October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. If you do not know this already, you soon will, as marketers will inundate the shelves, airwaves, and pages with items you can buy to raise awareness for breast cancer. You will be made to feel like you are doing something very important by buying anything in a pink package. You are saving women by making them aware of breast cancer! Never mind that some of these very same products contain chemicals that are linked to causing cancer. Never mind that many of these companies give very little to breast cancer organizations. And certainly never mind that people are pretty aware of breast cancer and unless they have access to health care, awareness won't help them.
I first became (dimly) aware off breast cancer when I was four years old. My mother suddenly disappeared for a period of time, as she was in the hospital. I visited her and showed her that I lost my tooth. (Maybe my first?) I was also very disappointed because she could not come to the holiday show at my pre-school. Of course, as the years went on and I realized that she had had breast cancer at the age of 33, I understood how lucky I was to continue to have her in my life. So yeah, I'm aware of breast cancer.
Actually, there is a large group intimately aware of breast cancer. Currently, 2.5 million women are living with breast cancer in the US, according Breast Cancer Action, a non-profit group that I will reference a lot in this post because they are my truth-telling heroes. They - along with their families and friends - are probably very aware of breast cancer.
The question, then, is what is Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM - sounds a little like scam, doesn't it?) making people aware of? Is it how to recognize breast cancer? If so, perhaps the ads should include diagrams of breast exams along side the bracelet that you should buy to raise awareness. Is it where to get treatment? Then perhaps a list of centers that offer low-cost or free medical services to go along with the sales pitch for a pink mixer might help. Is it to support research? Maybe noting some recent studies along with the merits of a new car would be good.
In all of these awareness campaigns, I see very little information about the bigger environmental trends that may be contributing to the rise in breast cancer. Just today I received an email from Eggland's Best eggs asking me to help promote their new partnership with the Susan B Komen for the Cure, which has the "goal of encouraging women to take their health into their own hands and get screened." Eggland will give a maximum of $50,000, no matter how many pretty pink boxes of eggs are sold, to Komen. While scarfing down those eggs, someone might want to think about whether the chickens were given organic feed or injected with hormones.
I see very little effort to raise awareness about the chemicals we encounter every day that may lead to cancer. In fact, Susan B Komen for the Cure is selling a special breast cancer perfume (just the thought makes me cringe - I imagine the following exchange: "Hey honey, what smells so good?" "Oh, it's just breast cancer awareness." "Well, it smells fantastic!") called Promise Me. Breast Cancer Action, however, notes that "Promise Me contains chemicals not listed in the ingredients that are regulated as toxic and hazardous, have not been adequately evaluated for human safety, and have demonstrated negative health effects." Right.
This is the umpteenth year I've blogged about BCAM at BlogHer. We are no closer to a "cure." The sales pitch will never end as long as we help companies make money off of breast cancer.
So. What can you do during October to really make a difference about breast cancer?
- Breast Cancer Action (see, I said I'd reference them a lot) has a thoughtful guide on how to get your money where it matters most.
- Laurie Kingston at Not Just About Cancer has information about walks and runs that raise funds and share useful information about breast cancer.
- Check out the new documentary Pink Ribbons, Inc, which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival. (Jennifer at No F******* Pink Ribbons says, "I hope this film reaches a lot of people..." and Elizabeth at Kills Me Dead wrote, "I want to post the hell out of the trailer to this the next time one of those insipid breast cancer awareness memes comes around Facebook." Sam + Tam has an awesome interview with the producer, Ravida Din.)
- Advocate for fair health insurance coverage so that women who have breast cancer can actually receive treatment for it - a free mammogram is meaningless if a person can't afford medical care.
Let's work together to tell corporations that breast cancer - and the women that the breasts are attached to (often a side note to these "Save the Breasts" campaigns, but that's another story) - are not for sale.
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