Don’t Just ‘Think Pink’: Breast Cancer Awareness is More Than Just a Color

By Krista Bryd

October is breast cancer awareness month, which means one thing: pink is everywhere. But before we rush out to buy your pink water bottles, pink sneakers and pink sweaters from the Susan G. Komen foundation, we should ask ourselves if we’re actually doing something to prevent cancer.

The Susan G. Komen foundation has been in the news recently. Accusations have been flying that only a small percentage of the money raised by Susan G. Komen actually goes to breast cancer research and prevention efforts. Over $2.5 billion has been donated or invested in the foundation since 1982, and only $800 million (or 32 percent) of that has been invested in breast cancer research. $1.5 billion (60 percent) has been invested into “community programs,” which work to raise awareness for the cause, according to the 2013 financial report released by the Susan G. Komen foundation.

Some of the community programs provide mammograms for underprivileged women, totaling 500,000 women who received free breast screenings in 2012 and 50,000 who received financial aid and psychosocial support from the Komen programs. When your foundation rakes in millions per year, however, these numbers seem slightly lower than where they should be.

The low number of mammograms provided and the even lower amount spent on research isn’t the only problem. The perhaps equally damaging problem is that the awareness the foundation has worked to raise has little to nothing to do with actual breast cancer.

It has become trendy to sport pink ribbons and pink tee-shirts, but it is less trendy to whip out a self-breast exam instruction card. Instead of spreading information on where women can get low-cost mammograms, or even talking about the importance of mammograms, we have been spreading awareness of where we can buy the next pink cupcake with a ribbon on it. Somehow, preventing a disease has become a commercialized dream.

There is a reason that we all know that the breast cancer awareness color is pink, but few of us could tell you what the skin cancer awareness color—or even month—is, and it is not because more people have breast cancer than other types of cancer.

This is not to say that raising money for breast cancer awareness is a bad thing, or that we should shame anyone wearing a pink “For the Cure” shirt—it is just to say that if everyone who bought into the pink mania also shared prevention and detection methods, or information on preventing other types of cancer as well, we might have a great chance at putting an end to cancer. If every time you purchased a pink water bottle or Susan G. Komen drink koozie, you also took the time to read about self-breast exams, we might have more of a fighting chance at early detection.

Preventing this terrible illness has also become a sexualized nightmare. National No Bra day not only does nothing to raise money for breast cancer research, but it also does nothing to support the women who have had to lose their breasts. No Bra day is also a way to flaunt your cancer-free boobs in front of those who have scars. We may as well say “Hey ladies! I know you don’t need bras because cancer took yours, but look at my tatas! It will make you feel better!”

While we try to figure out how best to support the women who have suffered or families of those who have lost their battle with this disease, corporations around Tampa have been hanging giant pink ribbons from their buildings and have poured pink dye into their fountains.

After losing my stepmother to melanoma (which quickly metastasized in her liver) in February of this year, seeing the ribbons and colored fountains almost seems like an insult. No matter what type of cancer was suffered, pouring money into fountains to turn them pink and hanging giant pink ribbons from a building is little consolation to a family grieving the loss of their mother, wife, sister, aunt, best friend or daughter.

What is a good way to console a grieving family and do something productive during the cancer of the month campaign? Donating money to a charity that will invest in research in addition to going to the doctor for the exams and check-ups needed to prevent other families from having to stand in front of their loved one’s grave. Spreading awareness by raising money to help those who can’t afford cancer screenings is a consolation. But the giant ribbon on the Corporate Center building? Not so much.

If you want to do something helpful and supportive for those suffering with breast (or any other type) cancer, consider donating to Moffitt Cancer Center. Not only is this a local center, but it also provides everything from research to funding treatment for patients. When my stepmother was undergoing expensive treatments, Moffitt donors sponsored her so that we didn’t have to be afraid of losing our home and our mother.

If financially supporting cancer research isn’t feasible, one great thing you can do to support those with cancer this month is to send encouraging letters to patients at one of the local cancer centers or hospitals in the area. Whether you write to someone (even if they are a stranger) with cancer or write a letter to their family members, it makes a huge difference for the person who will read it. When you are battling cancer, not every day is an “I am a warrior!” day—some days just plain suck, and getting an encouraging letter is just a small thing that can bring a big smile to someone’s face.

The next time you sip a latte from a pink cup or don your pink socks, don’t forget to do a self-breast exam and tell a friend to do the same. Only then can our pink-washed October start to make a real difference.

Krista Byrd can be reached at

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