An Awareness Umbrella? Breaking the Awareness Habit for Something More Meaningful

The Ad for the pink and white awareness umbrella reads:

“A beautifully constructed umbrella is appreciated rain or shine! Recipients will know you care when you pick gifts that show you’re there! Umbrella comes in clear vinyl sleeve. Awareness Pink Ribbon Design.”

Awareness. We see and hear that word a lot, especially when it comes to the cause of breast cancer. The pink ribbon signifies awareness. People want to raise awareness. Products and services claim to spread awareness. But what exactly does this commonly used word mean, and what does it mean in relation to breast cancer?

By definition, awareness refers to consciousness, conscious knowledge or mindfulness. We become knowledgeable by paying attention and being alert. The closer we look at something, the greater potential for deepening our knowledge and becoming more aware.

How many pink ribbons came across your field of vision today? Did you notice the pink and white umbrella, the billboard, the t-shirt, the address labels, the pizza box, the news story?

Many of the people I’ve talked to about the plethora of pink have told me that they never really noticed how much pink was floating around in public space. Of those who did notice, many of them didn’t think about it. Some ignored it. Some assumed it was a good thing to do on occasion. Some actively purchased pink ribbon products assuming that the money was helping to fund a cure. Some hated it.

But for the most part, very few people read the fine print, researched the organizations and programs being funded, learned whether any of the money supported research, examined the practices of the sponsoring companies, considered whether there might be a conflict of interest in certain cause marketing relationships, or wondered how the diagnosed might feel about doing their grocery shopping while being bombarded with pink ribbon balloons.

And why would they think about it? It would take considerable time and effort to discern whether pink consumption was serving the greater cause of breast cancer (aimed at eradication) while serving the diagnosed in the best way possible.

The pink ribbon symbol was successful in increasing the visibility of breast cancer as a women’s health issue. At one point this recognition carried with it a substantial amount of functional awareness about the rise of the epidemic, the need for targeted research, the importance of informed medical decision-making, and the value of sharing information and experiences with other diagnosed people. The ribbon encouraged deeper inquiry into these issues.

Today the pink ribbon is about advertising, and awareness is lost in a flurry of pink. What is missing is deeper knowledge about probabilities and risks, environmental links to cancer, the over-promise of medical technology, scientific controversies, health disparities, financial incentives of the cancer industry, the realities of people’s lives during and after treatment, and the marginalization of diagnosed women and men who do not fit neatly into the triumphant survivor story.

In the broader scheme of things, the pink ribbon no longer inspires conscious knowledge. It has become a habit.

To be aware of breast cancer, we must break the habit. To do so, we must look more closely at the pink ribbon culture and its effects. We must consider thoughtfully what serves the greater cause of breast cancer and humanity, and what does not? Breaking the habit may or may not be the end of ribbons (and that’s okay in my opinion). But breaking the habit will increase awareness of breast cancer, including how it relates to broader health and social concerns. Pink ribbon culture needs a new mantra. I propose this one:

“Keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness, blow the rest away.” – Dinah Craik, A Life for a Life, 1859

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To speak her truth, she needed to give her words and identity away, to a trusted poet and friend @stevedavenport breastcancerconsortium.net/ov…

“Pink Ribbon Blues”

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* GAYLE IN THE MEDIA *

"Seeing clearly through the pink haze" Toronto Sun

*Sad face*: Being happy does not help you live longer" New Scientist

How should we address breast cancer when norms continually change? The Guardian

Your Fun 'No Bra Day' Photos Are Overshadowing Terminal Breast Cancer Patients Broadly

Backlash against “pinkwashing” of breast cancer awareness campaigns BMJ

Breast Cancer to Rise 50 Percent by 2030? Hey, Not So Fast! Health News Review

Breast Cancer: The Flaws in the Cause iafrica.com

How to Make the Biggest Impact With Your Breast Cancer Donations Money

The Very Pink, Very Controversial Business of Breast Cancer Awareness Racked

NFL, Pink Ribbons Not Enough to Win over Women CNN

3 Questions We Need to Answer for Breast Cancer Awareness Month Chronicle of Philanthropy

The problem with National Breast Cancer Awareness Month Women's Health Magazine

Pink Ribbon Envy: Living with an Uncool Cancer The Nib

A Year After Bombings, Some Say 'Boston Strong' Has Gone Overboard NPR, All Things Considered

Canadian Mammogram Study KCRW, NPR Affiliate

Time to Debunk the Mammography Myth CNN

Breast Cancer: Awareness, Activism & Pinkwashing NPR Charlotte

Buying Pink Al Jazeera's The Stream Watch »

The Pink Backlash Orlando Sentinel

Why Jolie's Test Costs So Much CNN

Preventative Mastectomies: Disease and Deception BlogTalkRadio

Angelina Jolie and the 'Breast Cancer Gene' KCRW

Our Feel-Good War on Breast Cancer The New York Times Magazine.

The Story Behind the Pink Ribbon Campaign Sisters Talk Radio

WISH Interview Women's International Summit for Health

Making Cancer About The Patient, Not The Body Part CBS Pittsburgh

Sexy breast cancer campaigns anger many patients USA Today

The perils of pink The Daily

Komen pink campaign creates breast-cancer blues for some Dallas Morning News

A yellow flag for the NFL's pink New York Daily

Gayle Sulik named #7 in SharecareNow’s Top 10 Online Influencers in Breast Cancer

Breast cancer cancer causes so easily derailed Philly Inquirer

Komen Charity Under Microscope for Funding, Science Reuters

The Fight Against Cancer - And Abortion? Salon.com

Susan G. Komen For the Cure defunds Planned Parenthood. In Deep with Angie Coiro

Amid Breast Cancer Month, Is there Pink Fatigue? NPR's All Things Considered

How is Breast Cancer Culture Undermining Women's Health? America’s Radio News Network

Pink Ribbon Culture and Breast Cancer The Kojo Nnamdi Show

The Big Business of Breast Cancer
Marie Claire

Does Breast Cancer Awareness Month Crowd Out Other Diseases? Slate

Pink Inc. Has Many Starting to See Red The Sacramento Bee

Get Your Pink Off Ottawa Citizen

Komen Pink Ribbons Raise Green and Questions USA Today

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** MORE RADIO INTERVIEWS **