I’m happy that you came by again today for a visit. Would you care for a glass of pink lemonade for a change? Or, maybe pink tea? It’s a beautiful sunny day here, and I could really use the company. I am off work in misery with fractured ribs from coughing – the leftovers of a nasty flu virus that had me literally seeing double for 5 straight days. It’s just been an unbelieveable time.
There was a compelling interview on Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) Radio on Friday, January 27th with National Film Board (NFB) Producer Ravida Dinn who is challenging the iconic Pink Ribbon movement, its unending conglomerate fundraising, and where all the money goes. The interviewer referenced that despite billions of dollars raised every year to fight breast cancer, it seems we are no closer to a cure, prevention or, more importantly, finding the cause.
The pink ribbon is not new to controversy.
Some think it’s more about support and less about the solution. Breast cancer is an epidemic around the globe and, despite all that we are doing, we still have no idea what is causing it! 59,000 women in North America die each year from breast cancer. The disease incidence remains high – I am ONE of 23,000 women newly diagnosed each year. (I was diagnosed in 2010 – 1.5 years after first seeing my doctor about the lump in my breast).
Women ARE living longer but , it seems, we still haven’t figured IT out. Currently, the biggest risk factor is just being a woman, and that’ a scary thing. NOT GOOD ENOUGH. Listening to what Ravida Dinn has to say – maybe we aren’t doing enough of the RIGHT things in waging an effective fight against breast cancer. Maybe there IS a SMARTER way to engage in the battle?! This is, after all, a WAR. Maybe we SHOULD be asking more questions. Maybe we SHOULD be demanding more answers…
The business of the pink ribbon…
An NFB feature documentary called “Pink Ribbon Inc.” produced by Din and directed by Lea Pool opened in select Canadian theatres a week following Din’s CBC interview. On Sunday, March 11th, I trotted off to the LSPU Hall to view the film hosted by the St. John’s Women’s International Film Festival. It was the quickest 90+ minutes I’ve ever spent. I was captivated from the start and the time flew – by the end of the film, it seemed more like only 20 minutes has passed!
Pink Ribbon Inc. observes the amazing staying power of the “ultra-feminine dream cause” thousands of corporations align themselves with each year and use as a powerful marketing tool, important in looking for new markets and branding themselves as good citizens.
80% of household decisions are made by women…
Pink is presumably soft and safe – a surefire way to reel in the corporate dividends. Breast cancer is the “cross-marketing poster child” for everything from airlines, car manufacturers, credit cards and cosmetics to time management, teddy bears, fashion and food products. KFC in the U.S. even has a pink bucket that has many scratching their heads! Chances are if you can think of it, there is likely a pink ribbon attached to it – legitimately* or otherwise! Potential profits in the breast cancer marketplace are steep since 80% of household decisions are made every day by women. Breast cancer, undoubtedly, is BIG business and it’s everywhere – just like the disease…
Ravida Din, herself treated for breast cancer some years ago, admits that she has never identified with the pink ribbon and questions our naive willingness to get into bed with companies whose goal is profits over health. The film speaks to the hypocrisy of large conglomerates who profit from the disease. There are several riveting issues addressed in the film that are sure to stir emotions and get everyone thinking and re-thinking about the unstoppable mega PINK fundraising machine and the glitzy business giants who stand to profit from it.
What is “Pink Washing”?
- The concept of ‘Pink-Washing’, i.e. companies who promote themselves as looking for a cure, making money off the disease while selling products that could be hazardous to women’s health. The film’s makers allude that many well-known ‘Pink Ribbon Companies’, including popular cosmetic giants, according to environmentalist claims, refuse to sign a safe cosmetics agreement continuing to produce products that contain known carcinogens. Reportedly, car manufacturers, too, are riding the breast cancer bandwagon while vehicle emissions are to be a known cause and many of the companies’ employees who happen to be women have been diagnosed with the disease.
