Cancer Is Not Cute, or Why Pinktober Makes Me Queasy

Pink-to-ber A portmanteau coinage used by many people who live with breast cancer to refer to October, the Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is heavily dominated by marketing in the color pink and cute tags like “Save the tatas”. (See Komen, etc.)

(The following post appeared in a slightly different form on April 6, 2013.)

 Cancer isn’t cute. It is a mortal illness. It disfigures. It kills. The treatment involves cutting off pieces of your body, killing living tissue with radiation, poisoning your system with chemotherapy. The treatment can have life-long effects on your health and well-being   And that is still no guarantee. Thirty percent (almost one third!) of women diagnosed with breast cancer AT ANY STAGE will end up with distal metastasis.

To be clear, distal metastasis means Stage IV breast cancer. Stage IV breast cancer is terminal cancer.

Cancer isn’t cute, and breast cancer isn’t “the good cancer”. How can anyone possibly call a disease that kills almost one-third of the people who become ill with it “good”? This isn’t about boobies or tatas—it’s about a killer disease. When I was first diagnosed I didn’t give two toots about saving my “girls”; I wanted the cancer out of me.

When I was first diagnosed, I experienced and conceptualized the cancer as a rapist inside me. GET THIS THING OUT OF ME! There was nothing cute about it. When I had my breast and lymph nodes removed and sat with surgical drains coming out of the incisions and I couldn’t lift my arm high enough to hang up the laundry, there was nothing cute about it. When I was having my first round of chemotherapy and all I could vomit was bile and I could barely hold down water – there was nothing cute about it. When I had first and second degree radiation burns over two-thirds of my chest from the daily radiation treatments – not cute.

Well-meaning as they may be, pink ribbons and cutesy “awareness” campaigns make me angry. To me, they feel belittling. They make me feel ignored. They make me feel cast aside because I have a a disease that is killing me. Go ahead and have a great fund-raising campaign and use the best PR tricks you can, but please don’t ignore the reality. Cancer isn’t cute, not even at Stage I. It bears repeating: thirty percent (almost one third!) of women diagnosed with breast cancer will end up with distal metastasis.

We don’t know who will belong to the 30% and we don’t know how to reduce the number of people who will get recurrences and/or mets. Yes, awareness is nice, but research is better. If you donate to a breast cancer cause, please know where your money is going. Give to organizations that are actively funding research. You can always buy a pink ribbon at the notions counter.

This month I will be featuring guest posts from men and women who have been affected by metastatic breast cancer. There are still open slots. If you’re interested, please read the Call for Posts.

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41 Responses

  1. You are telling it like it is, Telling Knots. Thank you.

  2. Marlene Carpino says:

    I am a part of the one-third who has metastatic breast cancer (Stage IV). I am hearing a lot about victims being offended by the cute pink ribbon. I just want to say that I am not offended. While I agree that there is nothing “cute” about this disease, I still feel that more people know what the pink ribbon stands for than was ever thought possible. It is bringing attention to the disease. Everyone recognizes what it stands for and I think it makes them think. It is a reminder for many to get that mammogram. Maybe the ribbon should be HOT pink for those with metastatic breast cancer. Hot pink is bold and braver. And we who suffer know how to be bold and brave. We have no other choice.

    • Knot Telling says:

      Thank you very much for sharing your opinion, Marlene. It takes courage to speak up with a dissenting opinion, and I’m glad you did. 🙂

      You might find my post about the Komen organization interesting. I believe that, especially in North America, “awareness” is no longer an issue and that the message of many awareness campaigns is skewed.

  3. MC says:

    There is really no connection anymore between wearing pink and actually DOING anything. I see tons of products labeled “for breast cancer awareness” but nobody knows how or if it ever benefits anyone but the manufacturer. I have taken care of several young people with muscular dystrophy who get really offended by the old “Jerry’s Kids” thing, too. The leptomeningeal thing is the worst-we deserve much more than pink-maybe a neon fuschia awareness. campaign or an orange day-glo awareness.Sorry, my ideas take flight occasionally. I continue to be encouraged and uplifted by theses posts so, once again, thank you.

  4. Reblogged this on mainelyhopeful and commented:

  5. lmarieallen says:

    I’m glad more people are “aware” of breast cancer, but, unfortunately, being aware doesn’t really amount to much. It’s very easy to wear a pink ribbon during October and then get back to business as usual. And pink ribbons really make me mad, anyway. They remind me of all the unscrupulous agencies out there earning millions on the backs of the brave men and women living with this disease.

