Do we really need National Breast Cancer Awareness Month?
Wait, don't click away. This isn't just another I hate breast cancer month post, I swear it isn't. It's different because I'm going to admit that I didn't always hate breast cancer month. Way back in 1985 when the pharmaceutical company now known as AstraZeneca kicked out the idea, I thought it was cool. A woman's health issue taking the stage. What wasn't to like?
In my late teenhood and early adult years, breast cancer wasn't something that was talked about by everyone and their father. It was barely discussed in women's magazines. Breast cancer wasn't something my gynecologist ever talked about, either. Instead, the doctor would ask if I was doing monthly breast exams, while he (and it was always a HE) gave me my yearly breast palpitation. I might get lucky and draw a doctor who asked if I had any questions about how to do my monthly exams but that was pretty rare.
So yeah. I thought "This is great!" More awareness for a woman's disease. I might even have bought a pink ribbon. (I don't remember doing so, but knowing me - I did.) I certainly didn't bash breast cancer awareness month back then. It wasn't bash-worthy. It was actually pretty inspirational.
Suddenly breast cancer support groups began to appear. And walkathons to raise money. People started talking about breast cancer (and I think all cancer) in a different way. Also, there were survivors. Breast cancer survivors began sharing their stories on TV, in newspapers and magazines (there wasn't an internet way back then.)
It was only later, much later, that I began to feel distaste at the pink mania that always appeared during October. It was later, much later, when it became a marketing campaign for just about every major company in the United States, that I began to get uncomfortable. Still, I didn't really say anything. I just kept my distaste to myself and avoided the breast cancer walkathons and I avoided purchasing anything pink labeled or pink ribboned in October.
When the internet came along, that's when my real loathing of breast cancer awareness month began. Every year I've quietly (OK not so quietly) watched the numbers of women getting mammograms, breast cancer diagnosis and breast cancer deaths to determine whether increased mammograms actually help save women's lives. I've watched to see how much money those big companies turning their products pink in October actually donate. I've watched to see who was making money. Breast cancer awareness month has turned into something that I really don't want to be a part of. As Suzanne Reisman said earlier this month, it's bunk.
I'm all for women sharing their breast cancer stories. I'm highly in favor of supporting women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. I'd be thrilled to see an actual cure for breast cancer but since I'm a wee bit doubtful on that front, I'd be over the moon to see some hard facts about what to do to prevent breast cancer in the first place.
Unfortunately, the majority of the breast cancer awareness hype (and money) doesn't support women who've been diagnosed with breast cancer and it doesn't seem to be getting us any closer to the info we need to help us prevent cancer, much less cure it.
CDC estimates from 1987
According to current estimates, 130,000 women in the United States will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer and 41,000 women will die from the disease in 1987.
CDC data from 2005
186,467 women were diagnosed with breast cancer
41,116 women died from breast cancer
Instead, big pharma and the mammography industry are making a heck of a lot of money and almost every woman I know is terrified that she'll have breast cancer. (A good many of those women are sure that they'll die of it, though the statistics indicate strong odds in favor of survival.)
I don't think we need Breast Cancer Awareness Month anymore.
What would happen if nobody wore another pink ribbon or purchased another product washed in pink?
What would happen if we gave our money directly to breast cancer research, support groups, and programs that assist women who already have breast cancer?
What if we stopped believing in the current mammogram testing recommendations and paid more attention to our monthly self-exams and our own bodies?
What if we stopped participating in breast cancer walks?
What would happen if we stopped supporting National Breast Cancer Awareness Month? I say let's give it a try and find out. It sure couldn't hurt, could it?
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