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The Pink Ribbon Fairy Tale Is a Lie!

Warning: This is a tongue-in-cheek, sarcastic sort of post. Admittedly, it’s not for everyone.

The Pink Ribbon Fairy Tale is a lie, and it really needs to go. No, it needs to be shredded and replaced with tales of reality. There is a time and place for fantasy, but breast cancer is not it.

What am I talking about when I say the pink ribbon fairy tale is a lie?

Well, here’s an example:

A Pink Ribbon Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, there was a Pink Ribbon Fairy Tale (PRFT) Woman of, shall we say, mature age. (After all, younger women don’t get breast cancer, do they? And men surely never do.) PRFT Woman had been having her mammograms every other year as recommended. She’d been checking her breasts regularly too.

One day in the shower, PRFT Woman discovered a tiny lump. (Because breast cancer always presents as a lump, does it not? Um, no.) Always the good girl, she made an appointment with her doctor, had a diagnostic mammogram to check out the “intruder”, proceeded to have a biopsy and unfortunately, “got the call” and heard “the words”.

But fear not. Hers was a “typical” cancer diagnosis. The catch it early, plan on a year out of your life and then get on with it, honey, sort of diagnosis. She was relieved hers was the “good” cancer.

You might want to read, A “Typical” Cancer Diagnosis, What’s That?

PRFT Woman eagerly pasted on the mandatory Pink Ribbon Fairy Tale smile and surrounded herself with people who only spoke in pink tones and pink sound bytes. She tuned out anyone and anything that even hinted otherwise. And of course, she wrapped herself in pink head to toe and even found time to run (not walk) in races proclaiming to find the cure.

(Btw, I have nothing against the color pink; I still love pink.)

PRFT Woman did, of course, allow herself a few moments of sadness, grief even, when she was wheeled into surgery for her bilateral mastectomy. I mean, that was hard. Even for PRFT Woman.

But again, fear not.

This was her opportunity to get a free boob job, was it not?

After all, breast reconstruction was some sort of perk from this whole deal, her friends reminded her. She was even able to now select the breast size of her dreams.

PRFT Woman’s cancer required chemo, and sure, she lost her hair. But what the heck. It was only hair and it’d grow back, she reminded herself, as did her family and friends. No big deal.

Since PRFT Woman’s breast cancer experience was “typical”, after a year or so, things got back to normal. She got back to normal.

She was as good as new. Heck, she was better than ever. After all, breast cancer had miraculously morphed her into a new and improved version of her former self. Out with the old. In with the new. Who knew?

Oh, I almost forgot. PRFT Woman lived happily ever after because breast cancer, being the “easy” cancer that it is, was an over and done deal. Yes, of course, it was.

The End.

Isn’t this how the Pink Ribbon Fairy Tale is supposed to go for everyone diagnosed with breast cancer?

Wait, no?

Then perhaps you are doing things all wrong. Perhaps there is something wrong with you. Besides the cancer, of course.

Perhaps your story is not following the right script. There is only one way to make it in this Pink Ribbon Fairy Tale, and clearly, it’s not your way. You better get your hands on a copy of the How to Do Breast Cancer Right manual.

Sure, there are other slightly altered versions of the above tale. There are various adaptations. Some involve genetic mutations (but rarely because that tends to complicate the story lines), different types of breast cancers, different treatment courses or whatever. But a man as the main character? Forget about it. Not gonna happen. And what about stories featuring those living with MBC? Uh, uh. No one wants to hear their stories. Too sad.

Most Pink Ribbon Fairy Tale narratives carry within them similar themes.

Catch it early. Get your treatment plan. Do what you’re told. Smile your way through all of it. Don’t complain. Keep your chin up. Think positive thoughts only. And when your allotted year of typical treatment is up, damn it, find your new normal and then figure out all the lessons you’ve learned. And maybe climb a mountain or two for good measure.

I’m thinking you get my drift.

