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Entangled With The Pink

Written by Reshma Rajesh


 


Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in the United States, except for skin cancers. It accounts for about 30% (or 1 in 3) of all new female cancers each year (American Cancer Society, 2024). Even so, not many Americans grasp just how possible this disease is for us or the people in our lives. Breast cancer can seem like something distant, preventable, or far away. In fact, this was the exact mindset I had until my aunt was diagnosed with cancer. On March 23rd of 2016, we got the call from her. She had gone to the doctor a few days earlier for her routine mammogram as her 40th birthday was quickly approaching. My aunt was diagnosed with Stage 3 Ductal Carcinoma. Just one report, one phone call, one doctor’s visit, toppled her life over. She was a mother to two kids. My aunt had a loving husband by her side, ready to give all the support she needed. Even then, she sometimes felt like she was all alone in this war against the monstrous disease. 


Life is excruciatingly painful for breast cancer victims like my aunt, specifically for the 264,000 women and 2,400 men that fall prey to this vicious disease each year in the United States (“Basic Information About Breast Cancer”). Victims are fighting battles every day— at home and in the hospital. These impacts are even worse for those who are in their middle ages and tend to have numerous responsibilities as a mother, father, son, daughter, or guardian. Recovery isn’t all that fashionable either for breast cancer survivors. Indeed, these perspectives are often overlooked when consumers buy pink merchandise that is representative of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  There has to be a transition made through the various businesses that routinely utilize the month of October for their pink campaigns in order to create “awareness”. Although businesses claim to efficiently spread awareness through their mass breast cancer campaigns, how revenues are being utilized is never explicitly stated. Thus, victims can benefit more if clarifications are made and funds are geared towards research initiatives in order to bring forward more breakthroughs in the breast cancer industry. 




With regard to the revenue of US companies during Breast Cancer Awareness month, it is no fallacy that businesses make huge profits during this time of the year. According to Alison DaSilva with marketing firm Cone Communications, local grocery stores like “Kroger [have] raised $25 million in the past five years for its October initiatives.” That was from just “one division” of Kroger (DaSilva qtd. in Kanclerz and Sutherly). As author Gina Kolata describes, the pink is almost inescapable. This ranges from the White House going “awash for a night in rose-colored light” to Delta Air Lines painting “a huge pink ribbon on one of its planes” as well as “Police departments..using pink handcuffs”(Kolata). 


Activists and victims aren’t completely ungrateful of these efforts to create awareness. In fact, Daniela Campari, senior vice president at the American Cancer Society, explains she finds it as a respectful gesture for “Delta flight attendants [to be] dressed in pink”, but this isn’t enough. Even with all these efforts, the striking reality is that 26 years of campaigning has only introduced a slight decrease in the number of annual deaths from breast cancer (Aschwanden). Many women who have endured the horrors of breast cancer find this particular time of the year a “puke campaign”, like Marlene McCarthy, director of the Rhode Island Breast Cancer Coalition and metastatic breast cancer survivor (qtd. in Aschwanden).  People like her find this month and the omnipresent pink solely as a marketing strategy for companies. And in some cases, precise calculations of company profits, unfortunately, seem to show evidence of the aforementioned. Major sporting businesses like the NFL make “nearly $15 million" for awareness and screening programs since 2009, much of it from the sale of "pink" merchandise”. Although this might seem alright, knowing that the NFL is a multi-billion dollar organization and only makes about “$2 million a year” for breast cancer awareness, there exists an obvious issue (Makarty). Furthermore, the NFL’s fan base is primarily men in the United States, while women only make up about 30-45 percent of fans. This organization simultaneously vows to eliminate domestic violence in the league. As such, the insignificant amount of money being raised is all part of a “calculated effort to attract more women to become football fans” and hand a “rose to those concerned about domestic violence”. It only makes sense that the NFL strategically takes up National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the struggle against domestic violence within the NFL to chiefly make profits off of both issues together, or, perhaps, hitting two birds with one stone (Makarty). 

These ulterior motives are not incidental and seem to be occurring in other renowned companies as well. Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, from Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, explains how breast cancer awareness campaigns are often funded by drug-making and medical device companies, who end up receiving the majority of the profits raised. Since 1993, Astrazeneca, a multinational pharmaceutical company, has sponsored National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in the United States. Welch views the Astrazeneca sponsorship as  “‘a huge conflict of interest..’” (qtd. in Aschwanden). He discusses such companies are bound to make unfair profits because they are the ones advocating for increased screening and in the long run, more of their drugs will be purchased. 



