The Pinking of My Cancer Journey

Cancer reminders are everywhere. I still get tons of postcards and phone call reminders from all the various cancer doctors for follow-up. TV, print ads, and news stories are always talking about it.

Then came my first Breast Cancer Awareness month. It was not easy navigating this month of raising consciousness while undergoing breast cancer treatment. I was writing about my radiation treatment on my blog in October at my local Panera Bread when one of the female workers approached me. She asked if I wanted to purchase a pink bagel to help cure cancer.

As I sat frozen in my chair writing about cancer, this worker unknowingly caught me totally off guard. I had to get this straight: a worker was walking around selling pink bagels for the Susan G. Komen Foundation on “my” behalf. Panera wanted me to spend one dollar on this pink bagel wrapped in plastic. Where do I begin to talk about all the things wrong with that? First of all, my stomach was sick just thinking of the woman going around the store collecting money for this horrible disease that I had. I had such a love-hate relationship with what was transpiring around me. I loved the fact that people wanted to help, but also hated the fact that people were nonchalantly donating money to “finding a cure.” Was the “cure” a pink-dyed, white-flour, sugar-laden bagel wrapped in carcinogenic plastic? It didn’t feel like finding a cure to me. It sounded like exploiting a disease.

Here I was trying to eat my greens three times a day and this woman was putting this pink bagel in the name of cancer in my face. It just didn’t jive with me. The last thing I wanted to put in my body was a bagel, never mind it being pink! I felt pressured to buy this bagel in solidarity for breast cancer. Believe it or not, I reached into my wallet and found a dollar. The bagel sat in the plastic wrapper for weeks on my counter before I even remembered it was there. I had to remove myself from the mainstream belief that this bagel was going to help cure cancer. Even before I got my diagnosis, I had always had a problem with any group that glamorized a disease. The pink ribbon symbol didn’t cut it. The whole idea that breast cancer is this pretty sisterhood disease is just not true.

Dozens of companies raise funds in the name of breast cancer. But how can they promote finding a cure while pushing products that have strong links to causing it? Examples include facial creams with a “breast cancer company” stamp on them that contain parabens, a known carcinogen, or various perfumes that have toxic chemicals in their ingredients.

And then there’s the food companies cashing in too. Yoplait yogurt sold pink-lidded yogurt to raise money for breast cancer. Unfortunately, the yogurt came from cows stimulated by the artificial hormone rBGH, which studies have demonstrated increase the risk of breast cancer, according to the group PR Watch. KFC also jumped on the pink-washing bandwagon, selling pink buckets of fried chicken to help “end breast cancer forever.” In the “Buckets for the Cure” campaign, you could buy a five-dollar bucket of fried food and KFC promised to donate fifty cents to fight breast cancer. I’m not even going to address the animal cruelty behind KFC; many websites are dedicated to exposing the horrifying details of how KFC suppliers treat their chickens. The issue I have is the potential cancer-causing ingredients in KFC’s food.

The big problem I have with the Susan G. Komen Foundation is that they receive more than $55 million in annual revenue from corporate sponsors like Coca-Cola, General Mills, and KFC. These are not exactly health-minded groups that I would associate with. I don’t think you need to be a healthy person to see that there is a problem with a company that claims to “Find a Cure” and associates themselves with a fast food company.

The heartbreaking truth is that not one dollar of these “Find a Cure” efforts is put toward prevention. No funds are going to boost awareness about the important role of vitamin D in fighting cancer, how sugar adds to cancer growth, or the beneficial effects mushrooms have against cancer. That truth makes me sad. Cancer is a billion-dollar business, and no one is looking to cure it, just treat it with drugs.