Does Breast Cancer Awareness Month Hurt Women?

Here’s a post I wrote last year that got some people talking. Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Ask the person next to you what they believe to be is the #1 killer among women in the U.S. and you’re likely to hear “breast cancer.” And why wouldn’t you? It’s not a bad guess given the amount of attention it gets.  Come on, what other disease can boast an entire month dedicated to its awareness? And it practically owns the color pink! From chip clips to M&Ms… KFC fried chicken buckets…even Mike’s Hard Lemonade goes pink for breast cancer, served up with a slice of irony. Promoting breast cancer awareness with your sugary, greasy, salty or alcoholic product; the very same bad choices said to increase the risk of breast cancer? Odd, me thinks.

But across the board, breast cancer is not the largest killer of women, heart disease is, taking more lives from women than any other disease. And guess what? Often times, it can be prevented.  But how? According to the CDC, almost two-thirds of the women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease have no previous symptoms. But they do have risk factors. How many of us are aware of those? And what about lung cancer? With the exception of Hispanic women, lung cancer kills more women every year. When’s the last time you rocked the blinged-out lung cancer bracelet?

It seems every October, breast cancer gets even more attention than the year prior, I’m extremely grateful for that. It’s because of breast cancer awareness that I discovered I share the same genetic mutation that killed my 39-year-old mother. Breast cancer awareness provided me with an opportunity to be informed and empowered as the doctor explained the lump they had found in my breast. And without breast cancer awareness, I may not have received the tremendous amount of support and understanding from my friends, family and community as I underwent a double mastectomy four years ago. It’s because of breast cancer awareness that I am alive and well and writing this today.

But I can’t help but wonder if it hasn’t gone too far. Even the NFL was breast cancer aware over the weekend. 300 pound linebackers adorned in pink as they pummeled each other into the ground. You don’t see that for heart disease or lung cancer. Is it because sex sells and breasts are seen as provocative?  It’s not like you’d ever see a guy blow the mortgage money to watch a woman shake her heart, that’s for sure.  And speaking of dudes, where’s their awareness? More men than women are diagnosed with cancer every year but not once have I ever been knocked out by a sea of blue prostate awareness ribbons.

When it comes to breast cancer, with awareness comes controversy. Between greeting cards that talk about b*tch slapping cancer to provocative PSAs, some women argue that breast cancer awareness has stepped over the line into offensive territory. And schools absolutely agree, more and more across the country are banning rubber bracelets using the term “boobies” to support breast cancer. Understandable to me considering most kids wear them to draw attention to themselves, not the disease.

And back to the products. What a brilliant way for a company to make a buck, right? Turn your product pink and watch it fly off the shelves. I’d love to see the October sales numbers for those pink pretzel bags prominently displayed at the front of the store all month long. I bet most who grab a bag don’t even buy pretzels the rest of the year. And unless you’ve got time to research each individual company, we have no idea where the money from sales actually benefits anyone, our hard-earned cash could be going right into the pockets of a unethical and greedy business.

The amount of exposure breast cancer has gotten is a prime example of what the medical community, businesses and communities alike can do when we set our minds to something. In awareness lies incredible strides in prevention and early detection, saving more lives every year. While I can appreciate limited-time kitchen appliances, I think I will take this month to help educate and empower women to be aware and pro-active in the care of their own bodies.  Maybe even while I sip my pink tea.