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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Does the Pink of Breast Cancer Awareness Month Make Women With Cancer Feel Worse?

October is the traditional month for Breast Cancer Awareness. You'll see pink ribbons, pink t-shirts, pink clothing of all types worn by both women and men.

In fact, this year of 2010, the professional football teams of the National Football League have included pink in their football uniforms. Burly lineman and linebackers put pink cleats on their football shoes; quarterbacks and receivers wear pink wristbands and carry pink towels as part of their gear.

Why pink? How did the pink ribbon movement start? And most importantly, does it really help women who already have breast cancer? Or make them feel worse?

How Pink Got Into the Cancer Business
Ribbons have been used to express solidarity on the part of the wearer with the identified cause since the early to late 20th Century. Yellow ribbons are used for troops at war. Red ribbons for those with AIDS. Pink ribbons (and the color pink) express support for those who are diagnosed with Breast Cancer.

In the fall of 1991, Alexandra Penney, editor-in-chief of Self, a woman health magazine and Evelyn Lauder, of the cosmetic company Estée Lauder, got the idea to create a ribbon. The cosmetics giant distributed those ribbons stores in New York City.

Charlotte Hayley, who battled the disease, produced peach colored ribbons. She sold the ribbons to support cancer prevention. After discussing opportunities with Lauder, Hayley and their lawyers, they a "new" color, pink, was chosen, which became an international symbol for awareness.

Does Pink Really Help Women Who Have Breast Cancer?
There are loud voices of criticism about "Pink Month" and its long term effects for battling breast cancer.

Critics say that promoting pink ribbons as a symbol has not been credited with saving any lives. Others believe that the pink ribbon will fade from popular use and become only a fad. October has become a month when "pink" sales explode. Companies that sell pink merchandise and give a token donation to related charities.

Gayle Sulik, a medical sociologist wrote Pink Ribbon Blues: How Breast Cancer Culture Undermines Women's Health. She found that while "pink ribbon culture" has brought the illness much attention in the United States, did not improve women's health. Based on eight years of research, analysis and hundreds of interviews with women who had the disease, Ms. Sulik found that cancer rates rise, the cancer industry thrives, corporations profit from the disease, and those with this cancer are stigmatized by the pink ribbon.

How Does Seeing Pink Make Women with Cancer Feel about Themselves?
How does any woman feel when she has a serious illness and everything around her says, "Be Aware of Breast Cancer." In October, 2009 after Cheryl had been diagnosed with DCIS, a Stage 0 level. That October was a difficult month. Pink was everywhere and she was very aware of cancer. She had been diagnosed with it.

Yes, early detection was very important because we had less severe symptoms to deal with. Yet, the awareness month itself did little to support her. Whenever Cheryl went shopping, pink was everywhere. She felt horrible, like she couldn't get a break to live a normal life. Reminders were everywhere, that she was not normal - she had this cancer. She just wanted to hide.

Writing notes of support, using affirming words and spending more time together did a lot more for her spirits than pink ribbons and t-shirts did. Using the Treasuring mindset and approach helped Cheryl feel loved, appreciated and valued on the inside.

So, my questions to you, dear reader, are: What does October Breast Cancer Awareness Month mean to you? How do you treasure women with with illness? What do you write or say to them? And if you have breast cancer yourself, what would you want the important people in your life to write or say to you?