What does October mean?

Extract from Being Sarah:

October is breast cancer awareness month. Yes I support awareness, of course I do. We are all familiar with that phrase, ‘Early detection saves lives’, much used to encourage us all to take some responsibility for our own health. That somehow it is up to us, that we can stop this spread of breast cancer. I’m starting to think that it’s not up to us, actually.

And in October breast cancer becomes fully pink. Maybe you see all this pink stuff, all these things you can buy and think it is a good thing. That the money that is raised goes to research, that somehow we’re just a break away from some major research that’s actually going to end this escalating statistic, the incidence of breast cancer, now increasing rapidly in younger women, women like me and even younger. It has a big mass appeal, almost sexy really in marketing terms, this pink charity stuff, it’s good business sense. Does it make me really believe that the businesses that ‘support’ breast cancer awareness month actually care about me? Am I being cynical to think it might just be good business sense?

After all if you think about, say, a supermarket, how many of their customers are the right sex to be personally concerned about this? I mean women. Well, probably most of them. Actually, that’s just a fact. Do these women think that somehow the supermarket is researching into prevention of breast cancer? To help them?

Oh, and actually did I mention that National Breast Cancer Awareness Month was founded by a pharmaceutical company?

For this October, in 2011, I’ll be posting a blog piece everyday. Some of the pieces will be written by me, and some by my friends, and others by my fellow breast cancer bloggers who I feel so pleased to have met here in the blogosphere. We have a lot to say. We have a lot for you to think about as you decide how you want to support breast cancer awareness month. So I thought you might like to read a short history of how the pink ribbon came to be. Extract from Being Sarah:

The pink ribbon for breast cancer, which is now so ubiquitous, originated in America. But if you look at the history of the pink ribbon, you will see that the original breast cancer ribbons were not pink, they were peach. They were made by Charlotte Haley at her home. And she made them as a statement, a statement about cancer prevention in the USA. Because in 1990 out of 1.8 billion US dollars for cancer research only 5% of the cancer budget was spent on prevention. ‘Help us wake up our legislators and

America by wearing this ribbon,’ the card sold with them said. They were popular, they spread quickly. But then, then what happened? A magazine editor and a cosmetics company ask if they can use the idea and work with Charlotte to develop a ribbon for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October. She says no, that they will become too commercialised. And that is not what she wants. This woman, this individual, who – by the way – has breast cancer, as does her daughter. Who makes the peach-coloured ribbons for prevention; she was right.

So the corporates, the big giants, they consult with their lawyers and then they make a new ribbon. It is pink. Apparently pink is ‘soothing comforting and healing’. And the rest, as they say, is history.

And now the pink ribbon and the pink colour is an international symbol for breast cancer awareness.

I introduced this October month of blog posts with a post where I recounted a meeting with a woman who was just starting to grasp the reality of breast cancer. If you’re just starting to wonder about ‘awareness’ these might be useful reading. The articles I sent to her are as follows:

Show me the money – my blog post about how much money UK breast cancer charities actually spend on research.

Tools for Action – Gayle Sulik’s collection of ideas on how to start meaningful conversations.

breast cancer awareness, really? Part 2 – by blogger Donna Peach.

10 thoughts on “What does October mean?

  1. Thanks for all the links and resources. I, too, applaud your daily challenge to tackle the oft-misunderstood subject of breast cancer awareness. There can never be enough good writing on the subject.

  2. Sarah, I didn’t know about the history of the pink ribbon. Thank you for educating me. I am looking forward toward your posting a blog a day. WOW! I plan to read all of them.


    • Thank you Beth – and I am actually indebted to Samantha King for her book Pink Ribbons Inc, where she gives a very full account of the history of the pink ribbon. It’s a very interesting read. Best, Sarah

  3. I am totally convinced that a certain supermarkets interest in breast cancer is purely for their own gain. All their Tickled Pink items are now passed their sell-by date and have been swifty replaced with Children in Need items. They must be making a fortune! And do they really care? I don’t think so. x

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