Join 3,375 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Untying the Pink Ribbon
October 2, 2009 2:29 PM   Subscribe

October's focus on breast cancer is a curvy pink double-edged sword and those in the fight agree.

The public edge is mostly about raising money, too, which is generally committed to research.

Many find the other edge of the pink storm to be a cynical marketing blitz. Some products may be a contributing factor. Plastic is a chief concern. Soy products - particularly popular with the health-conscious - may also be part of the problem. Donated profit is often a small percentage of the various costs associated with the items - consumer, production, and ecological .

Direct donation and effort contributes far more and goes further. Educating yourself and others can accomplish even more. Know the risk factors and various causes.
posted by batmonkey (49 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
What I've always hated about the promotions like the pink yogurt lid ones is, in the fine print, it always says something like "up to $2 million" in increments of $.05 per lid sent in. And really? If you want to actually make a statement about fighting breast cancer, just DONATE THE FUCKING MONEY and do a press release about that.

Linking the funding of a cure for a disease with a marketing campaign which has a self-imposed donation cap on it smacks of nothing more than just product boosterism and nothing more.
posted by hippybear at 2:36 PM on October 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


grrr. remove "and nothing more". Also supporting the 3min edit.
posted by hippybear at 2:37 PM on October 2, 2009


Ok, I'll ask this here. Does Yoplait actually employ someone people to open envelopes full of yogurt lids to count them to see how much to donate, or do they just donate a set amount?

And to hippybear: the lids gets you way more publicity than a press release.
posted by ALongDecember at 2:38 PM on October 2, 2009


the lids gets you way more publicity than a press release.

Right, because the point I was trying to make is, for Yoplait, it isn't actually about the breast cancer research. It's a marketing ploy, and the rest of it is cynical trappings designed to get the consumer to think they are helping "a cause" when they are really only just buying more Yoplait branded merchandise.

Make it about the research, not the marketing.
posted by hippybear at 2:40 PM on October 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


from the fourth link: "rGBH, the artificial growth hormone given to dairy cows that increases people’s risk of cancer."

[citation needed]

Don't get me wrong, big Pharma is the devil, but this kind of statement is crap without supporting documentation by reliable sources.

rGBH was a horrible thing to allow, but not for the cancer reason, but because it addressed a need that wasn't there. We had no milk shortage, so giving cows rGBH only served to destroy family farms for corporate ones because the profit margin eroded so badly.
posted by mcstayinskool at 2:42 PM on October 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


> Does Yoplait actually employ someone people to open envelopes full of yogurt lids to count them to see how much to donate

No, they hire somebody else to do it.
posted by ardgedee at 2:43 PM on October 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ok, I'll ask this here. Does Yoplait actually employ someone people to open envelopes full of yogurt lids to count them to see how much to donate, or do they just donate a set amount?

They probably just dump all that mail into a big garbage box or something, weigh the whole thing, and then divide everything by the weight of each lid, accounting for the weight of the envelopes by some estimated fudge factor.

Or even simpler would be to assume every envelope has x numbers of lids in it and not even bother counting.

It's even possible they waste volunteer's time to count them all. This is just idle speculation, of course.
posted by meowzilla at 2:48 PM on October 2, 2009


But if you're choosing between two identical products you are going to buy anyway, and one will donate a small percentage to breast cancer research, doesn't it make sense to pick that product over the one that doesn't?
posted by inturnaround at 2:49 PM on October 2, 2009


Waitaminute. Are you saying there's more to charitable giving than buying products with a special logo on them?
posted by straight at 2:50 PM on October 2, 2009


It's a marketing ploy,

Of course, and with them donating 5 cents per lid, you're better off just buying yogurt that's 25 cents cheaper and writing a check to a breast cancer charity yourself. Cost to you is identical, but the charity does a lot better.

And, of course, there's nothing whatsoever that requires them to count honestly. They could come up with any number of reasons to reject lids as 'unsuitable' without anyone really being the wiser.

