Three Prongs to Pinktober’s Problems

My discontent with Pinktober (Breast Cancer Awareness Month) is not about the color pink or pink ribbons at all. It goes much deeper than that. I actually love pink. I’ve been writing about this stuff for years now, as have many others. I don’t know about you, but I seem to be seeing less pink nonsense this October. But clearly, we still have work to do. Lots of work. 

As I see it, there are three major prongs to Pinktober’s (and beyond) problems. Pinktober shenanigans have leeched out into other months as well. For instance, there’s the annual Twin Cities Mother’s Day Race for the Cure®. Yep, May is BCAM Part 2.

As I see things, there are three major prongs to Pinktober’s problems:

1. Marketing Tactics

The pink ribbon morphed into a far more successful marketing tool than anyone could’ve ever imagined. For years now, everyone’s been hopping onto the pink ribbon bandwagon in order to sell stuff and lots of it. If you can eat it, drink it, wear it, bake with it, play with it, hammer with it, even put your trash in it, there’s likely a pink version of such a product waiting for your purchase at your local retailer.

The pink ribbon’s been a marketing goldmine. Pink ribbons are used to increase profits as well as a corporation’s image. Talk about bang for your buck, I mean ribbon!

Questions and observations I keep coming back to…

Why is breast cancer the shopping disease anyway?

Why aren’t we shopping to support prostate (or insert any other type) cancer awareness?

What has all this marketing/shopping resulted in regarding improving and saving lives?

The number of deaths (41,000 per year in the US alone) to metastatic breast cancer has not changed in years. Unacceptable.

We cannot shop our way out of breast cancer.

Before buying pink/pink ribbon stuff, people need to ask questions such as:

Do any $$$ go to support breast cancer programs or research of any sort?

If so, exactly how much, what programs, what research?

What organization gets the $$$ and what will it do with the money?

Is there a cap on how much is donated? (If there is a cap, the rest might be used to line pockets.)

Think Before You Pink is an initiative from Breast Cancer Action, a great site to check out and to support, btw.

2. Trivializing a still too often deadly disease AND objectifying women’s bodies are both wrong.

In some ways, this bothers me even more than the shopping nonsense. Trivializing breast cancer adds to the illusion that breast cancer is the good cancer. It’s not. It’s horrible. All cancer is. The crazy hoopla and events often generate an almost party-like atmosphere. Walks, races, pink boas, crazy foods shaped into breasts, rocks painted to look like breasts, an unending sea of pink merchandise, and on and on. Too often, it’s over the top. Way over.

It might not seem like any one of these things by itself is all that bad, but when you start to add them all up, it’s pink overload.

In a sense, the pink ribbon has become the Bully of Ribbons. There is resentment out there from other cancer groups. Don’t believe me. Ask around.

Breast Cancer is not pretty, pink or party-like. Period.  

Again, always ask yourself and others if buying that pink mixer or biting into that doughnut with pink frosting and pink sprinkles on top is doing anything to save/improve lives.

OBJECTIFYING – When we see t-shirts with sassy slogans about saving, feeling, grabbing tatas, boobies, honkers, hooters, melons and the like, it demeans and objectifies women. You’d think we’d be way past this in 2018, but we’re not. The excuse that we’re just “lightening things up” for the younger crowd that usually gets tossed around, doesn’t cut it. Total BS.

Such messaging distracts from the serious business of saving lives. It’s time to STOP trivializing a still too often deadly disease.

And remember, men get breast cancer too. How do you think all this makes them feel?

To grab a copy of my FREE ebook, Pink Is Just a Color, Ribbons Are Just Ribbons: A collection of writings about Pinktober shenanigans, Click Here.

3. There’s been a failure to move beyond awareness and overly-simplistic messaging.

  • Who isn’t aware, in this part of the world anyway?
  • We need to move beyond basic awareness.
  • We need complete messaging – it’s not all about early detection and mammograms.
  • 20-30% breast cancers will metastasize regardless of stage at diagnosis. Sure, early detection is a good thing, but it’s not the complete story.
  • We must include the faces and stories of those living with metastatic breast cancer. I repeat, we MUST.
  • It’s shocking how many people are not even aware what metastatic breast cancer means.
  • This is a colossal failure of BCAM is it not? How can the group in most need be left out?
  • Focus should be on researching everything about metastasis – how to prevent it, slow it down, stop it, how/why it happens in the first place.
  • We need to focus on extending and improving QOL for those enduring life-long treatment for metastatic disease.
  • The group in greatest need should be getting the most support and this has not been the case. Women and men with metastatic breast cancer tell me all the time they feel excluded. Unacceptable.

