Let me begin by saying, for some people, the pink ribbon is great. A lot of folks, some living with cancer, some who have lost loved ones to cancer, and others who are just into people supporting – they all really dig it, and find it comforting, and like seeing it around. If you’re one of those people, yay for you! You’ve found a symbol that you can identify with, that is widely perpetuated in our culture, and that’s fortunate.
I’m not one of those people. Here’s why:
My family has a torrid struggle with the big C. Long, painful deaths, and decades spent cowering at the possibility – no, the reality, of remission. But throughout all of the emotional torture, the sadness, the wasting away and lumpectomies and double mastectomies, the biggest struggle wasn’t who it killed – it was who got billed.
And throughout it all, as family members have been sickened, and some have died, the current was this – when offering support, it was frequently offered in shades of pink. Pink ribbons, pink gifts, pink cards. Chock-full of sympathy, but lacking in the color we needed – green.
It sounds callous, but the fact is this: while my uncle was losing his house, drowning in my dead aunt’s medical bills, people around him were misguidedly donating money to the pink ribbon foundation.
And this is what gets me. The pink ribbon, and all of the pinkness, is infantalizing to women, and is misguided. It associates the disease with little girls. It undermines the severity of the disease.
Donating money to fund breast cancer support is great, in theory. Unfortunately, it is one of the most well-funded forms of research, and one of the easiest to get clinical research approved for. It is the cancer that receives the most funding, bar-none, despite other forms of cancer being just as deadly, if not more. In the last ten years, funding has quadrupled.
Unfortunately, health care costs have also skyrocketed. And yet, women still die from breast cancer, people still donate their money to research (not medical costs of survivors), and hide behind pinkness.
Breast cancer is largely a disease of womanhood. And yet, the symbols of survival are pink teddy bears, baby tees, baseball caps that you can stick your non-existent pony-tail through, and non-fat yogurt lids.
So, this month, when everything is rose-tinted, please consider being genuine in your handling of cancer. Don’t donate money to research, when people you know are struggling with medical bills. Don’t offer pink condolences, when what women need is “Oh my god, this fucking sucks.” And don’t think that a ribbon is going to make it better, because there’s still no cure, and people are still dying, and it’s not nearly as cute as you think.