Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Pink is the New Black...

Well, it's about that time again. We may not have had the long, lazy days of summer that our Mediterranean friends take for granted each year, but with autumn approaching, I vote that September's colour of choice should be brown. Brown is the colour of crisp, changing leaves and end-of-summer harvests. Brown is the colour of jacket potatoes and hot buttered muffins. Brown is the colour of knee-high boots, thick, chunky jumpers and all things warm and autumnal. But if brown is the colour for September, then what should be the colour for October ?  

Why, it's pink of course. 

Pink ? 

Surely, I hear you ask, with the summer season fading fast we should be getting into darker, more austere tones, not moving on to bubble gum shades of pretty or even prissy pink ?  But of course, for those of us who have been riding that train into Cancerland for far too many years, we know what October brings forth. For October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. And this is the month when you'll find an abundance of this sugar-coated colouring.

Now I have to admit something. I actually love the colour pink. Really I do. I am currently the proud owner of a pair of pink court shoes, I have pink t-shirts, even once bought a pink corduroy skirt and I can even recall being given a pink 'tag' belt by my partner many moons ago - such is my love for this effervescent, saccharine, pop art colour. For someone who has spent most of her life living in jeans and trainers, it might seem strange that I would feel so at home in a shade of colour more favoured by Barbie. But I do.

I guess I like the colour pink because it's bright, optimistic, it cheers me up on a wintry day and it goes well with the darker shades that I tend to wear all year round. It also looks really, really good against dark skin (as Ms Jourdan Dunn is illustrating so well above).

So I'm not too bothered about the colour of the branding, as long as the message is strong. Although I know that many of my metastatic blogger mates would disagree. Some of you out there in blogsville feel that images of smiley, pretty women wearing pink t-shirts and brandishing pink ribbons distracts us from the true reality of breast cancer. Simply - that it's a nasty, nasty disease that kills women. And I can see their point. Because simply put, it does. But the problem is more complex. The eternal dilemma for those who work in the media, is how to raise awareness and keep the advertisers happy while producing images that are shall we say, easy on the eye ? They assume that no-one really cares about the over 60s getting breast cancer (even though this group is the most at risk from this disease) because I guess they assume that it's no big surprise if they do. And they also assume that no-one really wants to see gruesome pictures of ulcerated breasts or emaciated cancer patients on chemo - especially not their advertisers. So, because pretty pictures of women are often used to sell everything from chocolate to cars, it is not surprising that interviews with slim, white, attractive, young breast cancer survivors tend to fill the pages of the glossy women's magazines. And all the better if they are career women who enjoy a middle-class lifestyle because these are precisely the women that the advertisers want to target.  Trust me on this one, I know. I've worked in this business for over 15 years. 

But the real problem with this stereotyping is the perception that it gives to other women who don't fall into this category. I have heard countless black women with breast cancer tell me that before their diagnosis, they always assumed that breast cancer was a 'white woman's disease'. In certain parts of the developing world, breast cancer is seen as the 'rich, white woman's cancer'. It is seen as a disease of affluence. But when we look at the statistics, it seems that we women of colour might be the ones who are most at risk from this distorted perception. In reality, although black women tend to be diagnosed less than white women, we tend to be diagnosed at an earlier age, have more aggressive cancers and are diagnosed when the cancer is at a more advanced stage, making treatment more difficult. Women of West African origin also tend to be diagnosed with what is called triple negative breast cancer. This is breast cancer that doesn't have oestrogen, progesterone or her2 receptors. The only treatment that can be given is chemotherapy. And this naturally limits the number of options they have for subsequent treatments, should they need it. For more information about this, this article is a good starting point.

Now I know that this month is important. It's important because it encourages women to examine their breasts. It informs people to look out for warning signs and symptoms, and it attempts to remove the stigma of breast cancer. But as a marketing brand, it surely needs re-working. And fast, before more women die through ignorance or complacency. So what will my contribution be to this Breast Cancer Awareness month ? What can I do to make a difference ?

Well, I write this blog because it helps me to process what I'm currently going through. And by doing this, I'm hopefully raising awareness to all different kinds of women too. But I don't fundraise and I'm not sure how much I really make a difference to anyone's day-to-day life. But what I've noticed while I've been immersed in cyberspace is that there are lots of fabulous, fantastic women who do make a difference. They put action before thought. They inspire me to get out of my self-absorbed head and write about stuff that might actually inform people. So for Breast Cancer Awareness Month... I'll be mostly flagging up these phenomenal women, looking more at the differences in breast cancer in black and white women, looking at how differently primary and metastatic breast cancer are viewed by public and press and listing the things to say to a cancer patient that might actually help rather than hinder them (thanks Paula for the great idea !).

