Unnecessarily Pink

My entry into the #WhyIsThisPink fray is a bit different but important to me. I get that most submissions are the silly, pinkwashed items created simply to fatten the bottom line of corporations using the color to get some goodwill from mostly female shoppers. So why have I chosen to submit here a picture of the cancer center where I was treated, all aglow from the soft pink light shining on it for the month of October?


I’ve ranted about this in What Do You Mean There Are OTHER Kinds of Cancer Besides Breast?!–three (3!) years ago (but this picture was taken only a few days ago). Here is what I said about it then:

I do not understand the need for breast cancer awareness…at a cancer center, for crying out loud. A building that exists as a place to treat cancer patients is the epitome of all cancer awareness. Thus, a pink light becomes overkill, a pink light becomes the favoring of patients with breast cancer—their lives? their money?—over all other cancer patients, a pink light becomes the shoving of a cause down many gagging throats.

I still hold the same opinion. Yes, businesses selling alcohol, deli meats, and cosmetics (all things that might increase cancer risk), are worthy of calling out. But a cancer center bathed in pink light–a center that does NOT use other colored lights in other months–is far worse to me.

No, I’m not flirting with conspiracy theory here–this isn’t some Big Pharma/Medical Industry-is-withholding-the-cure-because-it’s-more-lucrative-to-keep-cancer-patients-in-treatment tinfoil hat kind of thing. I revisit the medical industry ethics as I’ve done before in Medical Obligations and SELL!. It is important to keep in mind how hospitals/cancer treatment centers sell their services with some of those questionable messages: “your cancer can be an opportunity for personal growth”. Or the how the existence of breast care ONLY facilities make breast cancer a proxy for all of women’s health, when we all know heart disease is the actual number one killer of women, with lung cancer coming in at number two. Medical institutions emphasizing breast care to play into fears of women rather than correcting those fears (to get their money?) is tantamount to medical misinformation. And the result in me is even more mistrust than I already had.

I’m aware some medical professionals object to being called health care providers, insisting they are not mere service providers. But I think it is important for people (especially in the US) to keep in mind that we do indeed purchase care, and it is costly. To remove the monetary element, as if talking about money is somehow gouache when it’s about “saving lives”, this is just wrong. Patients and “providers” alike need to get over it. For me at least, the financial aspect of cancer is a big part of the ongoing stress of cancer.

And I reiterate, a pink light on a cancer treatment center just screams out to me this message: so many women, so much breast cancer, let’s lure them here, we need those customers, whoops, we mean patients. Always remember, we are both of those.

That’s the money side, the pink-for-profit side, of my entry into #WhyIsThisPink. But of course I have more.

What really bothers me about a pink-lit cancer center is that it reinforces how Pink has become such a Godzilla that all other cancer patients are feeling ignored and angrier with each passing year. I’ve noticed an increase this year (keep in mind this is just my perception here) of angry reactions when we criticize the perky Pink. Or even in pieces that do NOT criticize Pink, but rather embrace it. “What about X cancer?” inevitably pops up.

I can understand this anger to a point. As I stated in the above referenced blog post:

This is what Pink has come to; some perceive it as edging out absolutely every other disease and cause in an obnoxious way, and one’s perception is his or her reality. It is not exactly clear who these patients hold responsible for all this shoving down of the throat. The pieces I’ve seen and read do not seem to differentiate between products with ribbons on them (the kind that claim to send a few pennies to a charity or the ones that just have a pink ribbon with no such claim), pink parade-like races, or people wearing anything from tiny pink ribbon pins to head to toe pink-logoed ensembles. Perhaps it appears all the same to the very frustrated.

I can understand how ungrateful we must sound when we criticize all the Pink crap. But my understanding of this has developed a limit. (For starters, I again refer to Burden of Gratitude.) The other day I actually saw someone ask in a comments section “why does breast cancer get all the attention?” Really? The concept that there is no such thing as a dumb question is a lie–THAT is a dumb question. Breast cancer gets all the attention because sex sells, and well, boobies. Anyone who does not understand that clearly does not understand the concept of advertising and that is inexcusable in the 21st century. Grow up.

I’ve said before that awareness is a two way street. All the corporations and people drenched in Pink, making breast cancer sexy and cute in the name of “awareness” need to become AWARE of the unintended consequences, which is the impact on other cancers. That would be the resentment, the ill will that is now becoming apparent from advocates of other diseases. Yes, I realize not ALL advocates display this resentment, but it is there, and deserves acknowledgement. And it isn’t just the Pink pushers that should be mindful of what is going on. I have voiced before, and do so again, strenuously, that resorting to the comparison, the “what if everyone made X cancer sexy” is a tone deaf and insulting method. Some cancers/diseases are so ignored, that many would welcome ANY kind of attention. Just as it does for some members of the breast cancer community, the “any awareness is good awareness” point of view rules.

Now, of course, I think that viewpoint is wrong-headed. I am merely acknowledging how tone deaf that particular comparison comes off when breast cancer patients, with our “first ribbon problems”, drag out the “let’s make X cancer sexy” cliche. But here’s the thing: I’ve seen so much in the way of knee-jerk reactions this year–and very little listening, very little effort to understand the many well thought out arguments we make. It is very easy for advocates to snap, “X cancer should be so lucky, look at all the money/attention breast cancer gets”. It is time for all awareness, not just breast cancer awareness to grow up, to become savvy. The issues of unjust fund allocation to metastatic breast cancer has been explained time and again. The issue of how so many businesses slap a pink ribbon on something and donate very little or even nothing, has be explained repeatedly. The theory that all this rah rah visibility has “cured” breast cancer so that it is a “good” cancer has been debunked thoroughly. Yet, these issues must be re-explained each October. And it seems rather than actually reading/listening/comprehending, all I see is knee-jerk reactions “stop biting the hand that feeds and pay attention to X disease.”

