Pink Responsibly

It’s October and once again pink has pushed black and orange aside. Bright, happy and feminine…pink has become the unofficial color of breast cancer, but many of us living with the disease don’t always feel quite so cheerful about it as we face it on every aisle of the market, every store at the mall, every football game, in line, online and on TV.

I know that for the consumer, pink-shopping is a well-intended effort to make a difference. Since women are shoppers, and get breast cancer, it is a marketing marriage made in heaven, So much so that breast cancer is often referred to as the “mother of cause marketing.” However, it’s time to question whether the branding of breast cancer is good, and for whom.

Certainly, we know it is good for corporate America’s bottom line.  It must be if packaging associations are promising their customers greater sales with pink; and if you can’t turn it pink, throw a pink ribbon on it.

Many groups, especially those making millions of dollars off Breast Cancer, Inc. don’t care that the lion’s share of the benefit line the pockets of corporate America. The charities that support or promote “pinkwashing” through dozens of corporate sponsorships on hundreds of products argue that even the pennies and nickels add up, which is true, but misleading.

If we can be satisfied with the goal of “awareness,” then I think we’re done getting the message out. After all, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who is unaware of breast cancer. Sadly, though, awareness has never cured cancer. Nor has education. Nor have mammograms. If our goal is awareness, we have set the bar too low, and the price — billions of dollars focused on breast cancer — far too high. “Awareness” is amorphous and vague. Since we will never be able to measure it, we can call whatever we do a success. Awareness is the low-hanging fruit. We can and must do better.

Better is research. Better is finding a vaccine and a cure. Better is understanding how, why and which cancer moves. My life depends on it, and so do those of the over 150,000 American women living with metastatic disease. Most of us don’t realize that breast cancer deaths are almost never the result of a local diagnosis in the breast. Over 90% of breast cancer deaths are a result of metastases, or movement from the breast to distant organs. All of the education and awareness in the world will never solve that problem. This is only one path to a cure – scientific research.

I know there are countless influential organizations, institutions, and well-meaning consumers, who want to change the face of breast cancer. And there is no question we need funding to find a cure. But if we are to maximize the impact of the money available, it is time to start asking some hard questions of both companies and non-profits that are bolstering their bottom lines through breast cancer, most especially when those companies are hocking products that are outright bad for us. So here are my questions?

Have we not gone too far when products like Mike’s Hard Pink Lemonade or Kentucky Fried Chicken sport pink ribbons? Worse perhaps, is Komen’s “Promise Me” me perfume, which contains carcinogenic ingredients banned by the International Fragrance Association.

Does a pink product even need to mention breast cancer to fly off the shelves in October? I’m talking about products with no affiliation with a breast cancer non-profit, no promise to donate any portion of proceeds?

Are we really making a difference when we a pink-ribboned product requires that we save and send in lids, or sign up online, or jump through other hoops to actually make the donation for our purchase?

What about when products contain mousescript disclosures that the dontations will be capped, or that only a penny or two will be donated?

Many argue that at least SOME money is going to breast cancer, right? That’s better than nothing…. Maybe. Maybe not. Not when products are linked to cancer, or do nothing at all for cancer. But even still, in order to understand the impact of shopping for a cure, we need to follow the money.

Here’s what we need to know to pink responsibly:

Has the manufacturer clearly identified a chairty it is support, or are they just pinking as a sales ploy?

Does the package indicate how much of a “donation” will be made? Is there a cap on the donations?

What do you have to do for the donation to be made? Are those steps reasonable, and ones you will take?

Once a donation is made, do you know how the charity uses the funds? More “awareness” funding, posh hotel rooms for well-paid executives, or patient support or research for a cure?

One great resource to get you thinking: Pink Ribbon Blues – The Website, by author and sociologist Gayle Sulik. During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Gayle has focused her blog on “30 Days of Breast Cancer Awareness” and challenges us to think about breast cancer, pink, and where our current path to a cure is really taking us.

If we want to see change, we need to stop drinking the pink Kool-Aid and start focusing our energy and funding on a cure. Don’t go for the pink impulse buy — send that $2, $5, or $10 to a cause that is responsibiliy making a difference, either in the lives of patients, or in the world of research.

It’s time for all of us to pink responsibly.

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. AnneMarie
    Oct 24, 2011 @ 22:57:55

    Awareness sucks. Action counts. I’m on your bandwagon and I’m with you for every step of this journey. You were amazing in the interview and every point in this post speaks to all of us. This must change and it must happen sooner rather than later. I think we are all just so done with pink and with being a brand. October has turned into nothing but a “Broken Promise” and it’s one I hope to help repair. I made that promise when I learned so much in such a short time from you and from the other brilliant women who teach me and inspire me every single day. I’m counting on the research to catch up …… I believe it can and will happen…… and I believe it can be soon. We just need to keep pushing our own brand of awareness.
    Love to you,


  2. nancyspoint
    Oct 25, 2011 @ 06:36:25

    Thank you for writing this. I agree with you 100%. Turning all things pink is just not good enough anymore is it?


