It's October and we all know what that means. Pink! From ribbons, to kitchen appliances, workout wear to M & M's (ah, the irony...), we are bombarded with creating awareness of breast cancer (like there's one woman unaware of it), promoting mammograms and raising money for the Cure. For more than 25 years, we have been marketed the idea that if we just run one more race; write one more check; buy one more pink ribbon adorned tee shirt, they'll find the elusive cure they dangle in front of all women. Did you know that National Breast Cancer Awareness Month was created by a drug company (currently known as Astra Zeneca), who not coincidentally produces breast cancer treatment drugs?
As women, we need to stand together and ask the question that no one wants asked (certainly no one at Susan G. Komen for the Cure). With all the money raised, why are we no closer to this Cure? The statistics tell the truth. This year, more than 192,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, accounting for more than one in four cancers diagnosed. And while it's true that from 1997 to 2006, there has been a steady decline in breast cancer deaths (1.9 percent a year), breast cancer rates have remained the same since 2003. A woman's chance of developing breast cancer sometime in her life is a little less than 1 in 8.
With all the races, walks, climbs, crusades, relief funds, white water rafting events (yes, you heard me...) and even recycling for the Cure, you'd think we'd have raised enough money to actually, well, cure breast cancer.
Yes, we have created improved treatments, more targeted therapies, better screening, better ways for a woman to detect her cancer early. But no one is really talking about preventing this plague in the first place! Not one discussion during October places the focus squarely on the lifestyle choices a woman can make to radically reduce her risk.
Now before you get your pink panties in a twist, this is not an indictment of all the strong, courageous women who have been diagnosed; who have suffered through devastating treatments; who have walked or run in support of their own strength and survival or the strength and survival of another woman. Okay? I have been through my own struggle with cancer, so I know from whence I speak, as the saying goes.
This is about organizations and corporations who prey on women when they are at their most vulnerable, when they're sick, frightened, about to lose a symbol of their womanhood. And we fall for it.
I just spent some time on the Susan G. Komen for the Cure website. It's an interesting resource of information for women who have been diagnosed: what they can expect; how to handle the road ahead; what options exist. But there's not a lot of information on what a woman can do to prevent breast cancer in the first place. Yes, they pay lip service to the concept that women need to live healthy lives, eat a healthy diet and maintain a healthy weight. Healthy eating suggestions are bullet points as a side bar on the pages about prevention.
But how can they really talk about healthy eating when they partner with the very kinds of companies that destroy the health of all people, not just women? Right on the home page one of the banner ads promotes 'sweet support' from Dove and M&M's. And yet if you click on the side bar about healthy eating, you'll see the bullet point advising that women 'eat fewer high fat foods and sweets' as a way to prevent breast cancer.
And then there is the partnership called 'Pink Together' with General Mills. You know this one. You buy a product and send proof of purchase to the corporation so they can make a donation to the Cure. Sounds good, right? But check out the products in the line-up and you'll wonder if Komen really wants to find this elusive Cure: Cinnamon Toast Crunch Cereal, Hamburger Helper, Pillsbury Crescents, Sweet Rolls and Refrigerated Cookie Dough, Betty Crocker Ready to Spread Frostings, muffin mixes and Warm Delights dessert mixes, all processed foods that steal our health. But there's Total cereal and Green Giant Frozen Vegetables as a nod to healthy options. And to their credit, they did remove the rBGH (a growth hormone and suspected carcinogen) from their Yoplait Yogurt.
But people get all in a snit when we talk about real healthy eating. I recently watched Paula Deen on The View online. She was promoting her new cookbook for kids, which is cover-to-cover calorically dense recipes that contribute to obesity and other lifestyle diseases in our children. Barbara Walters called her on the idea that cheesecake, chocolate cake and fried foods in kids' diets, all typically Paula Deen was questionable judgment. And Paula, in her breezy Southern style brushed off the criticism by saying that she wasn't encouraging kids to eat these kinds of things all the time...but the book has cheesecake for breakfast.
But wait, that's not the part that got me. After watching the piece, I took a couple of minutes to read the comments that people made about Barbara Walters' criticisms of the book. I was nothing less than amazed. Irate comments told her to go back to her hotel room and eat her tofu; that she should take her skinny butt off the show; that Paula Deen promotes eating together as a family and maybe Ms. Walters should try it, if she has a family. They even ranted about her apparent affair with a Senator when she was young. All because she told the truth on television; that there is a certain level of responsibility that comes with putting yourself out there as an authority or a public figure that people revere. All because she said that with the staggering rates of obesity in our kids, we should be teaching them healthy habits, not etching in stone the ones that have gotten us into trouble in the first place.
The fact that people get so defensive about the eating habits that make us weak, fat and sick is astonishing to me. Healthy eating creates vitality, well-being, strong immune function, glowing skin and hair, robust bodies. The fact that we can denigrate that and elevate the habits that create the very illnesses that require the founding of all the runs, walks and other awareness-raising events in the parade of the sick is at the root of what is rotting our society.
Here's something you should know before you pin on your next pink ribbon. The history of this little symbol began in the early 90's with Charlotte Haley, a woman who made peach ribbons to create awareness that of the National Cancer Institute's $1.8 billion budget only 5% went to the prevention of breast cancer. When she refused to sell her idea for ribbons to corporations because she thought they would turn the idea 'too commercial,' they simply stole it and changed the color to the comforting, soothing pink that is everything that breast cancer is not. And women are encouraged to shop, drive, dress and cook in solidarity with their sisters in disease.
Over 100 million dollars are raised each year for breast cancer research. That's big business. The corporations, organizations and industries that benefit from all these research dollars diminish or mask the extent of the problem, fail to protect women's health and divert attention from the importance of finding the causes of breast cancer and having real discussions about how to prevent it.
But then again, I guess we wouldn't need all those walks, runs, recycling projects, white water rafting and other fund raisers if we really got to the bottom of this and found the Cure.
Follow Christina Pirello on Twitter: www.twitter.com/christinacooks