Maybe we ALL need to stop and take a breath and have some kind of discussion in which a side is presented and another side is not allowed to respond for a few minutes. That old adage about listening to respond rather than to understand, or that idea that 51% of communication is listening (NOT talking), these things are true. The problems with Pink are being explained, thoroughly, carefully. But we don’t seem to be getting anywhere.

I guess this is why I have not been able to write a post in a few weeks. It is difficult enough to explain The Way Things Are In Pink CancerLand during the year; in Pinktober it seems impossible.

I return to my #WhyIsThisPink submission of a cancer treatment center bathed in pink light–an insult to the patients with other cancers who are also treated there. We’ve got to move forward and evolve in all disease discussions. That pink light on a cancer treatment facility is blinding everyone. Turn it off.

Author: Cancer Curmudgeon

Oct 2010 diagnosed with Stage 3, HER2+ Breast Cancer. Completed treatment Jan 2012. Waaaaaay over pink. Applying punk rock sensibility to how I do cancer.

6 thoughts on “Unnecessarily Pink”

  1. Hi CC,
    Another thought-provoking read. I find it appalling a cancer center would deck itself out in pink. Yes, overkill. No kidding. I do think the pink ribbon, and therefore breast cancer, has become the “bully” (not best word, but all my mind can come up with to make my point) of ribbons which might also make it the “bully” of cancers. I know there is resentment out there in the larger cancer community. As I’ve mentioned before, I find much of the advertising being done at cancer centers to be questionable. Some day I’ll write that post. And I totally agree with you about that listening thing. Listening has become sort of a lost art. (Think politics, for instance). I must say, I think I am seeing less pink paraphernalia around here this year. Or else I have become much better at tuning it out. Clearly your cancer center didn’t receive the “let’s tone the pink down” memo though. Lordy. Definitely the perfect #WhyIsThis Pink example. Thanks for the post.


    1. Thanks Nancy! I really do think medical facilities should take the lead on this, with these pink lights and just the sheer misinformation. Their feet must be held to the fire. Grr.
      Yeah, I hear you -bully probably is the best word, really. I think I’ve seen less pink crap this year too, but it seems the knee jerk reactions from other cancers is more aggressive this year–but it is likely just me noticing it more. I know my stance on the insensitivity of the “what if we treat other cancers like this” is not popular, but I stand by it.
      Anyway, thanks for reading this–I do hope more conversation comes of it, but I doubt it.


  2. I get so much understanding about breast cancer from reading your posts. This one in particular is very moving for me. Your honesty in which you present your views are touching. Its as if I am sitting right there with you talking with a dear friend. I so appreciate you for sharing your heart with me.
    I host a radio show each week and next week I will be discussing HEALTH in general. May I quote you in my discussion? As you are aware many assumptions are made or ignorance abounds when those not not affected begin to speak on the subject. My goal is to always teach my audience so they are informed and become more knowledgeable.
    Again my sincere THANKS for your writing and sharing.


    1. Sure, please quote (could you send me a link to your program via email?). As I said to Nancy above, the health industry should lead here in 1) getting out proper info, not misinformation and 2) end the pink lights on buildings. When I was still in a real life support group–at that building in the picture–one of the other members, who has ovarian cancer expressed anger about this pink light. And that was like 4 years ago! Scary that change has not yet happened.


  3. Once again, I can relate to everything you say here. I go to a breast cancer center and there’s pink everywhere, every October, and I hate it. Here’s the thing though, this year, every floor had a poster with pink ribbons and it was sponsored by Estee Lauder. I know they had a campaign this year and it’s most likely “benefiting” my hospital. Now my building is specific to BC. I didn’t get a chance to visit other locations where they treat multiple cancers. I wonder if this campaign hit every damn building, which would be sad. Yes, BC is the bully of all cancers for many reasons — it involves breasts but it’s also the most common type in women (etc.). For me the issue isn’t so much the attention BC gets but that the attention it generates is misleading. And yes, some of that attention is hurtful to others and upsetting. I agree with you, there’s no reason for your cancer center to light up in pink if other cancers are treated there. And going back to the Estee Lauder campaign, if they asked my hospital to promote at every location, shame on them for allowing it. It goes back to the idea you raised, it’s all about business.


    1. Oh for sure, the info and attention is misleading–and that is not unique to breast cancer is it?! I find myself wincing now every time there is some dramatic ad linking smoking and lung cancer. It isn’t that I don’t know smoking increases risk, it’s the blame game, and etc I know will result from the ad.
      And the medical centers putting the misleading info out there REALLY bothers me. Like Nancy pointed out about that hospital that had the “beat cancer” billboard long ago, the website she found saying something like use your cancer experience to learn a lesson, and the billboard that I still see in my travels about a positive attitude being THE key to beating cancer. Honestly, at this point, I’d be more motivated to go to a cancer treatment facility that tells me they’ll get me to NED while I sit there being a grumpy gus. I mean–I’m paying them for the treatment–why does it have to be up to me and my smiley attitude? Don’t put it on me!! Grrr. Ha ha!


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