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When Your Pharmacy Plays Favorites With Cancer

Pharmacies hopefully aim to help all their patients feel better, yet a common practice is making some patients feel worse. You can do something about it.
PUBLISHED November 24, 2015
Janet Freeman-Daily is a writer, speaker, science geek and epatient with metastatic lung cancer. She uses her systems engineering background to translate the experience and science of lung cancer treatment and research into language other patients can understand. She comoderates the Lung Cancer Social Media (#LSCM) Chat on Twitter and blogs at
Last week I refilled my prescription for warfarin, a blood thinner I take for my cancer-related pulmonary embolism (blood clots are not uncommon in cancer patients). The Fred Meyer pharmacy did their usual efficient job and delivered my medication promptly. It looked like this:

pink ribbon pill bottle
I think it’s wonderful when corporations support cancer research and cancer patients. Kroger (Fred Meyer’s parent company) has a large breast cancer awareness campaign featuring Kroger employees who have or had the disease, and I’m sure some breast cancer patients who received this pill bottle cap felt a surge of hope.

“Hope” is not the emotion I felt when I saw this bottle.

I felt stigmatized. Ignored. Devalued. These feelings were triggered by an organization supposedly aiming to make me feel better.

I have lung cancer, the biggest cancer killer, a disease that kills twice as many women as breast cancer every year for the past 28 years. Lung cancer kills more people than the next three cancers combined, yet receives less funding per death than any of them. And yet my own pharmacy is making sure I know they support breast cancer during Lung Cancer Awareness Month. Where’s the white ribbon on my pill bottle cap? For that matter, where are the ribbons for all the other cancers?

Why is Kroger seemingly favoring one cancer over all others?

Many breast cancer patients are not excited to see the pink cap on their pill bottles, either. Even if all the merchandise sold as part of Pinktober actually supported breast cancer (it doesn’t), only a small percentage of privately collected cancer funding goes to research for metastatic breast cancer (which kills 30 percent of breast cancer patients). According to Laurie Kingston, “It’s no surprise to me that some of the loudest voices in opposition to pinkwashing come from women whose cancer will never be cured.”

I get that the pink ribbon has become a symbol for fighting cancer and that it isn’t likely to go away anytime soon, despite the bad feelings it creates for many patients with all types of cancer. I get that it’s only a bottle cap — a minor player in the cancer awareness game.

Yet, I’m hoping those organizations who provide services directly to cancer patients can restrain their enthusiasm for pink. I’m hoping they aim to help their patients feel better, not worse.

If your pharmacy plays favorites with cancer, tell them how it makes you feel as a cancer patient or caregiver. Please tell them, "don’t put pink-ribboned caps on pill bottles."

Image credit:  Creative Commons License
Pink-ribbon pill bottle cap by Janet Freeman-Daily is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
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