Friday, 1 October 2010


Today is the first day of October, which means it’s the first day of breast cancer awareness month. Now I don’t wish to sound churlish but I am personally looking forward to having a month when I am NOT aware of breast cancer. That said there is no doubt that this annual event has done masses to raise consciousness of breast cancer in the public mind, in terms both of understanding and acceptability.

Despite having been shown how to examine my breasts and having been given leaflets at my doctor’s surgery I was pretty hazy about what to look out for. A lump. But my breasts regularly had lumps. Sometimes I had them checked. They always turned out to be nothing. Was I being a hypochondriac? In 2005 I went to see a GP (a locum) and told him about a lump in my breast. He dismissed it as ‘Kylie Syndrome’. Kylie Minogue had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and apparently doctors’ surgeries up and down the country were being deluged with women complaining of mysterious breast lumps. I was taken aback, more by his rude assumption about my musical taste than by his obvious judgement of me as a neurotic with a phantom tumour. But I accepted that it was probably nothing to worry about. Did I miss the chance of a much earlier diagnosis? I will never know the answer to that. What I do know is that, with the wisdom of my current experience I would now choose to be much more insistent on a referral to a breast clinic. In the event, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer it did not manifest as a lump but as a rather tender and sore spot. I had always believed that breast cancer doesn’t hurt so I wasn’t worried. Wrong.

When I was a young(er!) woman BC was an affliction with a great deal of shame attached to it. It simply could not be discussed. I’m mortified to say that at one time in my life I was one of those who superstitiously refused to say the ‘C’ word. Maybe I’ve had my comeuppance? I remember a friend at school, Katherine, whose mother was suffering from breast cancer. Katherine’s father banned her friends from visiting the house. When her mother died Katherine didn’t say much about it. The shame was transferred from father to daughter. I think a great many women have suffered and possibly died unnecessarily because of this attitude of secrecy.

Hence I have to say that breast cancer awareness month is fundamentally a good thing. But the nobility of a cause never stops it being hijacked at every opportunity by cynical profiteers desperate to associate themselves with the pink ribbon. My inbox is clogged with emails offering me, amongst other things, the opportunity to feed any lurking cancerous cells with pink ribbon sugar cookies, bankrupt myself playing pink ribbon bingo, slather my face with parabens contained in countless pink ribbon lipsticks and moisturisers, whack cancer with a pink ribbon golf club or don a pair of pink ribbon running shorts and get the hell away from it all.

In one way it’s fantastic that all those companies are donating money to breast cancer charities but it also strikes me that just about anyone can slap a pink ribbon on just about anything and thereby bask in the warm pink glow of ‘supporting the fight against breast cancer’.

The American organisation Breast Cancer Action speaks out against this nonsense. It’s ‘Think Before You Pink’ campaign spotlights some choice examples: pink ribbon buckets of KFC – finger lickin’ battery farmed chicken deep fried in trans fats, coated in a secret recipe of white flour and salt; pink ribbon Yoplait yoghurt with added rBGH (an artificial growth hormone - banned in the EU); pink ribbon vodka and pink ribbon cars, to name only a few.

The Daily Mail recently ran an article listing their pick of pink ribbon beauty products. At no point did the article raise the question of possible carcinogenic or hormone disrupting additives in those cosmetics.

The ‘Think Before You Pink’ website puts it most succinctly: if shopping could cure breast cancer, it would be cured by now.”

Remember when I gleefully unwrapped my long awaited tube of Revitalash? At the time I remarked on the fact that there was a pink ribbon on the box. I subsequently emailed the PR company that represents Revitalash, asking the following question: Can you tell me what portion of the proceeds of sales of Revitalash go towards breast cancer research and to which programmes?”

This was the reply: “We do not have a set amount. The company donates a portion of the profits from all the products to several organizations throughout the year and participates in many fundraising events...”


The ‘Think Before You Pink’ campaign encourages us to ask the following questions before buying pink ribbon products:

How much money actually goes toward breast cancer programmes and services?

Where is the money going?

What types of programs are being supported?

What is the company doing to assure that its products are not contributing to the breast cancer epidemic?

It’s food for thought. After all, if I want to donate money to breast cancer charities I can simply go on any of their websites and enter my debit card number.

Still pining for pink ribbon products? Here are a few more hot items to choose from:


Anonymous said...

I am totally shocked.

canalily said...

Astonishing isn't it?

Anonymous said...

I suspected this and stay well clear of going with the pink ribbonism; it's just another consumeristic exploititive cop-out. Christmas is just over the horizon...

canalily said...

I think pink ribbons can be a positive thing. What we need is clarity about how much of the proceeds companies donate to which causes as well as a bit of common sense about the kinds of products that the pink ribbons are applied to. I would have no problem, for instance, with buying pink ribbon parabens-free moisturiser or pink ribbon organic blueberries.

Coming next - my Christmas wish list!

Anonymous said...

'kylie syndrome' at least she's got some class. I was told about 'Jade Goodi syndrome' at my smear test and I had to wait a month for the results because of Jade raising cervical cancer awareness. A friend of mine died last year - her GP told her lower abdomen lump was constipation. Trust your instincts not a GP. Thank heavens for celebrities raising awareness!

Helen Bromley said...

I think that this blog is excellent, a complete breath of fresh air.I love the 'pink' expose. I am currently hugely irritated by a so called 'game' on Facebook which purports to raise awareness of Breast Cancer by asking women to post their status as the place where they keep their handbag; for example 'I like it on the hall floor.' I find this insulting in the extreme. I have even had so called friends, who know my situation, suggesting this game to me!! As if me and my family were not aware enough. I am appalled by use of sexual innuendo. I have had one breast removed and had an immediate DIEP flap reconstruction. My sex life will never be the same again. Chemotherapy is painful and long. I still await another op and 5 weeks of Radiotherapy, 5 years of tamoxifen and a lifetime of fear and anxiety. I love that this blog is a place where some truths are explored and myths are exploded. Breast Cancer is NOT pink and pretty. It's awful! More power to you!!

canalily said...

Right on Helen!

Anonymous said...

Well, Breast Cancer Awareness Month has flown by - I certainly agree that BC isn't 'pink & pretty' but is a horrible experience (I just count each 'all clear' as a bonus), but I do welcome the raised awareness...I was completely unaware of BCAM until I was diagnosed...but am involved with Breast Cancer Care as a volunteer. I suppose this makes me a bit biased in favour of 'all things pink'... if you don't want to get on the commercial 'pink bandwagon' - at least by supporting 'Pink Fridays' you know that all the proceeds are going to a good cause. Best wishes to everyone currently going through DC treatment. xx

Anonymous said...

I have to say BRAVO!!! I find it great that you are conscious of the stigma that was and is now washing away in a bath of pink. My mother was diagnosed in 1978 and NO ONE talked about it. I was only 4 at the time and I didn't even know she had cancer until I was 10. I must say I donate hundreds annually directly to the Komen foundation and other direct charities. However I happen to love the color pink, so I succome to some of the hype and pray that even the small amount that may make its way past the profit coffers into the hands of researchers does help towards the final goal. Continue to be strong in your fight, and if I find those pink ribbon shoes I will wear them with pride. They are just too yummy not to want!