As my sorority is currently gathering a team to walk in our campus annual “Relay for Life”, a feeling of ambivalence has bubbled up to my cognitive surface, not because I don’t support the Fight Against Cancer, but because events like this have sometimes left me feeling a tinge of bitterness when they are all over. Take, for example, last October when my sorority walked in the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk in Golden Gate Park. I had fun, I walked, I wore pink. But what did we really do? Of course, we “raised awareness”. Do you know anyone who is not aware of breast cancer? And yes, we contributed our time, we donated some money, but where did that money go exactly?
I recently watched the documentary “Pink Ribbons, Inc.”, which revealed the intensely corporate campaign against breast cancer as a daunting, dangerous machine. When the Susan G. Komen foundation developed, it began marketing through countless women’s consumer mediums- namely beauty products. All of a sudden, there was nail polish with pink ribbons on them, and now, a few decades later, we see pink ribbon hair dryers, clothing, vacuums, even handguns. I think the worst of it was when KFC did a Susan G. Komen “buckets for the cure” campaign. I kid you not.
This would not be detrimental- in fact, it appears like these products are beneficial to the fight, right?- if some of these products were not known to cause cancer. Many beauty products , upon doing a little bit of personal research, can be found to have cancer causing agents in them, such as lead (ladies, check your lipstick). And the second issue with this: the corporate element of the fight against breast cancer, and many other cancers alike, have historically kept donors at arm’s length. What do we know about where our money is going? How much research is actually going towards finding out what causes breast cancer? From what I’ve read, only about 15% of research is on prevention, and only 2-5 % of that investigates environmental causes of breast cancer, such as chemicals in our daily surroundings.
So when I walk this weekend, I will do it as a fun experience with my sorority sisters- I may even share my story of being there with my mother when she went through her battle with breast cancer. It did, after all, mean a lot to me. And I do not mean to sound unappreciative of the cancer-fighting community at large. But my message for those walking with me will be to self-educate.
I am so unsatisfied hearing cancer activists tell me to go get a fucking mammogram. Early detection, I get it. But who gets money from the mammogram tests? The people that make them, the same companies, in fact, who have been known to sell cancer-causing pesticides and milk hormones. Apologies, that was tangential- I will get a mammogram (and an MRI since breast dense tissue does not even come up in a mammogram), but if I want to help people other than just myself (which should be the point of a social movement), I will research where the ACS funding is going, and if I do not like it, I will try to do something about it.
And how about working with cancer patients in the community? Thousands of hours are spent at Relay for Life events honoring loved ones and caregivers of cancer patients, as they should be recognized, but how about stepping over to a less privileged part of our community and being the caregiver to a cancer patient who does not have anyone by their side? People are so quick to help in the most abstract ways possible- to instagram photos of themselves “fighting cancer” and “walking for _____”, (heart emoji) but there are people right in front of our eyes who need help. Moreover,when taking into consideration the mysteriousness of where our donated time money is headed, we may not even be preventing the possibility that we, someday, could be those same patients in need. What then?