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Rethinking Pink

Cynics call October "Pinktober." I am not a cynic. But I feel a little sad when October ends only because many companies and journalists redirect their attention to other "seasonal causes" that sell their products and newspapers, viewers and ratings.
10/30/2014 11:37am ET | Updated December 30, 2014
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"Since October is wrapping up, we are about to close our books on Breast Cancer Awareness programs for the year. Let's talk next May," the executive of a large U.S. corporation told me when I pitched him on a cancer prevention education program for employees.

"Much of our reporting on breast cancer is around October since it's Breast Cancer Awareness Month," said a writer when I called to discuss a story idea around survivorship issues.

Unless you are living under a rock, albeit painted pink, you know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Social media sites are awash in pink photos. Everyone from N.F.L. football players to everyday moms are donning pink sneakers and stepping out to raise awareness and funds for numerous causes. Pink parties with pink cupcakes and punch and balloons and branded pink gifts are being hosted coast to coast. And pink is showing up on Delta airplanes, Minnesota National Guard army tanks, scooters and drill bits. Men don pink tutus for videos and pink ties for more conservative appearances. Women wear bejeweled pink bras and bracelets, boas and hairpieces to march and everyone wears pink ribbons.

As a breast cancer survivor, I'm grateful so many people, companies and the media focus their attention on Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Many people have criticized companies for "pinkwashing," using breast cancer awareness as a public relations activity to reach that important target market: women. I am thrilled to see so much awareness and money raised for worthy causes. I also like to see women's health receive attention because women do not always put their own health first, and they should. The more we can share that message, the better in reducing the risk for all cancers.

Cynics call October "Pinktober." I am not a cynic. But I feel a little sad when October ends only because many companies and journalists redirect their attention to other "seasonal causes" that sell their products and newspapers, viewers and ratings. Breast cancer is a 365-day occurrence with one in eight women diagnosed and 40,000 deaths annually. When the pink parties are over for everyone else, the party's not over for the women (and men) still facing the disease and hoping to beat it, or living in fear of a recurrence.

I also feel badly for all the other cancer survivors in the world whose diagnosis is not as pretty in pink. Where are their parties? Who is walking for them? What teams are wearing their color?

I wonder: What would have happened if my own diagnosis had been pancreatic cancer (which runs in the paternal side of my family)? Breast cancer did not. Prostate did... and melanoma. They are all connected to the BRCA2 genetic mutation which I have. The personal outcome for pancreatic cancer is not always "in the pink." I don't hear of many parties and ribbons and cute T-shirts for pancreatic cancer. A pancreas isn't very pretty on a T-shirt. Neither is a liver or an esophagus. But they are awfully important to your functioning digestive system, and like all cancers, early detection is key. In fact, do you know when Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month is? It's November. I'm curious to see the level of media attention Pancreatic Cancer Awareness receives.

What really matters more than ribbons and T-shirts, parties, cupcakes and balloons is this: cancer prevention. We all can have a role in preventing cancer by starting to take better care of our personal health through a better diet, regular exercise, stress management, reducing alcohol intake, eliminating smoking, conducting self exams, being aware of changes in and on your body and not ignoring them and making sure your medical exams and records are up-to-date.

Helping communicate the message of maintaining your personal health every day of the year and taking action are better ways to stay in the pink.