While businesses continue to coax their customers into purchasing the football cleat or coffee cup, the disease still travels ahead with full steam. Today, breast cancer continues to “kill one North American woman or man every twelve minutes” (Hoy). While organizations are going from campaign to campaign to raise awareness, is this really helping? Does awareness equate to action? The truth is: “we are really no closer to a complete cure today than we were two decades ago” (Goldman). Regardless of the amount of money raised towards breast cancer, clarifying where the money is directed to and knowing if it helps the research process in moving closer to a potential cure to the disease is pivotal. Some budding organizations in the United States have realized this issue and are willing to do what is needed. Organizations across the country like National Breast Cancer Coalition are starting to fix some rudimentary issues of breast cancer campaigns because, although “breast cancer researchers and advocates perpetually plead for more money” and end up receiving more than double the amount of funding than other areas of cancer get, “1.4 million women are [still] diagnosed worldwide every year” (Goldman). To help, National Breast Cancer Coalition has a very specific research element in its initiatives: the newly launched Artemis Project involves collaboration between scientists and funding agencies to develop efficient preventative measures like vaccines to prevent metastasis, or secondary malignant growths found at a distance from primary site of cancer, in breast cancer victims (Kolata). 

While some promising and legitimate organizations exist, such great establishments continue to be outnumbered by the counterfeit non-profits in the United States. These charities spend too much on funding events like “walks, races, [and] rallies” (Goldman), all of which don’t exactly contribute more than just creating fundamental awareness of the health issue. Moreover, president of American Institute of Philanthropy, Daniel Borochoff, explains that such breast cancer nonprofits are often very deceptive. He goes on to discuss how such organizations are run by leaders of good intentions but are either very “inexperienced survivors” or individuals that copy what other nonprofits do. “[Anyone] can set up [a charity] and start soliciting..” (Borochoff qtd. in Goldman). With that being said, the lack of regulation in these sham charities somehow continues to garner the support of thousands of individuals. The real reason behind this is that people are straight-up horrified by cancer. It is a topic that holds a peculiar but “powerful sway” on the vast majority of Americans. Individuals fear that if they were to question anything or not display their support, others will perceive them to “hate women” (Sulik qtd. in Goldman). If anything, this mentality has to change first. 


 

People should not have to join or support organizations in fear of society and its perceptions. When someone might be looking to support a cause like breast cancer, it is important to consider if their support is making an extensive impact not only for the foundation or non-profit, but also for the thousands of breast cancer victims behind the initiative. Renowned foundations like Susan G. Komen are a great place to start, especially since they have a wide-range of resources to educate the public about the disease as well as contact details of doctors for individuals who wish to speak with a healthcare provider about breast cancer (“Breast Cancer Foundation”). 

For those still unsure of how to check for credibility in these charities, it is important to watch out for the following warning signs: “pressure to give right now”, “a thank-you for a donation you don’t recall making”, as well as “a request for payment” (“Charity Scams”). Moreover, trustworthy organizations might even have annual financial reports, which documents all information specific to donations and how they are used, all of which potential supporters can look at (“Breast Cancer Foundation”). By advocating for supporters to make informed decisions about which business to support, I am not saying that one mustn’t buy their pink coffee cup or sweatshirt. However, as supporters, it is important that each pink shirt you buy has a purpose behind it and in some way or the other, it lends a helping hand to those suffering from Breast Cancer.



 

Works Cited


Aschwanden, Christie. “Breast Cancer: The Downside of Awareness Efforts.” Los Angeles      Times, 4 Oct. 2010. SIRS Issues Researcher, explore.proquest.com/sirsissuesresearcher/document/2262374485?accountid=3353. Accessed 13 Apr. 2023.

“Basic Information about Breast Cancer.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 31 Oct. 2022, https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast/basic_info/index.htm.

“Breast Cancer Foundation.” Susan G. Komen®, 10 June 2020, https://www.komen.org/.

“Charity Scams.” AARP, 10 Nov. 2022, https://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/info-2019/charity.html.

Goldman, Lea. “Some Businesses and Nonprofits Exploit Breast Cancer for Profit.” Marie Claire, edited by Dedria Bryfonski, 14 Sept. 2011. Gale In Context: Opposing Viewpoints, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/EJ3010982222/OVIC?u=astevenson&sid=bookmark-OVIC&xid=442af0a0. Accessed 13 Apr. 2023. 

Kanclerz, Jacob, and Ben Sutherly. “Businesses Buy into Breast Cancer Awareness.” Http://Www.dispatch.com/, edited by Dedria Bryfonski, 8 Oct. 2012. Gale In Context: Opposing Viewpoints, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/EJ3010982223/OVIC?u=astevenson&sid=bookmark-OVIC&xid=763baf8c. Accessed 13 Apr. 2023. 

Kolata, Gina. “Some Breast Cancer Activists Assail Rampant 'Pinkification' of October.” New York Times, 31 Oct. 2015. SIRS Issues Researcher, explore.proquest.com/sirsissuesresearcher/document/2262485663?accountid=3353. Accessed 13 Apr. 2023.

Makary, Marty. “The NFL's Pink Publicity Stunt Isn't About Fighting Cancer.” Wall Street Journal, 1 Oct. 2016. SIRS Issues Researcher, explore.proquest.com/sirsissuesresearcher/document/2265921467?accountid=3353. Accessed 13 Apr. 2023.


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