There are plenty of things we can all do!

Read my blog. Read my memoir. I refuse to sugarcoat!

Read what others write. Listen to what others say.

Educate yourself about the FULL spectrum of this disease.

Donate to reputable charities/sites whose values align with yours.

12 things you can do all year long to support educated awareness.

This October (and beyond) ask yourself and encourage others to ask, is this helping to save/improve lives?

Because 41,000 women and men are still dying from metastatic breast cancer every single year in the US alone.

We need to do better. We must do better.

I support:  

Breast Cancer Action


Metastatic Breast Cancer Network


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How do you feel about Breast Cancer Awareness Month this year?

Which prong do you feel is most problematic?

Three Prongs to Pinktober's Problems #breastcancer #pinkribbon #breastcancerawareness

22 thoughts to “Three Prongs to Pinktober’s Problems”

  1. I do look forward to October with the hope that more people will get their mammograms. Before my diagnosis, I kept putting that annual mammogram off, until it had been three years. I probably would have put it off another year if it hadn’t been for the letter I received from our local hospital, Mayo Clinic Health System. But, that said, I honestly don’t like seeing all these women dressed up so childishly parading and cheering for breast cancer. They even dress up their dogs and their children. Somehow it just seems wrong.

    1. Joyce, I look forward to October, too, just because I love the fall. I agree that some of the dressing up and other antics seem childish and somehow trivializing. Of course, not everyone agrees with that, and that’s fine. Thank you for sharing

  2. Well, as I’ve said in the past, I don’t embrace BCAM. I see it as a marketing ploy, as a constant reminder and I find it in poor taste and trivializing. Nancy, I like what you said about men also getting breast cancer and how this must be affecting them. They must be mortified! I came to Arizona to escape pinktober and my sister was right they don’t do this in her town, but on the plane, pink napkins, pink lemonade, etc. So hard to escape. Very recently a woman posted that BC is not a death sentence. People responded, it is if it’s stage 4, as it was for my mother and yours also Nancy. How insensitive can people be. I myself am also always waiting for the other shoe to drop. So how do we stop this poor marketing ploy? I don’t know. ..

    1. Donna, It’s interesting that different areas do things differently during BCAM too. But yikes, you must have been squirming during your flight. That seems like a corporation trying to make themselves look good. I wonder if they donate anything to research or anything breast cancer related at all. And yes, the statement about no one dying from bc anymore. Such a failure of BCAM. I like the response someone gave about stage 4. I don’t know if the poor marketing ploy can be stopped or not, but we’ll keep speaking our truths, right? Thanks for your insightful comment.

  3. Great article Nancy! I like how you organized it into 3 prongs. It covers all the ills ‘Pinktober’ is associated with. I also appreciate your support for those of us with MBC…the ones few want to rub elbows with. The pink ribbon-party atmosphere of the BCAM may not ever change, but you are at least doing your best to point out the problems many don’t see in the maze of pink confetti & balloons. Thank you!

    1. Carol, Thank you. I’m glad you liked the post. I actually think things have improved slightly in the eight years I’ve been blogging. I haven’t seen as much pink nonsense or even pink products when I am at the grocery store. But maybe I’m just better at tuning it out. Btw, I am finally getting to reading your book. Sorry to be so slow. And I will always want to “rub elbows” with my sisters and brothers who are living with mbc. Count on it. Thanks for your comment.

  4. Great blog. Again! My boss’ mother died of breast cancer many years ago. Every day in October she wears pink to honor her mother and women she knows who have had breast cancer. Ten years ago when I first started working for her and she did this, I remember thinking “No. It’s so much more than pink.” So I deliberately avoided pink during October (and I love hot pink!). Instead I focused on reading what was out there about breast cancer and treatment. A small part of my mind thought, “maybe this will be the way I dodge this bullet.” Ha ha. Who was I kidding? Ten years, two lumpectomies, chemotherapy, and radiation later, I still don’t like the pink, but I accept it as some women’s need to identify with the disease. I avoid buying the shit that’s out there and I absolutely dread the decorated bras that our local mall puts on display during October complete with histories of local women who have died or had breast cancer. I can’t avoid BCAM, but I don’t have to participate.