  3. Elizabeth
    Oct 25, 2011 @ 07:56:50

    Send this to the papers and post it in as many places as you can…well said and must be heard…
    Bravo Lori!!


  4. elynjacobs
    Oct 25, 2011 @ 12:07:06

    October, like Pink, like Breast Cancer, has just become a marketing tool. It’s time to stop all the nonsense and put the money towards researching a cure, a vaccine and whatever it takes to prevent breast cancer from taking mommies, wives, sisters, friends. Don’t capitalize on breast cancer, do something about it. Great post Lori…

    many hugs and hats off to you….


  5. Liz
    Oct 25, 2011 @ 13:34:50

    Hi Lori,

    My name is Liz and I have stumbled onto your blog while doing Cancer blogger research. I read your post and have some thoughts on the subject. While I agree, truly agree with the fact that October has been pintofied to a rather extreme point, I must say that I do not agree with you on the ineffectiveness of awareness. Rather I think that people believe they are aware but for the most part are not leading to contributing to the problem more so than rectifying it.

    Here is an example of what I mean. I have read a number of stories, articles, etc on the fact that men have breast cancer. More than that, they have it and sought out help from the breast cancer community. These men have been turned down, ridiculed and banned from these social support platforms because the women, the very people who need to be more aware of what breast cancer is and who gets it were not aware. How then can we say that there is enough awareness?

    Now, if the pink ribbons said things like “Yeah it’s pink, but real men get breast cancer, and real men wear pink” that would be a great way of spreading information that is truly valuable. Awareness has to continue, only, I think people actually need to read up on the disease they are so ready to support. In all other aspects, I think your post is right on.

    With that said, I wanted to let you know about I Had Cancer (

    I Had Cancer ( is a new, free, international social support network for anyone touched by cancer – supporters, fighters and survivors. You can check out our video here: makes I Had Cancer unique is the simplicity of the site layout and the ease of connecting with others. You can search the user community by age, gender, type of cancer, type of user, year of diagnosis and location. There is a video on our home page as well that can tell you about the other functions that I won’t list here. I encourage you to check the site out for yourself to get a better grasp of how it works.

    Please let me know if you would be willing to check it out and if you like what you find, write about us. I can put you in contact with Mailet Lopez who is the founder of I Had Cancer and a breast cancer survivor herself (diagnosed at 33 in 2008) she can answer any question you may have. I hope to hear from you. Thanks and have a good one.


  6. PegFeod
    Oct 26, 2011 @ 06:52:22

    I for one, and know many other people, who are sick to death of HUGE cosmetic companies toting their b.c. awareness support with special products that supposedly support awareness, research, etc. while they produce products containing carcinogens that cause not only breast cancer, but all sorts of other cancers! Talk about an oxymoron (emphasis on the “moron”!) There are so many smaller, well run, local, respected organizations that help in the moment with help for people dealing with (especially) breast cancer. They provide help with paying the rent because the patient cannot work due to chemo, etc., they provide rides to doc appts, they provide child care, they provide meals, they provide people to clean the house of the patient, they provide an ear to listen and a mouth to support and encourage. These are the organizations that should be getting donations. These organizations provide real time help and support to women, men, families who need real time, immediate, tangible help. I have more confidence in these local organizations than I do in the big dogs that get all the big bucks. Just a thought…….great article, loved it!


  7. Mighty Casey
    Oct 27, 2011 @ 11:44:51

    I’m with you 110%, grrlfren – I posted an anti-pink screed myself yesterday on my Cancer for Christmas blog:

    Pinkification will only die when we – the breast cancer warriors – work to help kill it. We’ve made a start!


  8. Samantha Gluck
    Dec 08, 2011 @ 10:08:52


    I think you’re right on in your assessment that many companies are jumping on the “pink” bandwagon for sheer marketing purposes and not for altruistic ones. But — and that’s a big BUT — where were we before the pink ribbon campaign? Next to nothing was getting done to stem the rise of breast cancer and other devastating cancers.

    This fallen world begets fallen people with fallen purposes. It’s bound to happen — someone’s great idea, an idea borne out of love and generosity — will get distorted, overused, and misused. That’s just the way it is. I think we have come so much farther than would have ever been possible without “pink awareness”. Pink happens to be my absolute favorite color also! As a survivor (cancer FREE since 1999 — I was diagnosed as a very young age), I still like seeing the campaign pressing on.

    I know some people have “pink” fatigue. I echo the sentiment of the first commenter, AnneMarie, “Awareness sucks. Action counts.” Yes, stop drinking the pink cool-aid, but don’t throw the baby out with it!


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