They structure it the way they do in the hope that you'll buy more yogurt than you otherwise would have, more than enough to offset the donations. I have no idea whether it works or not, but since they keep doing stuff like that, they must feel it's worthwhile.

I don't think the charities exactly mind free money, since obviously Yoplait is giving them something, but overall they're just being parasites on charitable giving.
posted by Malor at 2:53 PM on October 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


But if you're choosing between two identical products you are going to buy anyway, and one will donate a small percentage to breast cancer research, doesn't it make sense to pick that product over the one that doesn't?

I would say yes, IF there weren't a cap on the total donation amount. If EVERY yogurt sold (or lid sent in) led to a donation to research, then great. But that's never how it works. The fine print always caps at some (for an international corporation) really small amount of money, like $2 million or such. I guess I'm one of the cynics noted in the FPP where this is concerned.

My absolute favorite "awareness campaign" for breast cancer is the thinly-veiled homophobia of the "tough enough to wear pink" night they have at the local rodeo, where they try to get all the men to wear pink to show support for breast cancer research. It's like, really? You can wear the color pink because you're tough enough? I know drag queens and transexuals who've learned a lot harder lesson than that just living their daily lives. Tough enough, indeed.
posted by hippybear at 2:54 PM on October 2, 2009


I disagree with comments about the lids, or similar schemes. It's really necessary to create the identity of your supporters in this way by have them "perform" in order to raise money. Writing a check is far too easy, and socially ephemeral. The supporters need to act out their support in order to maintain their identity with you.
posted by Sova at 2:58 PM on October 2, 2009


Make it about the research, not the marketing.

A corporation is by its nature not altruistic. If there was no marketing angle or tax breaks, companies would have no incentive to donate money in the first place. On the bright side, there are plenty of marketing gimmicks that don't result in money getting donated to good causes, so it's better than nothing.
posted by burnmp3s at 2:58 PM on October 2, 2009


They probably just dump all that mail into a big garbage box or something, weigh the whole thing, and then divide everything by the weight of each lid, accounting for the weight of the envelopes by some estimated fudge factor.

Counting envelopes should be pretty easy, just a variation on postal equipment, and envelopes and stamps are mostly similarly-weighted, so they could just spin off a fixed number of envelopes into a bin, weigh it, subtract the average envelope + stamp weight, and cut a check. Getting it wrong by couple of hundred per batch, even if they're overcounting, is still cheaper than paying people to count lids.

And, of course, somehow I doubt they'll err on the side of generosity.
posted by Malor at 3:00 PM on October 2, 2009


well $2 million would be 80 million yoghurt caps if I’m understanding this scheme right? I’d be very surprised if even a fraction of that got sent in so I would understand this more as a “shit we screwed up in some way we didn’t anticipate at all” get-out clause rather than an actual limitation on the money they expect to spend on the scheme.

However, if the Yoplay cups are say $0.1 more expensive than the ones you’d normally get then you’d be better off buying the cheaper ones and then donating some sensible amount at the end of the year to the charity of your choice. Nestle hopes that you won’t be thinking like that, and that is the whole point...
posted by Morbuto at 3:02 PM on October 2, 2009


A little further: think of it as consuming charity, not just yogurt. If I ran a charity, I would definitely want people who supported it to have to do something like this; or wear a badge; or change their names; or something which involved performing or reinforcing an identity in some way.
posted by Sova at 3:03 PM on October 2, 2009


from the fourth link: "rGBH, the artificial growth hormone given to dairy cows that increases people’s risk of cancer."

[citation needed]


If you click through to the Eli Lilly & rGBH page at Think Before You Pink, and from there click through to the pdf (linked at the bottom of the italicized section) there are an impressive number of citations. Though making them more prominent would be a plus.
posted by philotes at 3:04 PM on October 2, 2009


In Welcome to Cancerland by Barbara Ehrenreich talks about this "In the harshest judgment, the breast-cancer cult serves as an accomplice in global poisoning - normalizing cancer, prettying it up, even presenting it, perversely, as a positive and enviable experience."
posted by nooneyouknow at 3:06 PM on October 2, 2009 [7 favorites]


I read this thought in some other Metafilter thread, but it's probably relevant:

It's kind of sad that Americans express their beliefs mainly through consumerism. How is buying/not buying crap from a corporation the best way to enact change in their lives?

