On Mother's Day, my family knew to avoid the color pink in any gifts for me. I'm 5 ½ years out from my own brush with breast cancer, and have had my fill of that color.
When National Breast Cancer Awareness Month rolls around in October with its ocean of Pink, I put up my mental barriers and try to enjoy a fuschia-free fall. It was when I got blindsided by a Girl Scout wearing a Pink beribboned bucket hat talking about the importance of a mammogram that I lost it.
Breast cancer ribbons have become the latest in tacky fashion accessories. Women are being lauded as "heroic" for simply following a prescribed course of treatment for a disease that kills only 40,000 a year. By comparison, heart disease kills 350,000 women and strokes kill another 96,000. Yet the American Heart Association's Red Dress campaign hasn't achieved the cachet of that ubiquitous pink ribbon. I keep asking myself why: What is it that makes one particular disease more visible than the other?
Breast cancer has a better marketing department. So many products are available to "support the cause" that it's become easy to indulge your altruistic urges with the swipe of a credit card. Buy a Pink mixer. Eat some decorated yogurt. Go for a jog in your new Pink Ribbon warmup suit. Pay your bills using your special Pink pen and mail it with your Breast Cancer stamps. Hey, we're making progress toward getting rid of this scourge, aren't we? Aren't we?
Quite frankly, the massive marketing effort has cheapened the show of support. What many well-meaning consumers don't get is how looking at all of these Pink-logo'd items actually take many survivors straight back into the chaos of the initial diagnosis and all of the life-altering changes that ensued.
By constantly being bombarded with Pink, it makes it much more difficult to move on to the next phase of our lives. And there I am at a Girl Scout meeting, being asked by a sweet 10-year-old if I had had my mammogram this year. She was trying to earn a special Breast Cancer Awareness badge. One of the troop member's mothers had been recently diagnosed, so this was thought to be a good way for them to show their support. If it had ended there, maybe it would have been, but when they started handing out bookmarks, pencils, key chains and other cheaply made, destined-for-the-Dumpster pieces of Pink, I got irritated.
When I expressed my uneasiness that young girls were pawns in a major marketing campaign, I was surprised at the reaction: "If we don't keep up the marketing, then people will forget all about this disease!"
Fat chance. As long as there are mammogram machines and breasts, this disease will continue to be found and treated successfully the majority of the time. I'm just tired of the in-your-face ubiquity that keeps us in a constant state of trepidation as to if/when our mammaries will become memories.
I am concerned that, in our zeal to educate, we have instead planted the seeds of fear in our daughters' minds. It broke my heart when my own 10-year-old ran downstairs after reading a coming-of-age book from the library saying, "Mommy, Mommy, it's all right! That lump I felt last night isn't cancer! It's normal!"
We live in a climate where it's easy to succumb to fear, whether it's terrorism, liberalism, conservatism, racism or any other type of -ism you wish to insert. When that enormous amount of energy is put out there by an entire society, it has no choice but to manifest itself in unhealthy ways.