Mollie Hartford: This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, think beyond pink

  • Four dragon boats toss over 200 pink roses into the Connecticut River in remembrance of those who have passed away from breast cancer, during the Springfield Dragon Boat Festival, Saturday, June, 25, 2016. FILE PHOTO

  • Mollie Hartford. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Published: 10/14/2020 3:01:30 PM

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, or as many survivors call it, Pinktober. You may feel compelled to buy and share pink-themed items in an effort to support those who have been diagnosed, and on behalf of myself and other survivors, I have some requests and suggestions:

Check to see that the pink ribbon symbol on whatever you are buying actually sends money to a facility that does research (like Sloan Kettering, Dana Farber or the Breast Cancer Research Foundation) or to a nonprofit that supports survivors (like Metavivor or our local Cancer Connection). Ask yourself if they are raising funds for research or are they raising “awareness”; the latter could mean they are simply profiting off of the momentum of this month. Also, is the product that is now pink one that actually increases one’s chance of developing cancer, like alcohol, fatty and sugar-rich foods and processed meats? There may be a better choice.

Don’t buy or sell products that sexualize breast cancer, put the importance of the breasts over the importance of the person, put the importance of an intimate partner’s access to those breasts over the importance of the person or (Lord help me, do I even have to say it?) promote sexual assault in the name of “awareness.” This includes slogans like “Save the Tatas” (no, don’t save the tatas, save the person), “Don’t Let Cancer Steal Second Base” (I really don’t care if you ever get to second base again, bro), or, my favorite, a men’s shirt that says “Squeeze a Boob, Save a Life.” If your campaign relies on a nickname for breasts – cans, jugs, melons, puppies, twins, coconuts, bongos, etc. — please consider using language that instead puts the emphasis on the people the money could save or support.

Please do not tell a friend dealing with breast cancer that they are getting a “free boob job.” First, reconstruction after cancer surgery is nothing like breast augmentation surgery. It often involves dozens of painful procedures, transplanting tissue from other parts of one’s body, and the final product is still numb and scarred. Plus, not everyone chooses reconstruction. Ask me about “aesthetic flat closure” or “going flat” (and how it’s a struggle to get doctors to believe it’s what we really want).

Remember that cancer is not always pink. Many women will be diagnosed with lymphoma, leukemia, melanoma, bladder cancer, cervical cancer, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer or brain cancer. Women and people with breasts are not special just because our cancer has its own month and an endorsement deal with the NFL. If someone in your life has a different form of cancer, check in on them this month.

Think local (and practical). Is there a local nonprofit in your area that supports cancer patients, survivors and their families where you can volunteer your time and expertise? Can you offer rides to the hospital for someone with cancer? Can you offer child care to a parent who needs chemo? Can you send dinner, do dishes or clean an apartment instead of buying something pink?

And finally, don’t vote for someone who wants to defund Planned Parenthood and repeal the ACA and then talk to us about making strides against breast cancer. Don’t vote for someone who takes money from the National Cancer Institute and uses it to detain children. Don’t vote against affordable health care for all or subsidized health insurance, spend your money on a pink-washed bucket of KFC and expect “awareness” to save our lives.

Mollie Hartford is the development director at It Takes a Village, a local nonprofit, and lives in Northampton with her family. 

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