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Pinkwashing: Thoughts from a First Year Breast Cancer Survivor





by Shannon Cox, Living with Cancer

Welcome to October or “Pinktober” as it’s known in the breast cancer community. The month of October is breast cancer awareness month and everything is pink, like really pink. You can’t go to the store or turn on the television without seeing pink. We call this “Pinkwashing” because so many things are bathed in pink.

This is my first year being on the other side of all of the pink. It’s a bit of a startling new reality. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in December of last year and spent the first part of this year going through chemotherapy followed by a bilateral mastectomy. After treatment, I have been recovering and slowly gaining my strength back physically and mentally. I honestly wasn’t sure how I would handle the month of October. Would it be overwhelming to see all that pink? Would I embrace it or would it be such a constant reminder that I would feel the need to run away from it all? I was really starting to dread Pinktober because I, quite obviously, did not need any more awareness about breast cancer. Every time I look in the mirror, my very short hair and lack of breasts are a stark reminder of my past year battling breast cancer. But I keep reminding myself that Pinktober isn’t directed toward me.


As September was drawing to a close, I could feel October looming over. On social media so many women in the breast cancer community began openly expressing their many different thoughts on pinkwashing. Some are angry that pink is thrown back in their face for an entire month because of the difficult mental and physical battle that is breast cancer. These women and men are even more angry that corporations are using our cause, our community of amazing women, our struggles and our suffering to benefit financially. But on the other end of the spectrum there is appreciation for even more increased awareness and that there is so much funding for research. Because without all the fanfare, we wouldn’t have all of the awareness and funding and treatments that we do now.


October 1st came and went. Yes, there was and is a lot of pink. But you know what, most of what I saw online has been extremely positive and respectful. Women changing their hair color to pink and actively spreading awareness and encouraging other women to do their monthly self breast exams and to schedule their mammograms. I wholeheartedly appreciate their efforts. If we can get one more woman to find her cancer early from a self exam or a mammogram, then it is all worth it.


When you walk into many stores, it seems like every company is selling a pink item. This, in my opinion, is where you have to be a little more careful. If you want to buy something pink to help spread awareness, rock on. Many of these companies actually donate a solid piece of their profit to breast cancer research or to support folks in the breast cancer community. Keep in mind some of them don’t donate any at all and are simply profiting from the pink. I’m not saying that every company has to contribute tons of money into research, I’m simply saying be aware. If you truly want your money to be given back to the breast cancer community, whether contributing to research or directly benefitting breast cancer patients and survivors, then do a little research and be aware of those that only use it as a marketing ploy to sell more products.


Last year I was sitting on the other side of all of the pink and I remember thinking, “Look at all that pink, that’s really cool.” Now, from the other side of the fence, it can make me feel a little panicky and unable to log onto Facebook and other social media sometimes because I just can’t bring myself to look at any more pink. However, I have to give credit where credit is due. All of the pink has raised a tremendous amount of awareness. The reach of breast cancer awareness month is far and wide. Women all over are performing self breast exams and scheduling mammograms. I also can’t help but wonder if all of the pink benefitted me personally. If that heightened awareness seeped into my subconscious and helped push me to return to the doctor with concerns that the lump in my breast had grown last fall, thus enabling my team of fantastic doctors to catch it before it had spread throughout my body.


So personally, I’m somewhere in the middle on this issue. I have an extreme distaste for companies that are Pinkwashing solely for financial gain. On the other hand, I am grateful for the awareness and all of the funding for research and support within the breast cancer community. My hope is that more awareness is raised for those living with metastatic breast cancer so more funding will be directed toward supporting, finding treatments for and ultimately curing metastatic breast cancer. Our breast cancer sisters with mets are living with treatment and dying from cancer every single day. Because it’s not about saving the breasts, it’s about saving the woman. Pinkwashing or not, that should continue to be our message.



ShannonCox2At 40 years old I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Starting chemotherapy just eight days after diagnosis, flipped my life upside down. The side effects of chemo left me unable to work and changed our lives to a new-normal. From a busy life of owning my own business and being a mom of two elementary age kids, to suddenly not being able to think through things was extremely difficult. But we are taking this journey one day at a time and starting to enjoy life post-treatment.




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One Response to Pinkwashing: Thoughts from a First Year Breast Cancer Survivor

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