How many times have you heard some political group doesn't like the beliefs of CEO and then decides to boycott its products?

Somehow people are going to cure breast cancer by buying pink-colored crap, probably made in China, instead of donating that money to the organization directly. Or even adequately funding schools to produce more scientists.
posted by meowzilla at 3:23 PM on October 2, 2009 [4 favorites]


In Welcome to Cancerland by Barbara Ehrenreich talks about this "In the harshest judgment, the breast-cancer cult serves as an accomplice in global poisoning - normalizing cancer, prettying it up, even presenting it, perversely, as a positive and enviable experience."

Unfortunately, the alternative is what happens with ovarian cancer. It's the fifth most common cancer in women -- diagnosed in more than 22,000 women in the US each year. More than 15,000 women die of the disease annually. One in 72 women have a lifetime risk of developing ovarian cancer. One in 95 women will die from it.

Yet ovarian cancer is *rarely* diagnosed in its early stages when survival rates would be optimal. Cost-effective screening tests don't exist (Although that may be changing! http://bit.ly/2chUK) and symptoms are often misdiagnosed, so more than 50% of women who have ovarian cancer don't find out until the disease is in a late stage -- past a point where it is easily excised through surgery or chemotherapy..

Stronger awareness of the danger signs, better testing / screening methods and more treatment options are needed. But it doesn't have a "pleasant" ad campaign, or even a "scary" one. So compared to breast cancer, it gets a fraction of the education and research funding. Government funding for ovarian lags behind that for breast cancer ($150m vs. $20m) and in the last 30 years ovarian cancer survival rates have barely improved compared to other cancers that primarily affect women.

Ehrenreich is right that mammograms are not a foolproof early detection method for breast cancer. But at least they *exist*, are non-invasive, and women are educated to get them and take action if anomalies are detected. All of those campaigns to raise public awareness of the dangers of breast cancer have worked quite effectively. Comparatively, that's a far better and more efficient starting point.
posted by zarq at 3:32 PM on October 2, 2009 [8 favorites]


That Barbara Ehrenreich article is great, thanks for sharing that.

It's worth keeping in mind that awareness and money aren't magic bullets. Cancer has been high profile for centuries, and very well funded for research since the 1970s, but it's a brutally tough and slippery foe. In the big picture, we are nowhere close to really understanding all the processes involved, especially with breast cancer's systemic nature. Basic research into genetics, cells, blood and the immune system is probably what we need the most, but this kind of very specific fundraising for your friends-and-relative's personal disease takes away from that.
posted by msalt at 4:06 PM on October 2, 2009


Thanks for this. I have long been bothered by the merchandised nature of breast cancer. My mother was diagnosed with fairly advanced breast cancer when I was a teenager. She survived (yay!). So I feel like I should be all into the breast cancer stuff. But I'm really not. There are lots of diseases and disorders that upset families and kill people. Breast cancer is one.

My mother (a yoga instructor and reiki practitioner) has said that she dislikes the warrior and battle imagery around breast cancer. Ehrenreich captures what is unsettling about this nicely.
posted by jeoc at 4:27 PM on October 2, 2009


Wow, zarq. Thanks for talking about the other side of this.
posted by nooneyouknow at 4:52 PM on October 2, 2009


What I don't understand is the point of all the different cancer charities.... Movie Star A is diagnosed with breast cancer and founds the A Cancer Research charity. Recording Star B undergoes successful breast cancer surgery/treatment and founds the B Breast Cancer Foundation. There are so many organizations raising millions of dollars for breast cancer ... research? treatment? Yet so many women can't afford a mammogram, nor post-mastectomy drugs, etc. Where is all the money raised by the various charities going? Why are there so many different organizations raising money for breast cancer research/treatment (supposedly the funds are not all funneled into one place) - would it not be more effective to pool all those resources together?
posted by Oriole Adams at 5:44 PM on October 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


I always feel a little bit guilty now when discussion of breast cancer comes around. I am just over a year past diagnosis of kidney cancer. Nowhere do I see huge ad campaigns or orange ribbons, orange hats, scarves, shirts, bags, etc.. etc... When I see the pink breast cancer stuff I think "well fuck, screw those of us who came down with a cancer that isn't glamorized."

