Pink October And Breast Cancer: There's A Better Way

October 14, 2016

It’s October and once again, I can’t look anywhere without seeing a pink product for sale. Every year it gets worse. From limited edition S’well water bottles in saturated pink, to the pale blush of Justfab Tahnee high heels, and the hot pink Kent International multispeed bike, the marketing geniuses have once again come up with a new line of pink-themed products. What began with a breast cancer survivor’s handmade, salmon-colored ribbon to raise awareness about breast cancer has morphed into the pink industrial complex. The signature pink is glossed onto items that push the boundaries of relevance and taste. Sending me over the edge this year—the Mission Pink Belt for men, and drum roll please—the Sabre Designer Pepper Spray featuring a jazzy pink print on the mini-canister. Really?

Seems to me the companies could skip the pink consumers in the middle and directly donate a check. Why put aside a percentage of sales, sometimes as paltry as 1 percent? Why not give the money directly to breast cancer support groups, and breast cancer research institutions?

That’s just what the two-year-old Ice Bucket Challenge has done by getting potential donors to dump ice water on their heads for ALS research. Of the $115 million directly donated, $47 million has gone to support and research programs, including one at Johns Hopkins. There, researchers identified and found a way to repair a protein that damages cells. Success after lead researcher Jonathan Ling’s initial skepticism. He told Money magazine: “I remember reading ... that the ice bucket challenge was a waste.” Charity Navigator, which rates individual charities, gives the ALS Foundation its highest four-star rating for a transparent and careful strategy in allocating the raised funds.

But Charity Navigator is less than charitable about many organizations raising money for breast cancer. Not all are efficiently using the bulk of collected monies for programs and services; too many times they are spending more on staff and overhead. Charity Navigator says Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Center has done a good job using pink funds raised from third party groups. In fact, a $2.3 million grant paid for research identifying and testing therapies for triple-negative breast cancer. And this month, Dana-Farber was awarded another $2 million to be divided among 12 other breast cancer research projects.

Still, not enough of the $1.6 billion raised annually for breast cancer research is ending up where it should. And I get madder every year that October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month continues to be subsumed by crass pink commerce. Much designed to make corporate donors look good through what the activist group Breast Cancer Action calls “pinkwashing.”

I have dear friends who are survivors of breast cancer, and one who has just been diagnosed. I really want this disease stamped out. But, I won’t be a mark in a pink shell game in the name of the cure.


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