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Pinking Responsibly During Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Know when that pink ribbon makes a difference (and when it doesn't).
PUBLISHED October 17, 2016
Martha lives in Illinois and was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in January 2015. She has a husband and three children, ranging in age from 12 to 18, a dog and a lizard.
As a woman with metastatic breast cancer, I have a special relationship with Breast Cancer Awareness Month. In short, I think it doesn’t matter anymore. Breast cancer awareness is not what matters. What matters is finding a cure for this dreadful disease, where metastasis means there is no cure. 

Still, go ahead and go pink. Buy the heck out of it. October only comes once a year, and if you love pink and love someone who has/had/could have breast cancer, this month offers a wealth of opportunities to visibly show your support.

But if you’re going to go pink, please choose responsibly.

Read the fine print. Read about the organization you are supporting. Does the money go toward pamphlets and bracelets and t-shirts to raise awareness? 

Or is it money that matters? 

Does it go toward research for an actual cure? Does it fund work that studies what might cause breast cancer to metastasize and what mechanisms might prevent or stop that from happening? Does the money go to researchers who bring novel treatments to patients without hope? Maybe the money goes to a support service — there are a lot of them if you look carefully — that otherwise never has enough money for women and men with breast cancer? There are so many options for making your money count.

Don’t let those too-precious dollars go toward awareness. With very few exceptions — such as making sure people know that men can carry and pass down the BRCA gene mutations — peak awareness has been achieved. Thankfully, the time when the words “breast cancer” had to be whispered is long gone.

Now, it is time to put money in the hands of organizations that directly fund research grants to doctors and scientists, that fund vacations or transportation or housekeeping for women in treatment or living with breast cancer, that help with medical costs or physical fitness or travel expenses.

If you can’t find a national organization that you feel comfortable giving to, I urge you to look locally. You can ask the person you love what would most help in her day-to-day life or in her overall quality of life and then search out a group that fills that need. While I could rattle off numerous groups that fund the research and support activities I most value, you can find a worthy list at Charity Navigator, which rates organizations' use of their donations. Because they only rate groups that reach a $1 million-threshold, some noteworthy organizations (for me, Metastatic Breast Cancer Network, Wellness House and Little Pink Houses of Hope come immediately to mind) are not included on that list. When you find a group or two that interest you, check out their specific websites. There, you can find information about exactly what research has been funded, who has benefitted from previous donations, and where, geographically, recipients are likely to live.

Yes, it’s much easier to just buy that pink t-shirt from the grocery store or to smile at the pink wooden ribbons lighting up airports and buildings. But if you care, at all, about the women dying from breast cancer and the shocking 30 percent of patients who will go on to find their original breast cancer has spread to distant organs, you will do better. You will look at the websites. You will check out what percentage of money goes to the efforts you most care about. You will do your homework.

And we will all be so grateful.
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