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Viewpoint: Beyond the pink ribbons

BY JOANA MCKEOUN

Published November 11, 2012

This past month, you’ve probably seen the color pink everywhere on campus — on the Diag, Angell Hall club tables, the "Go Blue, Wear Pink" t-shirts, Facebook pages and even a "Best Chest" competition at a sorority. The color pink has successfully been associated with breast cancer awareness in our minds. Have you ever seen another cancer advertised? Even if you have, its visibility is nowhere close to breast cancer’s.

Don’t get me wrong; the color pink has led breast cancer to needed improvement, even though it's still the second leading cancer in women. But now it has turned into a market. The survival rate of breast cancer is continuously improving, and more women are getting check-ups yearly. In the last 60 years, survival rates have tripled. True, awareness helped this upsurge, but the breast cancer market has shifted. Breast cancer isn’t just a cancerous disease any more. It's marketable, profitable and even exploitative. For example, Sextoy.com offers a “Breast Cancer Awareness” vibrator. Other products that have used the pink ribbon include Evian water bottles, guns with pink handles, Panera, Fuze bottles, the National Football League, Yoplait yogurt, pepper spray, Hungry Howie’s pizza, Mike’s Hard Pink Lemonade and flowers at Kroger. The list goes on and on. Attaching the color pink encourages a purchase done for the company’s own benefit.

If you’re somehow associated with a different type of cancer, continually seeing the color pink may create a negative opinion towards the way breast cancer awareness is handled. If you search "cancer awareness" on Google images, you are greeted only with pink, pink and more pink. This doesn't just happen during breast cancer awareness month.

Karuna Jagger, an executive director of Breast Cancer Action, is offended by the current state of awareness. “Pink has become a distraction. You put a pink ribbon on it, (and) people stop asking questions,” Jagger said.

The color pink isn't serving its purpose of working against breast cancer anymore — it's simply being used now for publicity.

Research and awareness is needed for more than just breast cancer; breast cancer is no longer the highest leading risk and now many women repeatedly get mammograms. It has been the most funded cancer for years. The American Cancer Society gets the majority of its donations for breast cancer. Spreading the news that September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month or that dark blue is for colon cancer — which causes more deaths that breast cancer — could start a change. Promoting more than only the color pink could be so powerful.

I will admit to being biased because I personally battle a cancer with only a 33 percent survival rate (Breast cancer has nearly an 80 percent survival rate). It's beyond stressful being a cancer patient and seeing nothing but pink advertised everywhere.

If other cancers were given support, would their survival rates increase? Yes. There are people who aren’t surviving cancer because there aren’t as many funds available to find a cure for their disease. It’s a confusing reality that needs to change — cancer shouldn't be diminished to just a profitable pink ribbon.

Joana McKeoun is an LSA junior.