As the Breast Cancer Awareness Month comes to an end we are compelled to reflect on how much ‘awareness’ was truly had.
These days you can’t go on social media without someone promoting one awareness month or another.
The first reported organised breast cancer event was held in October 1985 in the United States.
In 1989, Evelyn Lauder, senior corporate vice president of the Estée Lauder Companies, was diagnosed with breast cancer and turned breast cancer awareness into a brand staple. She is credited with being the one to attach the pink ribbon to the cause.
These days breast cancer awareness has spread worldwide and countries all over organise walks, talks and sell numerous pink products to commemorate Breast Cancer Awareness month.
Not only have Zimbabweans been commemorating Breast Cancer Awareness month for years but we are privileged to have organisations like The Cancer Association of Zimbabwe and The Thokozani Khupe Cancer Foundation to help us stay informed.
In Africa, our medical industries are still young comparatively, as we lack advanced cancer centres our awareness programs focus heavily on screening and prevention.
However, in the West research is also part of where ‘pink’ funds end up.
There is a concern that there is not only a lack of transparency about funds but also that some of the pink products like chemicals in certain perfumes could in fact further exacerbate breast cancer.
Many organisations have the best of intentions and have great track records. For example, The Thokozani Khupe Cancer Foundation recently held an all-day event where talks were given on multiple topics including lifestyle interventions to help keep people cancer-free.
There is a popular term in the West, pinkwashing, this means supporting the breast cancer cause or promoting a pink ribbon product while producing, manufacturing, and/or selling products linked to the disease. In recent years the definition has expanded to include any company or organization that exploits breast cancer for profit or public relations motivations.
Let this be a cautionary tale to us to ensure we don’t just jump on bandwagons we are not fully clear about.
Many breast cancer sufferers and survivors feel like the real face of the disease is often disregarded. They begrudge the false optimism of Breast Cancer Awareness Month with its ‘pink on everything’ approach.
There is no mention of the endless hours of chemotherapy or the emotional toil the disease takes on the patient themselves and their families.
What then is a socially conscious person to do?
Breast cancer advocacy groups suggest you think through a few things before you participate in any event or buy any product.
These are the crucial things to ask yourself.
Does any money from this purchase or event actually go to support breast cancer research, awareness or support?
Does this purchase put you or someone you love at risk for exposure to toxins linked to breast cancer?
Do you agree with or want to support the specific organization this product or purchase is supporting? What do they do with their money?
In the words of Dr. Thokozani Khupe, “cancer has no discrimination it can affect anyone.”
Next year when you want to buy something pink, don’t shy away for fear of being taken advantage of or making someone rich under false pretences.
Just ask yourself the questions, as you never know, someday it might be someone close to you needing the support.