Kidney cancer has very little treatment options. And, while no cancer is a good cancer, at least if it had been breast cancer there would be a larger support network, way more treatment options, and more research of it.

I hate that I feel this way but right now I do.
posted by SuzySmith at 5:56 PM on October 2, 2009 [14 favorites]


Congress cannot earmark money for a specific cancer within the NCI, however, since 1992 it has been earmarking money for some cancers through its Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP) managed by the Department of Defense. From Fiscal Year (FY) 1992 thru FY2005 breast cancer has received $1.81 billion for research. From FY1995 thru FY2005 prostate cancer has received $650 million for research. From FY1997 thru FY2005 ovarian cancer has received $91.7 million for research. Currently Congress appropriates $150 million a year for breast cancer, $85 million a year for prostate cancer, $10 million a year for ovarian cancer and $4.25 million a year for chronic myelogenous leukemia but ZERO dollars for kidney cancer!


Just to back up one of the reasons I get annoyed by the breast cancer push: http://www.ackc.org/genesis
posted by SuzySmith at 6:00 PM on October 2, 2009


In 1992, the NCI's funding for kidney cancer research was $17 million and $20 million for ovarian cancer research. The NCI's projected 2005 budget for kidney cancer is $30.5 million but, due to ovarian cancer advocacy, the NCI's budget this year for ovarian cancer research is $100 million! There are 25,000 new cases of ovarian cancer in the United States each year and 36,000 cases of kidney cancer.

And, from the same page. (stupid me meant to put this in the last one.

Most cases of kidney cancer are found in advance stages unless they are found incidentally while looking at something else.
posted by SuzySmith at 6:02 PM on October 2, 2009


> Cancer has been high profile for centuries, and very well funded for research since the 1970s, but it's a brutally tough and slippery foe.

"There will never be a cure for cancer. Don't tell our sponsors."
posted by ardgedee at 6:50 PM on October 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yet so many women can't afford a mammogram, nor post-mastectomy drugs, etc. Where is all the money raised by the various charities going?

Most money raised, I'm given to understand, does not go to treat women for breast cancer - that's what their employer-provided health insurance is for, unless they don't have it, and until the insurer realizes that costs money. It's used, rather, to develop those treatments in the first place.
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:29 PM on October 2, 2009


SuzySmith, First, I hope you're doing okay.

For whatever it's worth, my understanding is that many people with types of cancer other than breast feel similarly, and that's completely understandable. Breast cancer receives a tremendous amount of public attention and research funding, while progress on others languishes. It's a completely unfair disparity.

A friend living with Stage 4 ovarian has taken a variety of chemotherapy drugs, the majority of which were developed to treat breast cancer, not ovarian. They don't work perfectly, (and in some cases do not have any effect whatsoever,) but they're all that's available. Oncologists throw drugs that have not yet been researched for a particular disease, and may or may not work, hoping something will be effective.

The funding matters a great deal. Available drugs and early detection suffer because one cancer happens to be prioritized above others. Survival rates for breast are higher than both ovarian and kidney cancers for a number of reasons, but this has a lot to do with it.

I have a number of family members who did and did not survive breast cancer. For them, I'm truly grateful that treatment options, early detection and research studies conducted on various pharmaceuticals existed. But the situation sucks for everyone else.
posted by zarq at 8:39 PM on October 2, 2009


In 1992, the NCI's funding for kidney cancer research was $17 million and $20 million for ovarian cancer research. The NCI's projected 2005 budget for kidney cancer is $30.5 million but, due to ovarian cancer advocacy, the NCI's budget this year for ovarian cancer research is $100 million! There are 25,000 new cases of ovarian cancer in the United States each year and 36,000 cases of kidney cancer.

