Sunday, November 8, 2015

Pretty In Pink? Cancer Is Not Cotton Candy

It's that time of the year again. No, I'm not talking about Remembrance Day, nor am I talking about Christmas, though by the displays in many stores, December 25th is just around the corner. What's with that? It's early November.

It is the eleventh month, so that can only mean one thing: men across the country will bid adieu to their Gillette and Schick razors, and take up the call to rise for Movember. Yes, Movember. I too have decided to grow my beard out again (you're welcome ladies).

However, I am not doing so for "cancer awareness."

According to Prostate Cancer Canada, "Movember is the month formerly known as November, where men and women across the globe join together to raise awareness and funds for men's health, specifically prostate cancer, testicular cancer and men's mental health. Men (also known as Mo Bros) sign up online at" Yes, that's right, Mo Bros.

I was similarly unsettled several weeks ago when I went to a local hockey game in my small city and they were making a big deal of the players wearing pink jerseys as well as skate laces, etc to "raise awareness" for breast cancer in conjunction with an event called "Bowling For Boobs." (It makes me wonder what's next - Ninjutsu for Nuts?)

My problem is two-fold when it comes to campaigns such as the popular Pink Ribbon campaign as well as the countless runs, walks, fundraisers that dot the landscape each and every year. (Each month seems to be an awareness month for a certain type of cancer).

1) And I'll put this in bold, though I'll refrain from using capslock: We're "aware" already, for god's sake! What it is about awareness? Do organizers think that just because we hear an announcement for a benefit barbecue in the park, that thousands will steer their cars to the side of the road and say, "Holy Shit! There's a breast/colorectal/lung/prostate cancer crisis in this country?!" Who among us has not either been personally affected or known someone very close to us personally affected or who have died of this horrible disease? Enough awareness, it's time that more is done to actually see it and tackle it for the terrible disease that it is. More research, more money, stronger commitments. Now, I do realize that some of these fundraisers and benefits and campaigns do support and provide money for research. I guess I would just like to hear the usage of the word awareness disappear. In the last two years alone, I have had two cousins, a great-aunt, an aunt, and a good friend die of cancer, with other friends or family members surviving lengthy battles with it. I'm aware.

2) My second point is that cancer is not pretty. But there it is, pink pink, everywhere! According to the source of all things, Wikipedia, the pink ribbon was adopted as the official symbol of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in 1992. Since that time, you see pink on everything from t-shirts to teddy bears to car decals to toilet paper packaging. What you may not be "aware" of is that the Pink Ribbon movement is also a big money maker, with a significant amount of your donations not going to cancer research. Another interesting piece of history is before the dawn of the pink ribbon, Estée Lauder and Self Magazine initially approached Charlotte Haley, who had begun a peach-coloured ribbon campaign to press the National Cancer Institute to increase its budget for cancer prevention research. Haley refused to be part of what she felt was a commercial effort, so Estée Lauder and Self changed the colour of their ribbon to light pink in 2005, to circumvent Haley's efforts to stop them. Since then, billions of dollars have went to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, with consumers thinking that just because something has the colour pink on it and the words "cancer awareness" or "cancer research" on it, that your money is going to those things.

But back to the "cancer is not pretty" notion for a minute. Let me say now that I am sure that supporters wearing pink and rallying around family members and friends has helped millions of women and men throughout the years, and it will continue to do so. But there is a large group of people for whom this is not the case. I have not personally had cancer, but many who have or who have been affected by it say that "dolling" the disease up by slapping pink on it is not helpful to them.

To this effect, I highly recommend that you go to this link and watch the extremely eye-opening and somewhat shocking 2011 documentary Pink Ribbons, Inc. which talks about where the money is going, as well as how dolling up cancer is more than a little frustrating for many who have had or currently have the disease. It's worth skipping a movie on Netflix and watching this hour and a half doc.

So this November, I'll grow the 'stache, but I'll call it an early playoff beard.