Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Conflicted

October is fully upon us; leaves falling, colder weather, and pink is everywhere.  Every sporting event I seem to watch on TV or go visit our students at seems to have some eye catching pink item for sale.  High school, college and even professional sports have fully embraced the movement.  Now before I begin, I encourage you to read the entire post to understand where I'm coming from...you don't have to agree, but just understand where I'm coming from.
I don't like pink everywhere (and been quite vocal about it for years).  I also don't like saying so, because  I also don't like cancer, and saying I'm against Pink insinuates I'm against Breast Cancer Awareness.  Or at least that's the impression I sense.  I'm all for philanthropy and helping others.  I'm left with the question burning in my mind:  But is it doing anything?  I just don't think we are going about it the right way.  I think it may be more about the movement than actually helping determine what causes cancer.  I think it's much more commercialization than anything else.  And where does all that money go?  Well, enter the documentary, Think Pink Inc. Here is a brief trailer:
It's an edgy topic for sure.  How can you not like "pink movements" which promote breast cancer awareness.  My question has always been, where does the money go, and what about the other cancers?  Check out this link which shows you the death rates and occurrence of cancers.  Indeed, according to the CDC link provided, breast cancer is most common in women, but prostate cancer actually has a higher rate of occurrence  (144/100,000 as compared to 122/100,000).  Perhaps even more interesting, though, is mortality rate.  It's not even close.  Lung cancer has the highest mortality rate in both men and women (actually, almost double the rate in women when compared to breast cancer).

Well, here are a few points teased out from the documentary I watched last night which I thought were interesting.
1.  Less than 5% of money raised actually goes to researching prevention of cancer.  This means that it's not going to finding a cause or potential causes of cancer.
2.  Cancer rates have actually increased over the decades, from 1 in 22 to 1 in 8. 
3.  People need to talk.  What if all researchers stopped "racing each other", and opened up a dialogue about what they were studying; it could prevent overlap, and may gain some headway.
4.  When physicians found that early mammograms were giving too much radiation and therefore unsafe, they were shipped to developing countries for use there.  (global responsibility?)
5.  Susan G. Komen for the Cure has now expanded internationally, holding events all over the world. There is no doubt they have raised vast amounts of money and donated much...but a fair question to ask is "Is it doing what we need it to do?"
6.  Many companies actually stand to profit from increased consumerism surrounding purchasing their pink lines (Avon, Yoplait, Pharmaceutical Companies, etc.)

I think what really got to me was later in the documentary, they actually described the origin of the salmon ribbon, started by a woman to promote cancer awareness.  She was approached by both a magazine and retail provider, who wanted to market her ribbon.  Her response: No.  She didn't want it to be used for commercial purposes.  Their response:  they simply changed the color from salmon to pink and took it.  Gotta love corporate America baby!

I thought the real drive home point was that the documentary wasn't really "anti-pink", as much as they just wanted to show the real face of cancer, which isn't pretty and nice, and really use money to look at potential environmental causes, etc, rather than medications to treat.  Perhaps the most emotional part of the film was listening to the Stage IV group, who took exception to the terms "survivor" (does anyone really survive) and "fight", implying that they didn't give it their all when "fighting" cancer.  In fact, they stated that it's not really a fight as much as it is enduring difficult treatments.  For those who are unaware, Stage IV is the final stage.  There is no Stage V for cancer.  At any rate, an interesting documentary (although the geek in me wanted way more statistics) and worth a shot if you want to know where all that money you are donating is actually going to.  I won't give away too much more (you really should watch the video for yourself on Netflix)

If you navigate the Pink Ribbon website, it appears the same as others, but if you examine the homepage more closely, it differs in the fact that it actually tells you the percentage of donated money used, and where it goes.  Novel concept.  It also  has a link to the cosmetic safety database, which is an awesome tool.  You can enter your common  household items for cleaning, or beauty and see where their ingredients stack up on the carcinogen or toxic list.  It's good stuff.
One last question: Does this movement inspire hope for cancer patients...or the loved ones surrounding them...or both?  Does any of this matter?  For instance, who cares where the money goes as long as one person is helped.  Talk about an intersection topic.   At any rate, feel free to share your thoughts. 

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