The reason for this, as illogical as it may seem, is that the five year survival rates for ovarian cancer average out to less than 50%. The NIH's NCI has a special initiative in place in which a small amount of their 30 billion in funding is set aside for research into treating four or five cancers that fit that specific criteria, including pancreatic, ovarian liver and myeloma. By contrast, the average five year survival rates for all kidney cancers are in the 60-70% range.

In general, (meaning that statistics do vary from year to year,) there are approximately 32,000 new kidney cancer cases a year, with 12,000 annual deaths. There are approximately 25,000 new ovarian cancer diagnoses a year, and 15,000 annual deaths. These aren't set numbers, and the survival rate differences between stages also make a huge difference. But the general trend is a higher than 60% survival rate for all stages of kidney cancer, and a 44% for all stages of ovarian.

53% of kidney cancers are diagnosed at stage I. 22% are diagnosed at Stage III or worse. The "diagnosed at stage I" numbers for ovarian are 19%. 68% are diagnosed at Stage III or worse.

The 50% line seems completely arbitrary and unfair to me. But that's their reasoning.
posted by zarq at 9:14 PM on October 2, 2009


And.... please forgive me if my quoting statistics at you about a disease you're currently fighting sounds tone deaf in any way. I'm not trying to imply that one form of cancer deserves less funding or research than any other. I just find the unfairness of the funding situation really infuriating. How many lives might potentially be saved if research grants were given out more equally, or all cancer-related funding matched that currently given for breast cancer?
posted by zarq at 9:24 PM on October 2, 2009


Wow, zarq. Thanks for talking about the other side of this.

You're welcome, but honestly I almost feel like I shouldn't say anything about it. I worry that by raising the subject I might inadvertently convince someone not to contribute to the fight against breast cancer.
posted by zarq at 9:29 PM on October 2, 2009


rGBH was a horrible thing to allow, but not for the cancer reason, but because it addressed a need that wasn't there. We had no milk shortage, so giving cows rGBH only served to destroy family farms for corporate ones because the profit margin eroded so badly.
What's the causal connection there? Couldn't a family farm use rGBH just as easily as a large one? In fact, wouldn't it increase, rather then decrease profits. Increasing the amount of milk per cow would be more helpful for facilities with fewer cows.

Not that I'm in favor of rGBH, and I don't even drink milk in the first place, but still, what you said doesn't really make much sense to me.

(and anyway why are family dairies even desirable in the first place?)
In Welcome to Cancerland by Barbara Ehrenreich talks about this "In the harshest judgment, the breast-cancer cult serves as an accomplice in global poisoning - normalizing cancer, prettying it up, even presenting it, perversely, as a positive and enviable experience."
I don't really think a reasonable person would ever envy a cancer patient. But I do agree all the marketing around breast cancer seems a little over the top, especially how corporitized it is. I mean, Pepperidge Farm cookies all have pink accented bags now, and it's like, eat cookies to fight disease? Hello? I'm sure plenty of women die from heat disease from bad eating too. Why is this one particular so isolated and worried about?
posted by delmoi at 9:37 PM on October 2, 2009


Could I see some evidence that bovine growth hormone causes cancer in humans. If provable cause in the field is too hard to come by, I'll accept a good bioassay.

And that's Mister the Devil to you, Mcstayinskool
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:20 PM on October 2, 2009


A friend living with Stage 4 ovarian has taken a variety of chemotherapy drugs, the majority of which were developed to treat breast cancer, not ovarian. They don't work perfectly, (and in some cases do not have any effect whatsoever,) but they're all that's available. Oncologists throw drugs that have not yet been researched for a particular disease, and may or may not work, hoping something will be effective.

