who say the death rate due to breast cancer has decreased significantly. I don’t see any significant drop.] Breast cancer remains the leading cancer killer among women ages 20 to 59; more than 1.4 million new cases are diagnosed annually worldwide. Roughly 5 percent, or 70,000, breast cancer patients are diagnosed at a late stage, after the cancer has metastasized — that rate hasn't budged since 1975, despite all the medical advances and awareness campaigns. For these women, the prognosis remains grim: Only 1 in 5 will survive five years out. Fundamental questions still elude researchers: Why do a third of all women considered cured by their doctors suffer recurrences? Why are breast cancer rates rising in Asia, where they've been historically low? Is it even possible to prevent breast cancer, and if so, how?
“A popular gripe among advocates is that too much is spent on awareness campaigns — walks, races, rallies — at the expense of research. (And really, when Snuggies go pink, haven't we hit our awareness saturation point?) There's a case to be made for that, of course, but there's another explanation, one that exposes an ugly, even blasphemous truth of the movement: Breast cancer has made a lot of people very wealthy. The fact is, thousands of people earn a handsome living extending their proverbial pink tin cups, baiting their benefactors with the promise of a cure, as if one were realistically in sight. They divert press, volunteers, and public interest away from other, more legitimate organizations, to say nothing of the money they raise, which, despite the best intentions of donors, doesn't always go where it's supposed to go." http://www.marieclaire.com/world-reports/news/breast-cancer-business-scams
I look at pink ribbon items with questions in my eyes. I analyze every pink ribbon product I see. I am seldom impressed. I am not grateful for the state of the pink ribbon today. Why should I be grateful for the wealth mongering that happens at my expense? Why should I be grateful for the nonsense surrounding a body part? Why should I be grateful when someone tells me “If only one person is helped, then it’s okay!”
To me, this is analogous to having a room full of babies in cages. All the babies would have appropriate food, water, safety and shelter, but they wouldn’t have their freedom. They would be on display for all to see and to jeer at by pointing out the fact that they are in cages. Funny jokes would be made about them. Hilarious skits would be written and gimmicks would be created. Caged baby charms would be marketed to all. A ribbon would be used as a key to unlock the cages. Images of caged babies would be put on tee shirts, water bottles, caps, and the like. All these babies on display would have the goal to make people “aware” of childhood cancer … that children with cancer are caged by such a disease, therefore one needs to make donations to break them out of their cages.
Tell me, how successful would this public relations event be? Do you think people would accept it? I don’t think so. People would be up in arms! How dare anyone put a baby in a cage, even if it is “for charity?”
That’s how I feel about the pink ribbon. How dare anyone do such a thing? How dare they make the disease that is taking too many lives into a fluffy pink party? If one person is motivated to make a donation to a child’s cancer research foundation, then does that make the cage scenario right? If it’s not right for the children, then why is it right for women with breast cancer?
Many have told me that the pink is necessary because the horror of the reality of breast cancer just can’t be faced every day … that it’s too much.
I agree … it IS too much … yet 140,000 – 170,000 women (and men) live with this horror every single day of their lives … and that’s in the United States alone. We don’t have accurate figures on the numbers of those living with metastatic breast cancer. Up to 50% of Americans believe that metastatic breast cancer is curable because they don’t understand what metastatic breast cancer is. Up to 70% believe metastatic breast cancer is curable “if it is caught early,” thinking that the time of diagnosis is the definition of “early” as opposed to the stage of diagnosis. 40,000 women (and men) die of metastatic breast cancer each year. We can’t dismiss this horror, nor can we hide it in the pink. To do so is to place us in a cage, telling us, “You should be grateful that you have food, water, shelter and safety. People like you are living longer than ever. That’s enough for now, so just sit there in your cage and let us party. It’s okay if we make fun of your [absent] breasts, focusing more on where your disease started rather than on the fact that it’s going to kill you. As long as we get one more woman to get a mammogram, then it’s all good.”
No, it’s not all good and it’s far from being enough. We need more. We need more than a pink ribbon party.