    1. Linda, You are exactly right. You probably can’t avoid BCAM, but you don’t have to participate. And by not wearing pink during October you were/are making a statement, I’d say. And those decorated bras at the mall…why do people think such things make anyone who’s been diagnosed with bc feel better or supported. That sort of thing makes me cringe. Thank you for reading and taking time to comment.

  5. Thank you for acknowledging the glaring omission that breast cancer affects men too. Men need to be educated. the survival rate lags far behind female breast cancer due to lack of understanding, delays in diagnosis and treatment. Is a male breast cancer survivor, I keep asking everyone to add some blue to all the pink and to educate all the men in their lives.

    1. Kurt, You’re very welcome. Excluding men is just one more failure of BCAM (and beyond). It’s outrageous really. Thank you for commenting on this important component to what real awareness should really be about – including everyone impacted by bc, women and men as well.

  6. Thank you for this post Nancy! Your three prongs pretty much cover what is wrong with BCAM. We have come so far since BC wasn’t even discussed publicly, but the pendulum swung too far. Awareness is only a start. The overly simplistic messaging concerns me the most. It is what keeps us stuck at 40,00o deaths from MBC a year. It is what has money getting channeled to corporate pockets rather than research grants. It is what keeps the ignorance about MBC so prevalent. It too is shocking to me that so many people don’t realize what metastatic breast cancer is and what the diagnosis means to those who receive. A definite failure in awareness. I have feared MBC for many years, and now it has hit close to home. My sister Mary Jo is currently undergoing treatment for it and awaits another scan next week. I support the same groups you mentioned and recently donated to Metavivor in honor of Mary Jo. I d believe some headway is being made in stemming the pink tide, and your posts help. Thank you! Write on!

    1. Lisa, You’re right, the pendulum swung too far. I’m not sure anyone even can really define awareness, regarding breast cancer. What exactly does it even mean? I do know that without the public knowing about all those deaths that still happen every single year, we really don’t have awareness at all. I hope Mary Jo’s scan goes okay next week. I’ll be thinking about you both. Thank you for reading and commenting and for your kind words. And yes, you write on too!

  7. Well Nancy, I cringe at the way breast cancer is trivilized, especially in October. My biggest beef has always been the slogan “Fight Like A Girl”. I hated that slogan even long before I got breast cancer. I am not a girl I am a woman. That slogan actually makes me sick. I much prefer ” I am woman hear me roar”. It is shameful in my opinion to sissify breast cancer and our fight to end it. Secondly, those decorated bras have got to go. Breast cancer is not polka dots, sequins, feathers, furs or buttons on a bra that no one wears. I really wish the commercials and adds were about how painful physically, emotionally and mentally breast cancer, or any cancer,is. I am waiting for the day when they show a woman’s body during treatment and after a lumpectomy or mastectomy. Now that would be an honest statement!!!

    1. Mary Ellen, I am not a fan of that phrase, fight like a girl, either. And I hear you about the decorated bras. I mean really, how does that help? Keep sharing your bc reality and I’ll keep sharing mine. If everyone keeps doing that, I still believe the narrative that is too often inaccurately presented will change over time. Thank you for reading and sharing.

  8. Hi Nancy,

    I think all these prongs cover the problems of Pinktober. I hate — absolutely hate — the demeaning of women that occurs. Our society objectifies women, even if breast cancer didn’t exist. Now add a cancer that originates in the breast, and our culture goes all-out to make ta-ta and boob job jokes.

  9. I am torn with the idea about reading about women who have ‘survived’ breast cancer and the stories of those who are ‘enduring’ treatment, especially MBC. This morning I read the story about Emily, the writer of Beyond the Pink Ribbon, read parts of it out loud to my husband. Her story is HARD, but realistic, especially to someone with MBC. Right after that post was one with a feel good story. I’m happy for that woman, but I really don’t want that story. I get it: People need to hear about the positive outcomes. But they need to hear about the Emilys because those are the people who need the donations to try and find the cure.

    And I may just skip the mall this year. The horrid, decorated bras make me sick.

    1. Linda, People need to hear all the stories. The messaging has been incomplete for years and look where that’s gotten us. I haven’t been to the mall in ages. Guess I’ll wait a bit longer before going back. And yeah, those bras…Ugh.

  10. I admit that I have several pink ribbon pins that I wore on my jackets. They’re fine. But now I won’t buy anything with that symbol because it usually goes no where. But as people have pointed out, the beginning of pink ribbon marketing did help make people aware and results in donations. If that’s true, then it’s time for an MBC ribbon so we can direct donations to where it’s needed most (in my humble opinion).

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