It happens every October.
This time of year we start to see the leaves change their color, pumpkin spice takes over every snack that we love, and deserted store fronts suddenly reopen to sell us fake blood and rubber masks. But another thing that starts to happen is that the pink ribbons start to pop up everywhere.
At first they start to crawl across your computer or phone screen as you scroll through social media. Then you see the key chains and the magnets when you’re in the checkout at Wal-Mart. Then stores start to ask you if you’d like to donate to this or that.
It’s breast cancer awareness month.
I noticed it this morning when I was checking my email at work. Our HR director sent out a memo to tell us that there would be a banner in front of our break room through the end of the month. She said we were welcome to write the names of any women in our lives that had breast cancer and had either survived it or died from it.
Breast cancer is something that has probably touched all of our lives at some time or another. Its awful presence has been felt in every family in some form. My mother-in-law dealt with it last year. She just had a scan and is still cancer free.
But there are a couple of things that really irritate me about “breast cancer awareness month”. The first is the fact that such a huge spotlight is put on this one version of cancer that, in my mind, kind of trivializes all the people that suffered from other forms of the disease. My mother passed away back in April from ovarian cancer. September is “ovarian cancer awareness month”. Did you know that? Most people didn’t because there isn’t as much promotion. Does the fact that she didn’t die of breast cancer mean that I can’t honor her memory by writing her name on that banner?
My wife’s uncle died of brain cancer over the summer. Do you know when “brain cancer awareness month” is? It’s May. Her aunt passed away from lung cancer a few months ago. Do you know when “lung cancer awareness month” is? It’s November.
But we all know that October is the month that we wear pink. Everyone from NASCAR to the NFL will be sporting that color. And do you know why? Because all of us have had a mother…a wife…an aunt…a grandmother who has suffered with the disease and many of them have died. So when someone says that you should wear pink to support the memory of that woman that meant so much to you then you feel like you should do it.
But what you don’t realize is the other thing that irritates me. Breast cancer has been commercialized to make money. And it isn’t the people that you think are making money that I’m talking about. Let me walk you through this. You go to the store and buy a few groceries. You’re standing in line and you look over and see a key chain shaped like a pink ribbon. You know that a pink ribbon means breast cancer so you automatically think that they’re selling pink ribbon merchandise to raise money for breast cancer research so you fork over a couple of bucks and buy one to honor your aunt Betsy that died 10 years ago.
What you don’t know is that the ribbon you just bought has nothing to do with cancer research. It’s just a key chain that some manufacturer made to sell this month to make some extra money off of the fact that everyone has pink on the brain right now. So, to honor your Aunt Betsy…you just gave a few dollars to some company that made a key chain. That’s it. Not one cent of your money went to cancer research.
And some of the stuff that you buy will have something written on it that says that a percentage of the proceeds go to raising breast cancer awareness. What does that even mean? Who isn’t aware of breast cancer? Why do we need to raise money to make people aware of it? What the money should be going to is research to find treatments or even a cure for the disease.
I’m not trying to tell you not to donate any money to breast cancer charities. I think you should. And if breast cancer has touched your life then it may be more important to you than some of the others. So, by all means, wear your pink ribbon earrings, run in a 5K, and do anything you can to help the cause. But, before you spend money on merchandise just because it has a pink ribbon on it, ask yourself these questions.
1. Does any money from this purchase go to breast cancer programs?
Make sure that at least a portion of what they are making is going to research and not just awareness. And Etsy is the worst. Please don’t buy any pink ribbon merchandise from Etsy. Most of those people are only making things to earn a profit and even if they tell you that they’re donating a portion to a charity you have no way of knowing if it actually happens.
2. What organization actually gets the money?
Is it Susan G. Komen? They are a wonderful charity when it comes to awareness and getting women screened and all of that…but absolutely none of their money goes to research for a cure. So all of those t-shirts that say “Race For A Cure” and has Susan G. Komen on them are misleading.
3. Is there a cap on the donations that the company donates in a year and have they already reached it?
If they’ve already reached some self-imposed cap then your money is just going into someone’s pocket.
Please don’t think that I’m some curmudgeon that’s hating on breast cancer because I’m not. I just don’t like that there are so many thousands of people that die of cancer every year that don’t seem to get the same focus. And I think that focus has ulterior motives behind it that exploits women that are fighting for their lives. How many times have we given money to someone thinking that we’re donating to a charity in honor of someone that we loved and actually just helped to line someone’s pocket?
If you don’t do anything else, please just Google which cancer is supposed to be focused on in a given month and make a small donation toward that research. It could go a long way.