The above sort of Pink Ribbon Fairy Tale is a distortion of truth; in fact, it’s a lie.

The real breast cancer experience looks and feels quite a lot different. It is grounded in realities such as:

  • Breast cancer is not the “good” cancer. (There is no good cancer.) Nor does it always present as a lump.
  • Men can and sometimes do get breast cancer too.
  • Roughly 116 women, and yes, men die every day from metastatic breast cancer in the US alone. 6-10% are diagnosed de novo. 20-30% early stagers will develop metastatic disease at some point down the road.
  • The typical breast cancer experience (which doesn’t exist as no one’s experience is typical) steals way more than a year out your life. In fact, there isn’t an actual end date unless you’re talking about dying, which I am not.
  • Objectifying women and trivializing a potentially deadly disease are both still going on, and neither is one bit funny.

I could go on (and on), but again, I think you get my drift.

Sometimes, escaping from reality is a good thing.

Fairy tales have their place, for sure.

Breast cancer advocacy isn’t it.

The #PinkRibbon Fairy Tale Is a Lie! #breastcancer #breastcancerawarenessmonth #BCAM #pinkribbons #pinkisnotacure

Why do you think the Pink Ribbon Fairy Tale persists?

What is one thing that irks you most about the typical pink fairy tale?

If applicable, what is something you want others to know about your breast cancer reality?

If you’re interested in a non-varnished “tale”, read my memoir. No sugarcoating. Guaranteed.

Cancer Was Not a Gift & It Didn't Make Me a Better Person - Pick the purchasing option that best suits you!

Meredith Clark

Tuesday 20th of October 2020

All of these are excellent replies to an excellent post. My favorite comment, from Donna, should be made into a bumper sticker: "If breast cancer wants to find you, it will." Nails it.


Tuesday 20th of October 2020

Meredith, I agree, the comments are pretty terrific. Always appreciate readers' insights. Donna's definitely makes a point! Thank you for reading and taking to comment. Hope you're doing well.


Wednesday 14th of October 2020

I'm 8 and a bit years from diagnosis. I didn't even realise I had a 9cm tumour in my right breast (my best one dammit). It wasn't a 'lump' more a flat growth, infiltrating to four lymph nodes. I've had the whole suite of treatments, mastectomy, axial clearance, chemo, rads, reconstruction, surgical menopause at 45yo (ain't that fun?) and over seven years of estrogren blockers, even more fun. I also have mild lymphoedema and osteopenia. I won't even go into the intimate girly stuff haha. I slipped through the mammogram cracks, most marketing of them in the health system where I live is towards women over 50. I just can't take part in the whole pink sisterhood thing. I've seen a pink ribbon sticker on a car saying 'cancer picked the wrong bitch'. Sadly that woman is in the last stages of the disease. Diagnosed not long after me. I know people mean well, but I find the whole pink ribbon nauseating. My family is so riddled with different cancers, I would be covered in ribbons! We have a non-BC cancer gene in my family, I don't have it though. I once went to a Dragons Abreast dragon boat session. Afterwards the women all stood in a circle, held hands and basically did a happy clappy dance. Good for them but just not me. Eight years on I am still fighting to find some kind of normality in my life. Most times when people ask if I have the all clear (the magic 5 year mark) I just say yes. Can't be bothered any more saying I know I am clear of cancer when I die of old age. Most people's eyes glaze over, the brutal reality is too much for them. Of course I am thankful for so many things. But one of them isn't cancer, it hasn't enriched my life, made me a better person or any such thing. It has given me a greater sense of empathy though. I still get angry about cancer, especially as it took the life of my 31yo nephew this year, and will take his mother, my sister too. I thank you Nancy (my Mum's name) for your wonderful gritty and real insights.