- DID YOU KNOW? Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which began in October 1985, has its origins with a pharmaceutical company now known as AstraZeneca, creator of the anti-breast cancer drug Tomoxifen. Shockingly, the company is reportedly the leading manufacturer of crop pesticides!
- DID YOU KNOW? The first pink ribbon was actually salmon-coloured, the invention of 68-years young Charlotte Haley. Charlotte was fed up watching many of her close family members battle breast cancer, so she decided to take matters both figuratively and literally into her own hands, cutting peach ribbons from cloth while sitting at her dining room table. Her genuine intent of this simple gesture was to protest to her government the shameful lack of money being invested in finding a cure for breast cancer. The original ribbons were affixed to a card that said, “The National Cancer Institute’s annual budget is $1.8 billion, only 5% goes for cancer prevention. Help wake up our legislators and America by wearing this ribbon.” When asked by Estee Lauder to share her ribbon, Charlotte denied the request refusing to allow it to be used to impact the company’s bottom line. On the advice of its corporate legal team, Estee Lauder simply changed the colour and, before long, pink ribbons adorned many of the conglomerate’s products.
- The point that Din and Pool are making is that if companies TRULY care, there is no room for hypocrisy in this fight of our lives. Period. The purpose of their film is to challenge us to be more demanding in that focus be on the cause and prevention of breast cancer – on saving the lives of women.
Pink is everything cancer is not!
Pink has always been my favourite colour since I was a little girl. Pink is beautiful, calming, feminine, joyous… Ironically, pink is everything breast cancer is NOT. Sadly. Breast cancer is far from pretty, feminine or pink! There is nothing pretty or warm and fuzzy about breast cancer. It is a horrible, lonely disease. Like a thief in the night, it robs precious, irreplaceable time. It robs women and their families of any sense of bliss or peace. If you are lucky, it causes you to be constantly on alert, always looking over your shoulder and around the corner. If you are unlucky, it steals your life. Women, indeed, have a right to be sad, angry, demanding, even militant for God’s sake. Insightfully declared by feminist Barba Ehrenreich, it’s not Welcome to CandyLand, it’s “Welcome to CancerLand!” She is author of a book of the same name.
So here we are. We started out decades ago walking for the cure. Now, in 2012, we find ourselves en masse running, jumping, dancing, shopping, cooking, kissing, pouring, ‘busting a move’ and more…all for the cure. The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation’s (CBCF) own marketing campaign suggests: ‘DO EVERYTHING’ for the cure! Is anyone getting tired here?!
You know that well-known adage, “It’s not time that heals all wounds, it’s what you DO with that time…” What have we been doing all this time in searching for the cure for breast cancer?
As the producer of the film, “Pink Ribbon Inc.”, Din challenges that it is difficult to dissect where the entire pot of money goes. So, why is it that after millions of people volunteering trillions of hours and raising billions of dollars, are we not seeing any improvement? The film asserts that a lot of money goes for treatment and control, and less is focused primarily on prevention and disease origins. Is there an untold story here? Din is using her thought-provoking film as a mechanism for social change and it just may be the spark to ignite the fire. Her film takes a critical approach in getting people to REALLY look at the ways in which the fight against breast cancer is being waged and where it is headed down the road…
CBCF is not impressed with the film.
The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation (CBCF) feels that the film is not an accurate portrayal of their organization’s goals or reflective of their commitment and the work that they do. A representative of the organization stated in the same January CBC interview that there are many untruths presented in the film. CBCF reports that of the funds raised in support of finding a cure for breast cancer, 65% goes to research and, of that percentage, 10% goes to projects focused on risk factors and risk reduction. They refute the film’s claim that new instances of the disease are up, while not enough is being done to actually STOP the disease in its tracks. They counter that although the rate of incidence ( 1 in 9 women in Canada will be diagnosed with breast cancer each year) has not changed in 25 years, survival rates ARE, in fact, up and treatments have improved and are most effective. Women ARE living longer with a better quality of life than decades previously. CBCF further argues that the alarming rate by which cancer is increasing as presented in the film, is somewhat misrepresented countering that it is a global number and that developing countries account for much of the increase.
