Thursday, October 3, 2013

Pinkwashing is the new Greenwashing - but it’s not just a Color Thing

Pink has never been my favorite color but every October, for the last 20 years, I’ve donned a pink ribbon is support of breast cancer awareness.  Every single year. At first I made them, with a strip of pink paper ribbon and a safety pin. When I got my first ‘real job’, I graduated to cloth ribbon and a dollop of hot glue. Finally, as part of an October distribution at a local mall in Colorado, I was given a metal one. I have worn it faithfully every October since.

But something is decidedly different this October. This October, pin or no pin, I couldn’t be any more aware.

My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2013 at the age of 63. And one month after my 40th birthday, I was diagnosed with breast cancer in May of 2013.

That pink ribbon didn’t prevent my mother’s cancer. That pink ribbon didn’t prevent my cancer. That pink ribbon didn’t save my breast or my my mother’s hair and, based on current treatment, that pink ribbon won’t cure me, my mother, or anyone else.

My surgeon cut out the cancer along with my left breast and I will pop a Tamoxifen pill for the next five years, focus on the positive, cross my fingers and hope it doesn’t come back.

The harsh reality is THERE IS NO CURE.


To be fair to the ribbon, those dollars I have faithfully donated to breast cancer research; my organic, gluten-free, dairy free diet; marathon running; triathlons – and nothing else on the list of 'good living' - saved me from hearing the words, “You have breast cancer” either. But the ribbon is marketed, at least in the month of October, as the solution.

And just like that, thousands of other breast cancer patients/survivors/previvors/warriors ,and their families, find themselves in a similar predicament. Pink or no pink, we are aware but we are not cured and our children are not immune. 

We want to change that.

So, in much the same way the sustainability community rages about green washing, the breast cancer community has reached its own tipping point with the color pink.

Please understand that I am eternally grateful for the pink ribbon. I believe that awareness truly generates interest and that interest spurs research. According to the American Cancer Society, “female breast cancer incidence rates began decreasing in 2000, then dropped by about 7% from 2002 to 2003. This large decrease was thought to be due to the decline in use of hormone therapy after menopause that occurred after the results of the Women's Health Initiative were published in 2002. This study linked the use of hormone therapy to an increased risk of breast cancer and heart diseases.” 
By comparison, lungcancer kills more women every year. Why? Perhaps because the color pearl doesn’t generate as much attention as pink**

Pink is important. Pink is critical. There are others affected by cancers desperate for the focus and attention that breast cancer has received with the color pink.

Gaudy or subtle the color pink has generated funds for research, for mammograms, for support care. Pink ribbons are also a tangible way for my family and friends, who at times feel helpless in this cancer fiasco, to show support.

Unfortunately, pink has also generated millions of dollars for companies that do NOTHING to support the eradication of breast cancer. Companies whose products may even be part of the problem!

Breast Cancer Action  coined the term pinkwashing as part of their Think Before You Pink® campaign. They go on to define a Pinkwasher as “A company or organization that claims to care about breast cancer by promoting a pink ribbon product, but at the same time produces, manufactures and/or sells products that are linked to the disease.” Please visit their site, be astounded at who is profiting off of a disease that has permanently scarred (mentally and physically) the 2.8 million survivors currently living today. And that will kill almost 40,000 this year alone.

And then do something about it.

Will I wear my pink ribbon pin this year? You bet your Aromatase inhibitor.*** In fact, this year mine is made of pink rhinestones. But I will also unabashedly question those selling pink awareness products to ensure there are real dollars that will go to support a REAL cure.

*This figure does NOT include the number of new pre-cancerous diagnosis or breast cancer diagnosis in men
** Check out @LungCancerFaces and #lcsm on Twitter for more on the reality of lung cancer
*** Aromatase inhibitors include a group of drugs used in the treatment of breast cancer in post-menopausal women.