The dark side of ‘Pinktober’

Take off the pink-colored glasses and take in the reality of Pinktober

GENESEE COUNTY — Everyone supports the fight against breast cancer; that fact is indisputable. But the pink ribbon bandwagon may be slowing down as more and more women are saying “stop” – stop to the cutesy slogans and the ocean of pink paraphernalia available for purchase and profit every year in October.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month originated back in the early 1980s to educate and empower women to take charge of their breast health. It was, and remains, a strong message. Awareness was key to achieving the goal, and, as a result, the signature pink ribbon was adopted. The pink ribbon is known worldwide as the saleable trademark of breast cancer awareness … and a billion-dollar industry.

More than 35 years later, Pinktober continues to disseminate the same awareness messages, stressing the urgency to support the pink ribbon culture by purchasing something pink. Once a year, we are bombarded with cute labels and slogans about a very serious disease which thousands of breast cancer survivors are wanting to put behind them as they try to resume a normal, cancer-free life.

The message may be louder than ever, but the cure is no closer than it was when the pink movement began. Little progress has been made in the battle against breast cancer. Over the last three decades, organizations have raised billions of dollars in the name of breast cancer awareness and education, but how much of this money is going to research for a cure? Of the $6 billion raised every year, only about $1 billion of it is spent on research while 250,000 women will receive a breast cancer diagnosis and 40,000 will die from the disease annually.

It’s research that’s going to save lives … not awareness, not public health education and not cutesy campaigns. In the “race for the cure,” cancer is winning. Survival from breast cancer has increased 25 percent over the past 30 years, but the incidence has doubled. In 1975, the risk of developing breast cancer was 1 in 14; today it is 1 in 8.

That may be why so many breast cancer patients and survivors are becoming more vocal about “the dark side” of pink ribbon month. Here is what they are saying:

“This disease is not pink; it is dark and frightening.”

“The fight is far from over and wearing a pink scarf isn’t helping me.”

“I was lucky to survive breast cancer; my mother was not. I resent the pink brigade and its platform for wanna-be celebrities.”

“Society continues mistakenly to pour money into awareness campaigns at the expense of potentially life-saving research.”

“Are the pink ribbon supporters taking time the other 11 months of the year to think about the real impact of this damaging disease?”

“This disease is a nasty thing; it can’t be tied up into pretty pink ribbons.”

“Breast cancer is not pink. It is radiation, chemotherapy, IVs, surgeries, blood tests, medications, worry, fear, anger, anxiety and depression.”

“I feel like Breast Cancer Awareness Month has become a shopping extravaganza like Christmas in July. It has created so much noise around the cause, diverting attention from the disease.”

“I’m trying to put my life back together, but all I see is a lot of pink, cutesy slogans. My cancer is serious, not cute.”

“As a breast cancer patient, I hope the pink machine has a major meltdown soon.”

While the pink campaign has brought worldwide attention to breast cancer, the commercialization of pink campaigns has overshadowed the reality of this disease and now is the time to shift our focus from awareness to what they are dealing with, and take evidence-based approaches for tackling breast cancer. If you want to support the fight against breast cancer, instead of buying a cute pink t-shirt once a year, do your own research and donate directly to organizations which truly affect change.

Dr. Gold is a fellowship trained breast surgeon and certified in Breast Ultrasound. She is Fellowship Director of the Breast Fellowship program of McLaren/Karmanos Flint, and was the first Director of the Comprehensive Breast Center at Genesys Regional Medical Center.

Dr. Richardson is a fellowship trained breast surgeon who recently joined the practice of Comprehensive Breast Care. She is a member of the American College of Surgeons/ American College of Osteopathic Surgeons, the American Medical Association, the American Osteopathic Association, the Michigan Osteopathic Association and the American Society of Breast Surgeons.