There is some logic behind using drugs developed for breast cancer in ovarian tumours, since they may both involve estrogen and the estrogen receptor pathway, which is targeted by drugs like tamoxifen. But I agree it's not as good as developing drugs to specifically target ovarian tumours.
posted by penguinliz at 2:27 AM on October 3, 2009


It's fascinating how Barbara Ehrenreich's got to examine the whole breast cancer survivorship industry like an outsider looking into a cult, horrified that people participate when they still have to die at the end. She'd never see her enlightened self as belonging to any kind of cult, no sirree...she's really thought it through:

No, this is not my sisterhood. For me at least, breast cancer will never be a source of identity or pride. As my dying correspondent Geni wrote: "IT IS NOT O.K.!" What it is, along with cancer generally or any slow and painful way of dying, is an abomination, and, to the extent that it's manmade, also a crime. This is the one great truth that I bring out of the breast-cancer experience, which did not, I can now report, make me prettier or stronger, more feminine or spiritual-only more deeply angry. What sustained me through the "treatments" is a purifying rage, a resolve, framed in the sleepless nights of chemotherapy, to see the last polluter, along with, say, the last smug health insurance operative, strangled with the last pink ribbon. Cancer or no cancer, I will not live that long of course. But I know this much right now for sure: I will not go into that last good night with a teddy bear tucked under my arm.

Those uncouth, deluded folks, taking comfort in their teddy bears, when if only we all controlled the means of production, if we got angry enough, we'd be immortal, cult-free, and naturally good, you know. This "death" problem, there's some sort of capitalist stink to it. We're all flesh for some industry --invest it ethically, share the returns evenly with all, have a decent death, one you earned, one that's fair.

Just this year I watched my mother, also named Barbara and around the same age as Ehrenreich, die of the disease, which --due to other chronic illness and plain stubbornness-- she never treated. It took about 5 years to kill her. I still don't know what to say about that, exactly, other than it was terribly sad and she was a tough old bird. And never a more cult-less, braver woman have I met. What I took away from the last conversations with and death vigil for my mother is this: Eventually, you have to define your living and dying on your own terms, or that last good night won't be a good one at all.
posted by eegphalanges at 4:27 AM on October 3, 2009


Those uncouth, deluded folks, taking comfort in their teddy bears, when if only we all controlled the means of production, if we got angry enough, we'd be immortal, cult-free, and naturally good, you know.

I really don't think this is what she's saying. Once you have a cancer diagnosis you find the cult awaiting you. And everyone suddenly tells you have brave you are, as if you had some kind of choice in the matter. And everyone waits to hear how this experience has changed your life for the better, all the wise, wise wisdom you gained, and how you have this new sisterhood with fellow cancer patients. This stuff gets oppressive when you're in the thick of it. What if you're not brave, and you have no wise words to share? No one wants to deal with a fucking angry cancer patient.

I feel conflicted about Think Pink too. Breast cancer is a terrible thing, but there are a lot of other cancers out there that get very little attention or general understanding. (Those poor lung cancer patients: there are more of them around, but it's their own damn fault, amirite? No black ribbons around for them, no sisterhood and teddy bears.)

I understand the rage, though. I'm fairly certain that cancer is endemic to the human condition, just a thing that goes wrong with us as a species. But some cancers are far more environmentally induced than others. I had one such cancer (thyroid cancer), and I live in an area with an unusually high rate of its incidence. Which means that we have dumped just enough radiation into our environment to cause this grief to rise. So those big corps and decision-makers opted to pollute so thoughtlessly and thoroughly that I got cancer. When environmental issues get that personal, and there is an obvious set of bad guys to blame, and it's clealy not your "fault", you get to have some rage. Rage might not be becoming on the saintly cancer patient image, but it's a reality. Rage and guilt, guilt and rage.

Aren't we so brave?
posted by Hildegarde at 7:57 AM on October 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


What if you're not brave, and you have no wise words to share? No one wants to deal with a fucking angry cancer patient.

You're right, though pitching a fit will garner a brief burst of attention from startling those whose sympathy you wish to gain, after awhile people will ignore you for it, righteous anger or not. Angry cancer patients, like angry anybody, will have to learn to deal with their selves, as we all ultimately have to do, and communicate something useful if they want their needs met. Some needs cannot be met; people die. Living or dying, either you stay angry, or get some coping skills. Some do it with teddy bears, some with religion, some with organized political zeal. Everybody thinks their way is best and most justified, noble, and true. I would expect even the most culty-teddy bear cuddler has had their time of rage and guilt.

