How "Pinktober" Benefits All Cancer Patients

by Jane Ashley

Pinktober Logo

There’s a lot of talk sometimes about PINKTOBER. Twenty-five years ago, President Bill Clinton urged that the third Friday in October be designated National Mammography Day. Over the years, it’s morphed into a month-long wave of “pinkness” fueled by the commercialization of products carrying the pink ribbon, retailers carrying pink tee shirts and companies advertising in all sorts of “commercialized” special sections of newspapers, radio campaigns and other events to show their support for breast cancer patients.

Some of the good corporations …

But the good news is that some corporations really are doing something to help cancer patients. Ford Motor Company’s Warriors in Pink actually does concrete and tangible things to support women in treatment for breast cancer. New Balance donates 5 percent of the suggested retail price from the Lace Up for the Cure Collection of shoes with a guaranteed minimum donation of $500,000 to the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

100 percent of the NFL’s proceeds from Pink product sales are donated to the American Cancer Society. Panera Bread’s Pink Ribbon Bagel has raised over $1.3 million donated to breast cancer charities. BreastCancer.org has a host of corporate sponsors who generously give. The National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc. has a large list of companies who contribute annually. The Susan G. Komen Foundation’s sponsors have contributed over half a billion dollars.

It’s doubtful that any of this corporate generosity would have blossomed without Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the millions of women who mobilized throughout the USA and around the world.

Other types of cancer have gained more awareness …

Once breast cancer awareness became prevalent, new organizations were founded to promote awareness of other types of cancer, the need for screenings and to provide patient help.

What comes to mind for me, as a Stage IV rectal cancer survivor, is the increased awareness of colorectal cancer. Colonoscopies used to a source of laughs and jokes, but more and more people are getting screened now for colorectal cancer. And a new, non-invasive screening test is now available, Cologuard. The shame and embarrassment of cancer - related to “poop” - has greatly diminished in the last 5-8 years due to increased awareness. We even have an “Undy” race where participants wear boxer shorts or panties.

Atlanta Undy Run Walk

In fact, 24 other types of cancer have Awareness Months.

In the past 25 years, cancer has gone from being hidden in the closet to being an integral part of wellness programs, screenings, support groups and most importantly – being diagnosed earlier through increased awareness. While we might not want a “Month of Pinktober,” we are all grateful that there is not the shame, stigma or embarrassment associated with the diagnosis of cancer now as before.

Pinktober is good, but do we really need 31 days of pink?

Ask many breast cancer survivors, and they find that 31 days is just too much. It serves as a constant reminder of the trauma of their treatment. Many cancer survivors suffer from PTSD. Breast cancer survivors may have traumatic flashbacks or suffer sleep deprivation with so much focus for such a long period.

“Pinkwashing” – really? Do my local newspaper need to print an issue on pink newsprint? Do we need to see pink plastic flamingoes in someone’s yard?

Slogans like “Save the Ta-Tas” trivializes the very real and permanent disfigurement that many breast cancer sufferers must endure. All the walks and runs with photos of smiling women who “high-five” each other suggests that there is no trauma associated with the breast cancer diagnosis. And just imagine how male breast cancer patients feel during October.

31 days of focus on women and breast cancer may also distract from the fact that women are diagnosed with every other kind of cancer as men (except for prostate, testicular and penile). Women shouldn’t be lulled into not being screened for other cancers.

Men Get Breast Cancer Too

All of this pink pretty much ignores the realities of the 150,000 patients living with metastatic breast cancer (often referred to MBC). About 50,000 of these women are 5+ year survivors, but the reality is that MBC is considered incurable.

The Bottom Line …

Breast cancer awareness opened the door to increased awareness of cancer as a disease. It helped all of us learn that a President’s wife can be diagnosed with cancer. It showed us that pop singers and movie stars, as well as TV network hosts, get diagnosed too. We learned that nothing can stop cancer from knocking on our door.

We’re all more aware – there’s lots more money for research and patient support. There’s less stigma and more accommodations in the workplace. Breast Cancer Awareness Month helped open doors that might never have been opened. All of us are grateful for that.

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