Thursday, October 07, 2010

letter of the day

Yesterday, CBC Radio's Q featured an interview with Samantha King, author of Pink Ribbons Inc.

At the end of the interview, listeners asked the following questions (they were also posted to the Q blog): What are your impressions of cancer fundraising and awareness efforts? Are they working? Do you find any aspect of them troubling?

My sister-in-law, B. alerted me to the interview (she listens on the east coast schedule) and encouraged me to write a letter in response. This morning, a slightly edited version of this letter was read on the air (I was the "Letter of the Day"):

In January 2006, when I was 38 years old an the mother of two young children, I was diagnosed with very aggressive breast cancer. I underwent a brutal treatment regimen only to learn in November of that same year that the cancer had spread to my liver. I was told that I had “years, not decades” to live.

I resumed treatment and, this time, my response was immediate and dramatic – by June 2007, there was no longer any sign of cancer in my body. As I write this, I am still in remission. I'm also still in treatment, as we don't know enough about what happens when metastatic breast cancer disappears to make an informed decision about stopping.
I know without a doubt that I am alive today because of the kind of cutting edge research funded by breast cancer organizations. I also know that thousands of women who've been through breast cancer live better lives because of the kind of advocacy and outreach work that is undertaken by non-profit organizations.
But I do cringe, seethe and yes, even rant every time October comes around and we are deluged with pink products from fried chicken to face cream to key chains.

In theory, I'm not opposed to corporate sponsorship. But in the same way that I think cigarette companies should not be permitted to sponsor children's festivals, I'm offended when companies that sell products that are unhealthy, bad for the environment and laden with carcinogens jump on the “pinxploitation” bandwagon. At best, these campaigns do little to eradicate breast cancer and worst, they are a cynical attempt to grab some good PR and increase profit margins at the expense of anyone who's life has been affected by cancer.

Don't get me wrong. I don't judge anyone who's drawn to all the pink stuff. I own a lovely pink cowboy hat. I would just ask folks to think before they get swept up in the “Pinktober” frenzy. Put that pink soup back on the shelf. Step away from the pink sweater with the pink ribbon buttons (for so many reasons). Unless you really want the pink sunglasses, save your money. Most companies only give a tiny percentage of sales to breast cancer research. Why not make a donation instead to an organization that is demonstrably contributing to research, advocacy and especially prevention of all cancers? Then you'll know that you really are making a difference.
All the letters that the host, Jian Ghomeshi, read were on this subject and all of them opposed pinkwashing. Perhaps tomorrow will bring a deluge of letters taking an opposing opinion but it's good to see that more of us are speaking out on this issue that has driven me wild since my own diagnosis of breast cancer.

Cross-posted to Mothers With Cancer.


Dee said...

Excellent post, Laurie!

Lene Andersen said...

Fantastic letter! Congratulations!

Loved the pinkwashing and pinxploitation - learning new words today! - and that thing about stepping away from the sweater )for so many reasons) made me laugh.

Thanks for posting your letter.

Nancy said...

Your letter was so well written and really says it all! Good job putting into words how many of us feel.

The Maven said...

You really couldn't have said it better. And, as intelligent a person as I fancy myself to be, I truly never stopped to think about Pink before I read your first writings about it. Now I give money to organizations rather than line corporate pockets. Thank you :)

Henriette Ivanans said...

bravo! any thoughts on the facebook "where do you leave your handbag?" (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) campaign. for me it undermines the fight against breast cancer, and hyper-sexualizes it, as well.

i find it unsettling.

Susan said...

You said it!!! I flew up to Phili a couple 2 weekends ago to see my son, and the complimentary pink lemonade served by Delta Airlines was the last straw for me. I came back and wrote the following blog, "Anyone Feeling Pinked Out?". It's too long to post here, but if interested you can read it at

I was wary at first of sharing my honest sentiments about the pinxploitation, but I am instead oh-so-pleased to find that this year in particular, many women seem to have reached their Pink limits.

Thanks again for the honest and needed post!