Just two weeks before the end of the month, the end of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. And with that the merciful end of the incessant pink merchandising known as Pinktober — the obnoxious evolution of the annual fundraising for breast cancer research and treatment.
What started as a grassroots effort to bring awareness to the second leading cause of cancer in women, is now a national campaign with large corporate sponsors and aggressive marketing of everything pink. It’s a long way from the first symbol, a salmon-colored ribbon handmade by 68-year-old breast cancer survivor Charlotte Haley. Beyond the requisite tee shirts, face masks, and pink ribbons, this year’s plethora of pink products include everything from high-end items like a pink bracelet from designer jeweler David Yurman, and a pink leather high back adjustable gaming chair, to blush-colored notebooks, phone covers, as well as pink M&M’s. Typically, a purchase of one of these products means a portion of the price is donated “to the cause.”
A lot of purchasers deliberately seek out special rose-colored products as a way to support breast cancer awareness and research. Few know how much — or more likely, how little — of the purchase price actually goes to research and treatment. This allows a lot of companies to profit from unearned goodwill. And, what’s worse, it allows some companies to use the annual breast cancer campaign to shine up their images — what the advocacy organization Breast Cancer Action, or BAC, describes as “pinkwashing.”
This year, BAC has zeroed in on what it calls “the fossil-fueled partnership between Susan G. Komen and Bank of America.” Susan G. Komen is the nation’s largest and best-funded breast cancer organization. Komen and the Bank co-sponsor The Pink Ribbon Banking Program. BAC advocates say that allows the bank to draw attention away from its investments in fossil fuels linked to harmful chemicals like benzene, dioxin, and PFAS which can be cancer-causing. Dioxin and Benzene were also cited in a 2017 study in the journal Environmental Research suggesting a link between early exposure to these chemicals and breast cancer risk. BAC says Komen “cannot claim its mission to be eradicating breast cancer while maintaining such close ties to an industry that fuels this health crisis.”
Nobody knows better than advocates and breast cancer survivors that fundraising for breast cancer research is critically important. The millions raised during the last 36 years since Breast Cancer Awareness month began have funded research that led to advances in diagnosis and treatment. But if potential donors want to ensure that their monetary gift reaches the organization they want to support, they have got to pay attention; sadly, they cannot assume best intentions even if the cause is worthy.
And they can’t allow themselves to be distracted by the flashy promotional gifts and emotional public pledges. I once called several breast cancer research institutions to ask if they had ever received monies from campaigns raising funds for breast cancer research. Many had not. My admittedly random survey just made suspicious me more suspicious.
I lost one of my childhood friends to breast cancer years ago. And I continue to be shocked by the many people who fall victim to this disease. That includes 19-year-old actress Miranda McKeon, star of Netflix’s “Anne with an E,” who announced her diagnosis earlier this year. I can’t forget that this virulent disease has no cure, that Black women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with a harder to treat variation, and that 1 in 8 women and thousands of men are at risk.
I’m not anti-pink ribbon. I’m anti-pink ribbon scammers. Think before you pink.