Tuesday 20th of October 2020

Helen, Your comment is spot on. I am really sorry your nephew died and that your sister is ill too. You've been through a lot - your whole family has. I hear you on the still trying to find normalcy eight years on. I think that ship has sailed. Normal is something we say goodbye to. Like you, I'm grateful for many things too, but cancer, no way. I don't blame you one bit for feeling angry at times. Cancer has stolen a lot from you, and I'm sorry for that. Thank you for reading and sharing. My best to you. And thanks for saying you appreciate my insights. Not everyone does, which is fine.


Wednesday 14th of October 2020

Well, I must be strange because I never ever thought of this being a fairy tale. I knew the minute my doc said "It's cancer" that my life was changing drastically. It's been 7 years this month since diagnosis and although there was a brief respite during that time where I was NED, it's still rough. If there is a fairy she's ugly, loaded with warts, and causing trauma as she sprinkles us with cancer cells throughout our bodies.


Wednesday 14th of October 2020

Linda, Yeah, reality feels nothing like the tale so often told by those who help to perpetuate Pink Ribbon Fantasy Land. The PRFT can cause considerable harm. Thank you for reading and commenting too.

Abigail Johnston

Wednesday 14th of October 2020

I love your tongue in cheek post. Full of sarcasm and sardonic realisms. Great job!! ❤️

Donna Funkhouser

Wednesday 14th of October 2020

I could be wrong but I thing that many women are so afraid of getting BC and /or believe that it could never happen to them, that they go along with the pink fairy theory of protecting themselves. Or if they've had BC then all the pink paraphernalia will protect them from a recurrence. I've even heard women say, when hearing that someone has had a diagnosis, that they must not have been going for their mammograms. Because they get theirs on time, they are protected. If BC wants to find you it will, whether you drape yourself in pink or go for a mammogram every day of your life. Some types of BC don't even present well on a mammo until it's a later stage, such as lobular. We do our best and make the best of every day. I know I did and I do. But I am not a better person, and I don't expect the pink fairy to protect me or anyone else. We hope for the best and prepare for the worst. Sad but true.


Wednesday 14th of October 2020

Abigail, I'm glad you appreciate my weird humor. Not everyone does. Thanks for reading and taking time to comment too.

Ilene Kaminsky

Wednesday 14th of October 2020

The PRFT persists because that’s what people with and without breast cancer can handle emotionally. For instance we see the pink ribbons and pink license plates and pink bank checks, and pink cups, and pink etc and by buying these things people feel they’re done their part to raise awareness. And truthfully the PRFT had its place but it’s now so watered down its watered down the disease itself. I blame certain charitable organizations for this embellished embarrassment. And certain for profit companies as well. Pink used to be a color I wore quite often as it goes well with my skin tone. Big changes in wardrobe because 1. I can’t work anymore and 2. I don’t want to pretend I’m supporting the pink movement. It reminds me of my metastatic cancer, which by the way has a multicolored confusing ribbon that was launched if I recall correctly about 4 years ago. It’s white, pink, purple and teal. What that says is nothing. I honestly think the whole cancer color ribbon thing is ridiculous and all of them water down the fact that cancer is a pandemic far broader and wider reaching than Covid. 1:2 people will get some form of cancer this year. That’s 50% of our population. Figure 30- 40% of those people will get a secondary cancer or inoperable cancer or metastatic cancer and we are now in numbers higher than most all other diseases including heart disease. It’s not just a pink fairy problem - it’s the rainbow of fluttering fairies who take the global problem and coat it with ostrich disease (head in sand) or remember when you were a kid and you’d stick your fingers in your ears and sing so you didn’t have to hear someone say something you didn’t like?


Wednesday 14th of October 2020

Ilene, I think you're right. People buy the pink stuff and pat themselves on the back for what they think is really doing something. I put more of the blame on those who use the pink ribbon as a marketing magnet for the sole purpose of increasing profits. So many times, pockets are lined and the business gets positive PR too. I agree, the cancer ribbon thing is rather ridiculous. You make good points about Covid and cancer. Thank you.

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