Here comes pink

As the calendar turns to October it’s time to, once again, mark the arrival of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

With it, of course, also comes the acres and acres of pink merchandise.

I’ve written about the so-called “shrink it and pink it” phenomenon before—this marketing trend of specially designed pink products for women to raise money and awareness for the cause.

Indeed, there’s no selling opportunity left unexplored—from cheap pink plastic razors, to pricey sunglasses, such as Oakley’s “Dangerous” wrap-around sunglasses with pink-tinted lenses ($180) or an eight-speed ElliptiGo bike ($2,400).

Of course, not every opportunity requires your wallet. This month will also see a flurry of emails and Facebook status update memes—viral urges to aid the movement by forwarding on that email chain letter, clicking through to sponsored links and sharing your bra size with the rest of your virtual community.

It’s all for a good cause, but sometimes it drives me crazy.

Although the companies involved raise money, many of them aren’t held accountable to actual dollar figures—how much is earmarked for bona fide research or treatment vs. the amount that goes into corporate pockets?

Similarly, the majority of those online bugle calls to action seem questionable. At best they’re galvanizing and symbolic. At worst, they’re meaningless—empty chatter that threatens to drown out the real message.

But, I realize, I might be in the minority when it comes to these feelings. Indeed, judging by the emails that fill my inbox and the status updates that scroll through my feed, many of my peers wholeheartedly embrace the trend.

Some also object to my objections, labeling them as misinformed, nitpicky, grumpy and even heartless.

Last year, someone suggested I’d feel differently if I’d actually lost someone to breast cancer or watched a love one deal with a diagnosis. The implication was clear: You can’t have a true understanding of the subject unless you experience it at close range.

I kept my mouth shut then, because it felt like an intentionally close-to-the bone accusation—the kind that dredges up heated words in response.

But it did get me thinking. It made me think about when, at age 34, I found a lump in my breast—a lump that after a mammogram, sonogram and a biopsy, was finally (and thankfully) diagnosed as benign. It got me thinking about my mother-in-law’s close friend and cousin who died from breast cancer. It got me thinking about my closest friend’s sister who survived breast cancer after numerous, exhausting rounds of chemo.

Most recently, it got me thinking about my sister-in-law Jennifer Lusk who, just this month, finally received a clean bill of health—more than nine months after the diagnosis that put her through a double mastectomy, months of chemo and the loss of her hair.

I hung out with Jen a few weekends back at a family event where she showed up in a form-fitting white dress that nicely set off her shiny, bald head.

Jen’s one of the strongest people I know—she survived breast cancer with humor, heart and strength. During her illness, I donated to the cause and I rallied, emotionally, for her health.

But Jen’s experience with breast cancer did not change my perspective. Nor did all those other experiences—mine or otherwise.

Here’s the thing: You don’t have to agree with me. Hell, Jen doesn’t necessarily agree with me. But she does know that I love and support her, and that even if we don’t share the same viewpoint on breast cancer-related marketing and buzz, that we both agree on a more important point:

Women should be screened regularly, researchers need to focus both on prevention and a cure and we should all support the cause—in whatever ways we find best.