But firstly, I'd like to give a high five to phenomenal woman, Julia Fikse for her website, Save The Tatas. I only recently discovered this site and subsequently had a series of e-conversations with Julia about race and cancer. What I like about this site is that it's a non-profit making organisation which uses money raised through donations and the sales of its products to fund much needed independent scientific research on cancer - research that one day might help us all to overcome this disease. 50% of their profits over the last six years have been used in this way. For Breast Cancer Awareness month, Julia is kindly giving away this t-shirt

(especially hand-picked by moi) to one lucky person. All you have to do is follow my blog and tell me how you'd rebrand Breast Cancer Awareness Month to include all women - regardless of colour, creed or age.  I'm looking forward to hearing your ideas...


  1. I love this article. yes I was one of those black women who thought breast cancer, cancer period, was a white persons disease. Boy was I wrong after finding out after being diagnosed with bc at age 37. The shocker was to find out that there were many of us out there and that we are more likely to die from it. Because of one not being diagnosed early enough and lack of health resources. And the main thing is that we don't about it. We as black people have a history of taking stuff to the grave. "Ain't nobody bussiness." It would have been nice to know that two of my aunts on my fathers side had been diagnosed with breast cancer years before since I had originally found my lump in 1999 and again in 2001 but was told it was nothing to find out it was cancer come 2007. I probably would have been more diligent in advocating for my health and seeking other opinions at the time. I have been pretty active in my journey with cancer. It seems like I am the poster child for AA women with bc in the town that I live in because I am basically the only black who is willing to speak about it and share my experience. I have held a pink potluck, I was the only black on the planning commitee for Relay for Life, I have been a speaker at the Purple Tea for AA women. I enjoy going to different conferences and seminars for BC. I feel there is so much to learn and that I want to know and share with others. Of course not as elegantly as you have, but I feel it is so important for us to be educated. I do have a few friends who have been down with me since my diagnosis but sometimes I feel that its more for me than the disease itself. "Would they really care about this thing if it wasn't for me always cramming it down their throat. (so to speak). I always felf afraid to walk this road alone. Every year since my diagnosis we have participated in the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer. This year I haven't mentioned to them about any of my events that I like to particpate in not even the walk. It is now October BC awareness month and no one has mentioned the walk to me yet. The walk is next weekend. I am still waiting. And I will be walking. And celebrating my 42 birthday and my 4 year cancervesary. But any who I will continue to reading your blogs. I have learned alot and yet had somethings I wanted to share also. Thanks for the forum

  2. I lost my mom to Breast cancer, wearing pink doesn't cover up the reality! Nothing will change that I live without my mom daily, my son will not remember her, my foster son and adoptive son will never met her. Wearing pink puts my reality out there for all to see, it doesn't candy coat it!

  3. Hi there Ladies,
    Thanks for your comments and I hope that you keep on visiting this blog ! It's so interesting to hear other's experiences of this disease and knowing that we all share similarities in so many different ways. To respond to Kat's credence - You make a compelling point and I'm sorry to hear about your mother. I think the problem that some breast cancer survivors have with the pink brigade is that some companies sell a lot of pink-themed items without actually making much of a contribution or donation to charities. Awareness is important but what's really needed is money to fund breast cancer research - which is vital to prevent more women dying from this disease. Also, too much attention given to women who have survived primary cancer and not enough to women who have metastatic cancer gives the false impression that breast cancer is a very curable disease. It is in many cases, but not in all and we need to find ways of curing metastatic cancer as well as primary.

  4. Someone feels like I do. That was my first impression when I read your blog. Thank you.

    I too have conflicting feelings about the descending pink cloud covering October. Yes the message is strong, but at the same time has 'pinkyfying' it (for lack of better word and spelling) gotten us to the point of finding the cause, so we can find the cure? Has it highlighted metastic cancer? No, is the answer to both.

    I don't know the solution to your question, but I do know that I do what feels right to me. I chose to walk in Relay's for Life because it's funding for all cancers and because I'm grateful I'm still around to walk laps (for 6 years).

    I donate and participate in Dr. Susan Love's Army of Women because I believe in research and she is the only one I know who conducts field studies on women of all ages and races.

    I do speak to other Latinas and anyone who I'm introduced to, to tell my story when they get a diagnosis and they're scared.

    And I agree with Coral, "that too much attention given to women who have survived primary cancer and not enough to women who have metastatic cancer gives the false impression that breast cancer is a very curable disease."

    PS> I hated my wig and ended up going without. Using scarves, bandanas and hats worked for me.
    Keep on keeping on.

  5. Thanks Alvarado. It's great to hear your comments. Perhaps the answer is simply to support the companies who are trying to appeal to all women out there and not just those who target women from a very narrow demographic. Thanks for connecting ! Cx