“Fatigue Indeed” – NY Times Well Blog

Barron Lerner MD published a review of Pink Ribbon Blues in The New York Times yesterday with the title “Pink Ribbon Fatigue.”

The title captured the reality that many of us warily and wearily march through Pinktober as we try to discern whether all of this pink is doing any good. Lerner rightly points out that breast cancer events do have the potential to create “emotional uplift” and a “sense of community” for survivors, and that “the pink ribbon has been a spectacular success in terms of bringing recognition and funding to the breast cancer cause.” Yet, there are many individuals, like me, who are impatient about the lack of progress toward the eradication and prevention of the disease and who are concerned about the exploitation of breast cancer for commercial and ideological purposes.

The article situates the current anguish among growing numbers of breast cancer advocates and others within the history of breast cancer activism, revealing that the hard won successes of early activists involved much more than ribbons. In fact, much of breast cancer advocacy has had implications beyond the disease itself.

The National Breast Cancer Coalition’s call to eradicate breast cancer by 2020 falls within a broad agenda that prioritizes consumer involvement in research, environmental links to cancer, prescription drug coverage, genetic nondiscrimination in insurance, evidence-based medicine, the Patients’ Bill of Rights, and the importance of educating the public about how to evaluate scientific and medical research.

Likewise, Rose Kushner, who “took on not only the radical mastectomy but also the practice in which doctors decided whether or not to remove cancerous breasts while women were under anesthesia,” was committed to uniting the goals of breast cancer advocacy with the broader women’s health movement. After being diagnosed with breast cancer in 1974 and researching her own disease, she became dedicated to the critical analysis of health issues, the rights of patients to access information and make choices, and the role of the medical consumer in shaping public policy. To further these goals, Kushner helped to establish the National Women’s Health Network.

Breast Cancer Action’s concerns about industries that promote the pink ribbon for publicity but then contaminate the environment with carcinogenic byproducts or sell products that actually contribute to cancer, speaks to broader issues about corporate responsibility, environmental sustainability, and public health.

The problem with pink ribbon culture is that it has become myopically focused on sustaining itself. Not only will this narrow view fail to eradicate breast cancer, it will fail the public trust and the public’s health. Dr. Lerner got at the crux of the matter: In the midst of all the pink, we need to “examine the facts anew.” This is what Pink Ribbon Blues is meant to do.

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1 comment to “Fatigue Indeed” – NY Times Well Blog

  • Ah! Thank you for continually examining this issue. I think your point about pink ribbon culture being focused on self-sustaining is a great one.

"women urged to get screened because it might save their lives. But that’s only 1 possible outcome, and it’s the least likely one" @cragcrest cutt.ly/jei8WJr

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