Every October, pink ribbons pop up as a symbol of breast cancer awareness. This year, marketing strategies have changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. One survivor offers some insight on those changes.
The email almost slipped through the cracks of my inbox, but something in the header caught my attention: “You've been invited to attend a virtual walk for breast cancer.” “Virtual walk, yeah, right,” I thought, “Everything has suddenly turned virtual because of this pandemic.”
As the calendar neared the end of September, what I knew was coming had arrived a little earlier than last year. My inbox quickly filled with breast cancer awareness messages in preparation for this October, or should I say “Pinktober?”
Until I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I'd always thought of October as the month ushering in cooler weather. My family and I would enjoy all things fall-related — hayrides, hiking, trips to the mountains, pumpkin farms, mugs of steamy hot cocoa, cozy thick sweaters, and roasting marshmallows over an outdoor firepit. October didn't remind me of breast cancer, that is, until that fateful day in 2014 when I'd heard my doctor dub me a statistic. I was one of the one in eight women who’d be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime.
My first Pinktober was fun. I embraced it wholeheartedly. I bought into the commercialism of pink ribbons and found myself enveloped in it. It felt good to sport my breast cancer hoodie. I enjoyed drinking coffee from my pink ribboned mug. It felt like I was part of a special sorority, how naive I was back then. But lots of newbies make the same mistake. It's only natural to be all in. Doing so can make a person feel she matters especially when cancer can make a person feel so isolated and alone.
I'd also participated in a 5K walk for breast cancer. It had been a challenge, in more ways than one. Physically, I fought for each step forward. I'd just completed 28 rounds of radiation and that 3.1 mile walk just about did me in, but I made it and I was extremely proud of myself. Emotionally, I was a basket case. I wasn’t sure about my future. I was afraid I was going to die.
But the next October that rolled around, I passed up the races. I wasn't keen on buying pink ribboned products. I'd done research and had found some organizations didn't allocate funds appropriately. My findings indicated more money was going toward administrative fees than toward breast cancer research and that made me angry.
Then, I discovered a “tell it like it is” website called "Think Before You Pink." It presented the harsh reality behind some breast cancer campaigns and organizations. The goal of the site wasn't to demean those companies but to inform the undereducated and debunk misinformation. I appreciated their devotion and found the information helpful.
This October, the big breast cancer awareness push will still be on, albeit differently. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many cities are opting for virtual walks and rallies. Participants can register and keep a record of miles walked then submit totals at the end of the race period. The logged miles will be counted toward fundraising goals. Monetary submissions can be solicited through websites. Contactless collections will help prevent the spread of disease, or so they say.
While it would be easier to participate in a virtual walk, doing it "my way," I don't think I will and here's why.
Instead of having friends and family sponsor the number of miles I may walk, I'd rather use the money toward helping provide gift cards for meals or offer financial assistance toward outstanding medical bills for friends currently fighting cancer right now.
Forgive my negative attitude toward breast cancer walks- real or virtual. This survivor is over it. October is more than pink ribbons.
I do appreciate the awareness "Pinktober" brings toward breast cancer, but let's get real. The beribboned pink paraphernalia lines many pockets but it doesn't do much for providing new means of fighting cancer.
Cancer is ugly and trying to tie it up with a pretty pink bow can't change that.
Those affected by cancer want more. We want answers and we desperately want a cure.
A virtual walk may prove to be a good thing for those wishing to participate this year. There may be some cities that organize actual walks for mask-laden participants, but I won't be among them.
What I will do is make phone calls, write letters, send texts, and make visits expressing my love and concern for friends like Jack and Jen who've just learned about an uncertain future. I'll make myself available and I won't be throwing any pink ribbons around in the process.
Call me cynical if you must, but I'd rather be truthful about a disease that continues to destroy lives.
Pink ribbons can't change statistics, but maybe one day something more substantial will.