Every two minutes, a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States.
With numbers like that, it makes sense that when we are shopping for groceries, we would buy the box of cereal with a pink ribbon on it rather than the one without. Part of our purchase goes to finding a cure for breast cancer, right? Or to supporting survivors and their families? Or to educating about breast cancer prevention and recovery?
Not always. For many companies, stamping a package with a pink ribbon just means that they're “raising awareness" — and that pink ribbon is rarely accompanied by any facts or figures to actually educate the public.
While organizations like Susan G. Komen for the Cure and the Avon Foundation are painting the country pink this Halloween season, some people are pushing them to do better and are raising public awareness of a different problem. On Oct. 7, the Better Business Bureau of Greater Houston and South Texas issued a notice to consumers to “be on alert for 'pinkwashing' and breast cancer charity scams."
Pinkwashing is what happens when your grocery store aisles and football jerseys suddenly turn pink for a month in the name of “supporting breast cancer awareness."
Technically speaking, yes, people are more “aware" of breast cancer as a result.
Those pink ribbons are pretty conspicuous. They also aren't trademarked (although the Komen Foundation has trademarked their own version of the pink ribbon), so pretty much any company can put a ribbon on a package and call it a day without actually having to give any money or do anything about breast cancer.
It sometimes feels like awareness organizations care more about the body parts and less about the actual people living with cancer.
Those awareness campaigns rarely include any information other than the obvious: Breast cancer exists, and it's scary. And while some campaigns are just empty promises of awareness, others are also fairly short-sighted.
With campaigns like “Save the Tatas" and “I Love Boobies" implying that the breasts are more important than the people attached to them, it sometimes feels like awareness organizations care more about the body parts and less about the actual people living with cancer.
Finding a cure, building survivor support networks, and raising awareness about early detection are all admirable goals.
Donating directly to an organization helps ensure that more of your donation goes toward breast-cancer-related research and support programs. But not all organizations use their funds the same way. A portion of donations always go toward company overhead — and that's OK. Nonprofits need to pay their staff members and pay the rent on their buildings.
But figuring out where to direct your donations dollars and support to make sure they're actually being used wisely is sometimes a lot harder than it should be.
Here's a list of five organizations other than Komen or Avon that you might want to support this Breast Cancer Awareness Month:
The Breast Cancer Research Foundation believes that to achieve a world without breast cancer, we need to fund research to understand how cancer works, how to prevent it, and how to cure it. Of all money donated, 88% goes directly toward research, and only 3% goes toward awareness programming. They're still pinking out this October, but you can rest easier knowing that your dollars are funding scientists across the globe. And this month, a donor is matching all gifts to the BCRF — up to $50,000 total.
Sisters Network Inc. is dedicated to educating about the impact that breast cancer has on black communities. Black women experience the highest breast cancer mortality rates, and breast cancer is the second-highest cause of death among black women — behind only lung cancer. Sisters Network Inc. provides financial assistance for medical-related lodging, prosthesis, copays, and office visits. They also lead educational initiatives targeted toward young women.
The Susan F. Smith Center for Women's Cancers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute provides medical services for breast cancer patients, including treatment therapies, reconstructive surgeries, diagnostics, and customized treatment plans. Although their breast-cancer-related services are housed in their Center for Women's Cancers, they have a program dedicated to supporting and treating men with breast cancer.
The Breast Cancer Fund is working to connect the dots between breast cancer and environmental factors that cause breast cancer. They educate about chemicals in food, packaging, and cosmetics that may be linked to breast cancer. You won't find a splash of pink on their website because BCF believes that we are all plenty aware of breast cancer and it's time to work on taking action.
Living Beyond Breast Cancer builds connections between people who have been affected by breast cancer. It's based in Pennsylvania, but they work nationwide. And Healthline listed their blog as one of the best breast cancer blogs of 2014. Their online resources include webinars, help chat lines, writing workshops, and live-stream panels, so anyone can access support services — regardless of where they live.
Breast cancer survivors deserve more than pretty pink ribbons — they deserve real hope, strong support systems, and accessible medical care.
So while we're painting our towns pink this Breast Cancer Awareness Month, let's make sure that we're also supporting organizations that are spreading real knowledge and working directly with those affected.