CBCF defends its record in investing in cancer research. The organization cites references to significantly funding a number of life-changing medical breakthroughs in recent years, and believes that corporate support and fundraising is a WIN-WIN-WIN for all. CBCF suggests that no one is forced to buy pink products. *And, if you are in doubt about a company’s claims about its product and support, you are encouraged to contact CBCF for validation. Their message is simple:
“Donate wisely. Think Before You ‘Pink’.”
CBCF expressed it is most concerned about the impact of the NFB film on people who, together with their families and friends, are very involved in raising monies to find a cure, especially those who are experiencing breast cancer. According to a CBCF representative, those people said the film made them feel “sad”.
The timing of this film coincides with my desire to grow Garden Pink Days here in this province. When producing the inaugural Pink Days event at Pat’s Plants and Gardens last July while still on medical leave from my work recovering from cancer treatments, I was approached by CBCF-Atlantic who asked if we would support the organization in our fundraising efforts. I immediately raised some of the same questions being asked in the film and that I am just plain tired of raising money for breast cancer year after year, when it seems we are no nearer to reaching that illusive cure. So at the very least, we would wish that monies stayed in our province to help with equipment and treatment programs for our ‘sisters’ living among us….The Coordinator offered to send me CBCF-Atlantic’s annual report so that I could see for myself where the monies are being spent and how the dollars are being used in this province. I was convinced that we should support CBCF-Atlantic.
“WHEN YOU DO nothing, you feel over- whelmed and powerless. But when you get involved, you feel the sense of hope and accomplishment that comes from knowing you are working to make things better.” ~ Unknown
After all is said and done, I welcome the film and subsequent debate that surrounds it. Din takes a hard-nosed, critical approach in getting people to really look at the ways in which the fight against breast cancer is being waged and where it is headed. It gets people thinking, questioning, and putting everything under the microscope at all levels. There is always room for improvement in everything; and if this film serves as a tool to do that, then it’s all good. Right?
DID YOU KNOW?
Run for the Cure was held at 60 locations across Canada in 2011; 170,000 people participated and raised $30 million. Family, friends, neighbours and co-workers have run in my name and have raised thousands in the past two years. This event, along with other mass fundraisers, often have been labelled as ‘cult-like’. Well, from my perspective, anything that brings people together in the neighbourhoods and communities where we live, and inspires hope and support, and makes us all feel good while raising monies together in the quest for a better quality of life – free of breast cancer – is a good thing. To know that we are not alone is a good thing.
I encourage you to see the movie. Open your mind, start new conversations and thinking about how things can be challenged with a purpose for improvement and ultimately swifter action in finding a cure. In the meantime, I am not discouraged and will keep on with Pink Days in Bloom – any collective action that inspires women and their families and that can help even in a microscopic way is well worth the effort. We cannot underestimate even the smallest efforts. I am proud to support CBCF-Atlantic Region.
I believe that while there may be lots of room for improvement in coordinating research efforts around the globe, increasing awareness is a positive thing. Some may argue that we are already aware. I can attest there were many things I did not know about the disease before having been diagnosed with it. Anything that helps women feel empowered in the face of this dreaded disease and that supports survivors and their families is a good thing. My dear friend Connie wrote to me in an email once, “Leave it to you to make from lemons, pink lemonade!” It has buoyed me in a tumultuous time in my life and keeps me going…
I’d love to hear your ‘pink thoughts’. Thank you for dropping by today. And, I hope you’ll come back again soon. Wishing you a beautiful day!
Check out the great video in this post:
Check out Pink Days in Bloom on Facebook here:
This is my favourite of all Pinks! Doesn’t this beautiful sight just make your heart go pitter patter?! Gardening season is just around the corner…Come on out to the Spring Landscape and Garden Show on April 28-29 at the Jack Byrne Arena and talk with volunteers at the Pink Days in Bloom space to learn where there’s a Pink Day happening at a garden centre near you this summer! We can’t wait to see you there!