Breast Cancer Awareness Month: How We Can Improve It
Last updated: October 2022
Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM) was initiated by the American Cancer Society and a pharmaceutical company to ensure every woman was aware of this disease, and to promote mammography as a tool for early detection in women.1
Each October, while hundreds of millions are raised at a variety of functions and by corporate generosity, critics like Nancy Stordahl have been keen to point out some of the anomalies: "Portraying it as party-like and demeaning women while also trivializing a still too often deadly disease is irresponsible, anything but supportive and just plain wrong."2
From what I've observed, and many of my social media friends agree, commercial exploitation of the pink dollar by some companies has reached unacceptable heights.
Obscuring the true extent
BCAM has morphed into Pinktober, a term that appears to have stuck. And it’s a time that can be bad for many breast cancer survivors. First, their disease is coming up in all sorts of fundraising events which obviously are framed to make participants happy to be there, but which can morph into a pink hoopla of inappropriateness.
What started as a month of awareness-raising has, in many cases, developed into an exercise in pink-washing that obscures the true extent of the processes used in treating the cancer.
Slogans like “Save the Tatas” and “Save Second Base” sexualise cancer in a way that is unlike any other. For men, these slogans lead them, and even the medical profession, to believe that breast cancer is exclusively a women’s disease.
Let’s improve Pinktober
During October, companies sell hundreds of products, from pink vacuum cleaners to baked goods adorned with pink frosting, with the promise that a portion of the profits will go to breast cancer charities to be spent on research and, yes, for yet more awareness raising.
Recognising this, five years ago a group of community members posting on BreastCancer.org put together PinktoberSucks.com to bring a full awareness of the reality of the disease to the general public. Different pages covered such topics as: The Pink Ribbon, Sexualization of Breast Cancer, Awareness, Where the Funds Go, and Pinkwashing.
Also, and very importantly, the site aimed to ensure there was transparency in where the proceeds donated ended up, the percentage going to reputable medical institutions looking for cures, and how funds are publicly accounted for. Once you understand the different aspects of BCAM, you can negotiate the different events and learn ways to spend your pink dollars wisely. After all, the aim is to support breast cancer research, not just collect pink products.
Know where your money is going
Where possible, monies raised should be distributed in an appropriate manner to the community in which the funds were raised. As well, corporations must be held accountable for the suitability of the pink products they sell, and their staff trained in dealing with customers who question their sales motives and end-use of the funds donated.
While promoting awareness about early detection is fine, many metastatic breast cancer patients live with the knowledge that they are incurable. Even early-stage patients have a 30 percent chance of recurrence.3 Fortunately, new drugs are being introduced, such as Herceptin, Perjeta, Kadcyla, and Enhertu, which have extended lives by months or even years.
There is the hope, even expectation, that more important drugs will be developed. This October, pitch in, enjoy the events, but keep a critical eye on where your hard-earned money goes.
Advanced breast cancer is an isolating and lonely disease.