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How I Learned to Think Before I Spend Money on Pink

October is upon us. That means much of our world can turn pink. Pink shirts, shoes, bags, jewelry, hair... I could go on. Many people buy items to support breast cancer education and research. Educating yourself as to where your money goes can be important.
PUBLISHED September 24, 2019
Doris Cardwell received a life-changing diagnosis of inflammatory breast cancer in 2007. While undergoing treatment, she co-founded a mentor program for the cancer center treating her. She also created community events to educate, encourage and empower people regarding cancer. Doris was the first Survivorship Community Outreach Liaison for her local cancer center. She is an advocate, educator and encourager on issues facing cancer survivors. Doris is a wife, mother, empty nester, survivor of life and lover of all things coffee. An avid speaker and blogger, she is available at

I was eating lunch at a local deli a few years ago. I needed water to drink. My eye went to a water bottle with a pink ribbon on it. "Support breast cancer research" it said. It was more expensive than another bottle, and much more expensive than a free cup. I bought the bottle with the pink ribbon, feeling pretty happy about doing my part. Sitting at the table eating, I saw a statement that changed my perspective. It said 1 cent of each bottle sold supported breast cancer research. A survivor myself, my funds were tight. I was livid that I paid more for the bottle of water with the ribbon than the other bottle or getting a cup and free water.

I felt duped. The next time the phone rang at home asking me if I would donate, I threw the person a curve ball. I asked what percentage of money raised on the call went to the organization. It was so minimal I had to sit down. I couldn't believe it was even legal. If you have never asked that question of any fundraising call that you get, my advice to you is that you should. The answer may astonish you.

I am not suggesting that you shouldn't support things with pink ribbons or give money to other fundraising organizations. What I am suggesting is that you question just how much of your donation goes towards supporting the cause you care about. There are so many breast cancer organizations with little to no overhead, meaning that more of what you give actually provides services or research. In many communities you can find funds that help local organizations or individuals. In my community, our hospital had a charitable foundation that supported patients and programs. Also a larger national charity provided grant funds that paid for mammograms locally. I received support from them while in treatment and later contributed to them both in ways that I could.

Many people could not get through treatment without assistance. I was fortunate to have help when I needed it. Not everyone is. Many types of breast cancer treatments won't advance without research. Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC), the type I had, is rare. Current statistics show only 1 to 5 percent of all breast cancer is inflammatory. Outcomes have improved, in part, because people have raised money specifically for IBC research. I am fortunate have benefited from this. Other rare forms of cancer have not had this focus.

The money you give matters, make sure you give it where you want it to count. If I am buying a t-shirt, I don't mind paying more for a pink ribbon on it as long as I know the choice I am making benefits a cause I care about. If I am buying the shirt because I like it and want to wear it, then sometimes it's fine if only a few dollars go to charity. Little amounts can add up. However, if I think most of the money is helping when in reality it is not, that's a ribbon of a whole different color!

My goal in sharing my experience and these thoughts is not for you to give less support. It is actually the opposite. I want you to give more support, but be aware where you are giving it and to whom. I have learned to appreciate the pink ribbon as I have seen it benefit many people directly. Yet, as with anything, there will always be those who take advantage of it.

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