Please. Stop Buying Pink T-shirts. Stop buying pink wristbands. Stop buying Pink Football Jerseys. Stop buying pink shoes. Stop buying in to the atrocious consumptive mania that is all-things-pink come breast cancer awareness month. It’s for symbolism, you say, but what’s more symbolic than buying a bunch of cheaply made goods, walking a few miles, throwing a party and pretending we’ve addressed the issue?
Cancer. It’s a scary thing to talk about. The internal tension I feel by putting the word on the page tells me that there’s some serious sensitivity to this whole conversation, but that doesn’t mean it should be avoided altogether. As a whole, I believe the intentions of these events and purchases are good. Intentions only do so much, though.
If the overall goal is research funding, what am I to say when I’m aware of many of the historical and well-documented phenomena that point to an overwhelming amount of cancer research as corrupt? Reading Mukherjee’s “The Emperor of All Maladies,” and learning about Halsted’s ‘radical mastectomies’ was an eye-opening experience. This technique was touted as the pinnacle of cancer treatments in his day. By removing the affected breast, the underlying chest muscle and lymph nodes in the armpit, the aim was to excise a portion larger than the cancer. Often times, though, this left women disfigured and the rates of recurrence were high. The line between cancer researcher and mad scientist had become all too thin.
But historical corruption is found in just about every industry, so maybe a more recent example would be useful. In 2010, the Office of Research Integrity found Sheng Wang guilty of research misconduct. Mr. Wang was a Ph.D. and Assistant Professor at the Boston University School of Medicine, one of our most prestigious academic institutions. 10 years of cancer research was essentially nullified.
Or the recent Federal Trade Commission Report on four noteworthy charities: the Breast Cancer Society, Children’s Cancer Fund of America, Cancer Fund of America, and Cancer Support Services Inc. This group was found to have pumped donors for nearly $187 million dollars over the past five years. The report described them as “four connected groups, all with cancer in their name, as “sham charities,” saying they instead “operated as personal fiefdoms characterized by rampant nepotism, flagrant conflicts of interest, and excessive insider compensation.”
Not only do these research dollars support exorbitant salaries for the charity operators and the researchers themselves, dozens of meaningful treatments have either been suppressed or discounted. While the next “miracle-drug” is intensely marketed, the toxic industries causing this destruction and the medical establishment enabling its extension know full well that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
This seemingly indiscernible division between what we are trying to accomplish and what we actually do is maddening. The cotton used to make all of these T-shirts is most likely produced in a foreign country. Odds are this cotton is “cost-effective” as to produce such a large quantity. This means it’s likely the the insecticide-resistant variety, meaning Monsanto also stands to profit. The same company that manufactured chemical weaponry for the US in the Vietnam War, and continues to supply the majority of our food, is fueled by a collective ignorance to profit off the backs of third world countries. But it really goes for all of the pink goop piled on our plates. The rubber in the bracelets has to come from somewhere, same with the synthetic plastics generated for jerseys, and don’t forget nylon for the hats or the fact that we have to ship it across the globe. It’s the easy, capitalist solution to a complex problem: extract, buy, consume.
You want symbolism? Close down a chemical plant. Shut down the local factory farm. Stop a coal train. Ban that pipeline about to go underneath your town. Get to the root of the problem. I don’t say all this to pretend I’m somehow more realistic or knowledgeable about cancer; I’ve seen the struggle first-hand among friends and family members and no words will ever do it justice- the push-and-pull of fear and courage, compassion and confusion, hope and despair. Sometimes, I get more than upset or sentimental about this, though. I get angry. It’s not right that the same companies that are causing this mess get to profit off of us while we earnestly try to combat it.
Susan B Komen’s Breast Cancer charity was selling pink fracking drill bits. Are you fucking kidding me? Is there anything more disrespectful, any clearer slap to the face, than a pink fracking drill bit? This same organization ran a campaign that said organic food might not be safe. If companies want to greenwash, go ahead and greenwash. But to have the audacity to claim they support women with breast cancer while simultaneously permitting its cause and discouraging its solutions is pitiful. In a world with increasingly corruptible politics, it can be hard to trust even a charity.
It’s not so much that I’m cynical; it’s actually quite the opposite. A 5K isn’t futile, unfettered materialism as a means to solve problems is. Unity encompasses more than a single event can portray. Imagine the power and energy of a people parading for something more than to show they support treating cancer; imagine if they marched to occupy a mining site or an oil CEO’s office.
Cancer research isn’t inherently bad, but it has become so solution-oriented that most have failed to see the industries’ stake in its continuation, including the researchers themselves. This leads to a host of backlash against alternative or preventative methods, when in reality for a fair number of cancers these treatments have proven to be equally if not more effective.
No one has all the answers, but I’m positive that pink consumerism will only make things worse. This October, take a step back and see the cycle for what it is. Trying to buy our way out of cancer is like trying to use a pail to empty water from a sinking boat. It’s an endless sequence that fails to plug the holes of a broken system. The increase in cancer is a product of industrialization, and we would be better off putting the energy of our collective, heartfelt objectives towards real solutions, solutions that do more than line the pockets of greedy corporations and phony charities.
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