My personal relationship with the month of October has changed dramatically since I had breast cancer. For me, every month is breast cancer awareness month. I can’t parse out the time of year when I’ll focus on breast cancer; for me, every month, week, day and moment is a reminder of breast cancer and its aftermath.
Several years before I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I worked in a major Fortune 500 corporation where I led their sponsorship of a major breast cancer organization. One of my responsibilities was to find the money necessary to fund the six figure sponsorship fee of the breast cancer organization each year from across the various divisions of the corporation. Each year, I spent the months leading up to the campaign making impassioned pleas to various stakeholders across the corporation, begging them to see the importance of what we were doing, telling the senior executives that they, or their loved ones, might be the “one in eight” women who would one day be diagnosed with breast cancer, and pleading with them to honor our corporate responsibility to make a difference in women’s lives by supporting this important breast cancer awareness campaign.
I ran the campaign for 4 years and helped raise over a million dollars in both sponsorship and activation fees. I was proud of the work I did and of the passion it inspired in the employees of the corporation who were as passionate as I was about our participation in the program. There was no one in the organization who hadn’t been touched by breast cancer; employees would frequently come up to tell me during the year how much it meant to them to participate in this sponsorship because of their mother, daughter, sister, aunt, cousin or best friend who had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Then in 2010 I was diagnosed with breast cancer and one of the very first things that I realized when I heard the words, “We believe that you have breast cancer,” was that I was, in fact, the one in eight that I had been talking about during those passionate pleas to senior corporate executives all those years. It wasn’t one of the other women in the room; it was me who was going to be diagnosed with breast cancer.
My focus now that I’ve experienced the roller coaster ride that is breast cancer, is on donating to organizations whose mission is solely focused on funding the research needed to find a cure for breast cancer. I’ve made the decision to no longer donate money to awareness campaigns, as I believe there is plenty of awareness of breast cancer, while not enough money is going towards research to find a cure.
I now gently remind my friends during the month of October that just because a product has a pink ribbon on it doesn’t mean the money is truly going to do anything positive for those of us who have or have had breast cancer. I say gently, because I know that my friends mean well when they pinkify the month of October. They think they’re doing something useful and positive to help their loved one (mother, sister, daughter, aunt, cousin, friend) who has had breast cancer. They have that helpless feeling you get when you hear that someone is diagnosed and think, “I’ll go on that pink breast cancer walk and raise money so that I can show that I care,” without truly understanding what the money is going towards.
For me, post breast cancer, the sea of pink each October is mostly an annoyance, but since so many corporations continue to fund marketing campaigns focused on the pink ribbon, I advocate for turning the money raised during the month towards organizations that fund research; pure research, not awareness. The three organizations I focus my own donations towards are the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation, Breast Cancer Research Foundation and National Breast Cancer Coalition.
Please consider supporting these and any other reputable research focused breast cancer organizations this October. If you donate $10.00 for breast cancer during the month of October, please make it $10.00 going towards research to find a cure. Your mothers, sisters, daughters, aunts and friends will thank you for it when a cure is finally found.