  6. Keep talking, Knots! I hate ribbons. I don’t want a new damn color. I want research. We’re all aware. Everyone is aware of the tatas. Unfortunately, that awareness in the general public has very little to do with cancer and more with an excuse to say “boobies” and objectify women. 30% of breast cancers? That is so hidden in the pink that people seem not to fully understand, even within the metastatic ranks. Keep talking!

  7. So well put!! My heart has been aching this week at the news of two recent deaths in the breast cancer blog community—inspiring, AMAZING women … lives cut short from this “cute” disease. It gets beyond frustrating to see this disease turned into a opportunistic “short” sale for the month of October, giving consumers a false belief that BC is the “easy type”..

    EDUCATION in realizing the cold, hard facts of this disease would be my dream for this month. More attention and focus needs to be placed on the people living and dying with metastatic disease.

    Thank you for bringing truth to the surface in this wonderful post.

    XOXO Nicole

  8. Jenny R says:

    It would also be suuuuper nice to keep all the breast cancer (or any cancer, really) stuff off of food products. I do not want breast cancer soup or breast cancer cereal or breast cancer cream cheese. Awareness is great but this is awareness carpetbombing.

  9. AnneMarie says:

    I refuse to refer to this as “awareness” anything….. I renamed October Breast Cancer EDUCATION month and my goal (a bit on the lofty side and I know I’m going to fall short…) is 31 posts about EDUCATION. Facts that must be part of the conversation. If we make the ribbon relevant by taking every opportunity to do exactly what you have done here, share what it means to be part of the community that is the “stain” on the ribbon (that would be those with mets….. and no, although I am not metastatic, my mom is) …. maybe, just maybe, we can make this year different. Great post, great comments, Great YOU!

  10. Knot, amazing post! You are taking the October bull by the horns!

  11. Maxine D says:

    I hear you loud and clear TK…. I agree with AnneMarie that it should be Breast Cancer EDUCATION month, there is just too much blarney in the name of ‘Pink-tober’!!
    Prayers and blessings

  12. bethgainer says:

    “Well-meaning as they may be, pink ribbons and cutesy “awareness” campaigns make me angry. To me, they feel belittling. They make me feel ignored. They make me feel cast aside because I have a a disease that is killing me.”

    Powerful post and so very true. Breast cancer is not cute and sexy. It’s not fun. Everything you said so eloquently is the truth.

  13. dglassme says:

    On the radio yesterday the broadcaster proclaimed it is time to get your pink light bulbs and pink party hats…how do you think that made me feel? I just had a mastectomy which was enough pink partying for me. He was making a joke about my disease

    • Knot Telling says:

      “Pink party hats”? Seriously? I almost wish I had heard so I could write a letter to that radio station, maybe start an educational letter-writing campaign.

      That was despicable. 🙁

      • dglassme says:

        Yup, “Pink party hats”…damnit! Got to love America. Not all are like this but, too many are.

  14. I’ve joined ArmyofWomen.org and just given a DNA sample for my first study participation. I feel like I’m doing something. Not just wearing a color.

  15. Elyse says:

    Well said.

    These days there are ribbons for everything. They are all hollow. Rather than a ribbon, why not donate the $5 to whatever cause it is. Let’s put our money where our ribbons are.

  16. Valerie says:

    Love this post, I wrote a similar one the other day. I would love to see more funding to treat mets and actually find a cure. This is a wretched disease, not a money machine.

  17. Annamarie says:

    Are you aware of METAvivor? It’s a support and RESEARCH-oriented organization for metastatic breast cancer. I am a metastatic ovarian cancer survivor myself (stage IIIc), and I feel your pain.

  18. Dara Insley says:

    I 100% love this post. Thank you.

  19. Elizabeth J. says:

    Absolutely wonderful post! My problem is not with pink ribbons themselves, but all that goes with them.
    I believe the pink ribbon culture has desensitized people to the point normally nice people lack common consideration and decency. Two people sent me pictures and recipes for mammo-grahams this year. (Graham crackers with fillings that look like breasts squished in a mammogram). What part of mastectomy do they not understand? I doubt they would expect a person whose legs were amputated to laugh about foot-shaped cookies?
    And the ignorance and false information that often passes for awareness is appalling!
    Please keep telling it like it is!

  1. 6 October, 2013

    […] posing with a pink handbag (what else!)  to raise awareness of a mutilating disease. As the Telling Knots blog starkly reminds us  ”cancer isn’t cute. It is a mortal illness. It disfigures. It […]

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