Breast cancer took one of the brightest lights in broadcast journalism in September: the much beloved and respected Cokie Roberts. It was her second bout with cancer. She’d fought it off 12 years ago, only to have it come back. I know how deadly breast cancer is, but I was still shaken by her death. I don’t think I realized just how much I’ve been shaped by the optimism of the millions of women who’ve beat the disease — moved by the persistent advocacy of those fierce and vocal survivors, which has led to more research and advances in treatment and led to a precious payoff: a steady and significant decrease during the last 30 years in the number of women who succumb to the disease.
It was in 1995 when cosmetic giant Estee Lauder co-opted survivor Charlotte Haley’s homemade salmon-colored ribbon into the official — read: corporate — pink ribbon symbol. Soon after, October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, was awash in pink ribbons. But what started out as a pink-themed annual campaign, the “fight for the cure,” has turned into the mass commercialization for the cause: Pinktober.
Every year, I rail about this ubiquitous pink merchandising and this year’s host of rose-colored products keep moving us farther beyond the commemorative ribbon and T-shirts. This year, there are the $85 Naked Cashmere pink slippers, $148 Lilly Pulitzer Pinking Positive Sofina Tote, $65 Z Supply Sherpa Teddy Bear Coat, $300 KBH Jewels Reclaimed Wonder Women rings, and Nike React Element 87 limited edition pink sneakers, priced from $250 to $1,000.
Are the companies which produce these products opportunistically using breast cancer awareness month to shore up their profits and burnish their image? Advocacy groups like Breast Cancer Action say many are, which is why BCA asks consumers to “think before you pink.” Find out if the same company producing pink products also produces products linked to cancer-causing substances and if the donated money adds up to more than the cost of promoting the special products. I’ve been frankly suspicious of the percentages donated to breast cancer research organizations — 5 or 10 percent, in many cases. To me, anything less than 50 percent is chintzy. So is offering a capped donation of, say, $20,000, after thousands of sales of an expensive pink product. No more. I look for groups either donating 100 percent profits — like Ralph Lauren Fragrance for its Pink Pony Campaign and the Olay Regenerist Limited Edition Pink Ribbon Face Moisturizer. Or I identify groups donating directly to legitimate researchers and research organizations.
This year I’m highlighting the 32 local everyday women — some survivors, all amateurs — stepping into a special boxing ring this Wednesday at Boston’s House of Blues. The event is “Haymakers for Hope: Belles of the Brawl” featuring women counterpunching for the cause. A portion of the raised monies is already earmarked for the nationally respected Dana Farber Cancer Institute of Boston, with other funds supporting awareness, and survivorship.
Just over 250,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. Also diagnosed, nearly 3,000 men, like superstar Beyonce’s Dad, Mathew Knowles, who just went public with his diagnosis.
In 2019, the advances in diagnosis and treatment are real, but so is the ravaging impact of metastatic breast cancer, and the still shocking deaths. No more rose-colored glasses for me. I’m seeing red.
Correction: An earlier version of this story used an incorrect acronym for Breast Cancer Action. The correct acronym is BCA.