Why We Should Stop Caring So Much About Breast Cancer

No matter how much we dye Philly pink, there are still worse illnesses

Our managing editor for Phillymag.com thinks that breast cancer awareness has become a huge money-making scheme. Do you agree?

In case you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last 13 days: It’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. You can tell because the entire country — or at least this entire city — is drenched in pink. Of course, support shouldn’t be given simply because it is fashionable, but in October, that’s how it feels.

The fountain in LOVE Park has been dyed breast cancer’s signature color. Center City’s skyscrapers illuminate the sky with pink lights every night. Even the Eagles donned pink gear last weekend (and will continue to do so at home games this month.)

Why this outpouring of support? Because the Susan G. Komen Foundation told us we’re supposed to care.[SIGNUP]

The people behind the Komen Foundation have done a brilliant job marketing their cause. Thanks to them, it’s become very trendy to sport pink apparel or accessories during October.

And they aren’t alone. Many other businesses have jumped on the pink bandwagon — including Cartier who, in 2005, promised to donate $30,000 to breast cancer research in conjunction with their pink-ribbon watch. The only problem? With watches retailing at $3,900 each, their donation totaled the retail price of only eight watches. The rest of the money went straight to Cartier.

The exaggerated endorsement of breast cancer awareness is especially disconcerting when compared to the initiatives taken in support other deadly illnesses.

For example, the annual three-day Susan G. Komen walk feels outrageous when held against the American Heart Walk, a 5K that takes about an hour to finish. This is even more perturbing when you look at the statistics.

If heart disease kills more than 600,000 Americans annually — half of them women — and breast cancer kills 40,000, why aren’t we draping the town in red during February for American Heart Month? Or purple in November for National Pancreatic Awareness Month? While both breast and pancreatic cancer devastate patients and their families, breast cancer is highly treatable. Pancreatic cancer kills nearly 95 percent of patients diagnosed with the disease.

While the intention behind all this pink merchandise is altruistic — the Komen Foundation cites empowerment as one of its core principles — the actual act has become kitschy and overly sentimental. Instead of being a time to recognize the hardships and burdens of patients and their families, October has morphed into a weirdly cheerful celebration of breast cancer. Anyone who’s anyone knows someone with breast cancer.

Perhaps instead of designating specific cancers and colors to each month, it’s time to stop selling merchandise altogether and put our collective funds and thoughts toward eradicating all cancers and deadly illnesses. Perhaps, it’s time to stop segregating our support.

This post originally appeared on The Philly Post on Thursday, October 14, 2010.