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November 4, 2009

Not so pretty in pink

Poor November. It’s a month without a color, a month without a cause. Sure, Thanksgiving is fun, what with the Macy’s Parade, the turkey and the pie. But let’s be honest: It’s not October.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It’s also Domestic Violence Awareness Month, but few know or care because October is drenched in pink from beginning to end. Americans are expected to wear ribbons, open wallets and shut the hell up. How dare anyone, especially a woman, question the widespread, mostly altruistic support of a cure for this terrible killer?

Only I do question. “What about domestic violence? What about ALS?” I wonder. ALS doesn’t have a color. I don’t believe ALS has a ribbon. I know it doesn’t have a month, despite the fact that even if ALS is caught early, it’s always fatal. The only thing that saves ALS from being an also-ran in the disease milieu is baseball. ALS takes its nickname from one of its victims, Yankee iron horse Lou Gehrig.

As a member of the media, I’m often asked why some stories get national attention while others barely warrant a blip on the radar. Why, when children and wives vanish every day, are some cases spotlighted and others dismissed?

There’s no set reason. A telegenic face or family, a heartbreaking or heartwarming story, often makes one story “news” over another. As much as I hate to admit it, some stories “sell” better than others. There are also the factors of what is “hip” at the moment and what can best be hyped.

This is why breast cancer has become the “it” disease.

The Susan G. Komen franchise and its truly brilliant image campaign turned breast cancer into a multi-billion dollar marketing opportunity. It harnessed vehement supporters and along the way lifted cancer fundraising to an art. Komen succeeded in elevating breast cancer’s importance even higher than the number one killer of women — heart disease — and the number one cancer that affects women. That would be lung.

Because of Komen, in October we all must be all about The Cure, and many fall all over themselves to run, walk, eat, sleep and breathe for it.

Major and minor league ballplayers hit with pink bats; some wear pink jerseys too, and both are auctioned for donations. This year the NFL took a weekend and decked its teams out in fuchsia. (Quite the unfortunate color combo for brown-and-orange Cleveland.) During Monday Night Football, there was so much pink on the field it looked like Pepto Bismol was the official league sponsor.

Nice? Sure. Genuine? Please.

While breast cancer victims and their loved ones surely welcomed the showy display, the superficial publicity stunt was laughable. Of course the public relations-challenged league would rather America view it as sympathetic to women than as a stage for dog fighters, self-shooters and felons. But a few games played in Nike-issued pink wristbands isn’t going to change history or hard facts.

“I’d be happy if I never saw another pink ribbon. It’s a mile wide and an inch deep,” says Nancy Overall, a stage 3C breast cancer survivor who is part of a growing group of increasingly vocal women who are concerned that “thinking pink” is doing little to eradicate the disease.

She’s not alone. Because the pink ribbon movement has become overwhelmingly commercial, Daily Finance recently checked out a number of products to determine if a customer’s purchase was actually helping a breast cancer charity or foundation.

The findings were revealing. According to Daily Finance, in the case of pink Swiffer sweepers packaged with a ribbon and the phrase “early detection saves lives,” reporters found that Procter & Gamble, the makers of Swiffer, weren’t donating any money from sweeper purchases. Despite all the pink marketing, P&G only made a 2-cent donation to the National Breast Cancer Foundation when consumers used a specific coupon.

And let’s not forget breast cancer wasn’t the first to employ ribbons; it just used them better. Tying and wearing ribbons began with the Iranian hostages and Desert Storm, and became a trend because of AIDS awareness.

Prostate, testicular … the list of worthy cancers alone is long, and they’re all desperate for even a fraction of the attention and money given to breast. Maybe one day they, too, will have their own color, ribbon and silicone bracelets. Someday they may even warrant their own month. Only look out — October is already taken.

Tagged: Francene |