My question is: How far can being enraged take you down either the path to death or recovery?

*well, all the way, I suppose*

Aren't we so brave?

No, some are cowards. I have had two primary relatives with breast cancer--a sister and mother--as well as one great-aunt. They each did what they had to do, with differing results, without making everyone around them feel like shit for their shit luck, as if they were the first person to ever suffer & die as they did. That's brave--bravery doesn't exist in a vacuum of self, they were brave because they went on living their lives for the sake of others, all of us who die and hope to not find ourselves raging and guilty and likely alone. And no, we didn't tell them that trite, "Oh, you're so brave." It was more like, "Well, shit, you do what you gotta do." And we helped them do it--respected their choices for treatment or withholding treatment--though we didn't understand it, couldn't understand it.

My mother wouldn't stand for that "moon-eyed pity," as she called it. She told me, after being sick for 25 years with high-blood pressure, congestive heart failure, and diabetes, was that death was a boon for her at that point. A coward would say, "Why me?" My mother said, "Why not me?"

Around 1976, she helped her aunt die with breast cancer. She volunteered at hospice for 20 years before her own death. She had seen plenty of death. I got to rub my mother's feet at the end, it deepened her breathing and lowered her heart rate, and that's all the good I could do for her, all that she could let me do. What she learned is death is not unique or novel, and perhaps consciously facing it is better than not. I won't be disparaging anyone's teddy bears, if that's what gets them through it.

What makes Barbara Ehrenreich's rage in the face of the commodification of death so superior to others' means of coping? She gets a national venue, while my mother does not? She gets health insurance, while my mother did not? I should be angry with her, because she chooses her battles in her own way? From within or without, the battle will claim you, either way, your flesh is bought and sold. Who pays the price?

I understand that Ehrenreich does what she has to do. It's not what many others choose to do who are in the same circumstance. Choose your battles well. I hope at least some of this comes across. I don't expect that it will.

Fight your good fight, seriously.
posted by eegphalanges at 9:47 AM on October 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


The Cancerland article was a breath of fresh air to me during treatment, the first thing I'd read that felt honest and real. It let me feel okay about some of the ugly feelings I had. She not protesting the way other people cope; she's protesting people telling her how SHE should cope. If she wants to do it with anger, who are you, or me, to say she should do otherwise?
posted by Hildegarde at 10:44 AM on October 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


"This is not, I should point out, a case of cynical merchants exploiting the sick. Some of the breast-cancer tchotchkes and accessories are made by breast-cancer survivors themselves.... If the bears are infantilizing-as I try ever so tactfully to suggest is how they may, in rare cases, be perceived-so far no one has complained. "I just get love letters," she tells me, "from people who say, 'God bless you for thinking of us."

"Yes, atheists pray in their foxholes-in this case, with a yearning new to me and sharp as lust, for a clean and honorable death by shark bite, lightning strike, sniper fire, car crash. Let me be hacked to death by a madman, is my silent supplication-anything but suffocation by the pink sticky sentiment embodied in that bear and oozing from the walls of the changing room.

"No one brings up my own objection to the term, though: that the mindless triumphalism of 'survivorhood' denigrates the dead and the dying. Did we who live "fight" harder than those who've died? Can we claim to be "braver," better, people than the dead? And why is there no room in this cult for some gracious acceptance of death, when the time comes, which it surely will, through cancer or some other misfortune?
--from the Ehrenreich

Granted, she's asking the same questions I am, her answers are just different. There is room for "some gracious acceptance of death," she's just not looking for it. She still thinks the God she doesn't believe in is with the money-changers outside the temple. Somebody would understand her anger, in that regard.
posted by eegphalanges at 11:14 AM on October 3, 2009


What I don't understand is the point of all the different cancer charities.... Movie Star A is diagnosed with breast cancer and founds the A Cancer Research charity.
Recording Star B undergoes successful breast cancer surgery/treatment and founds the B Breast Cancer Foundation.


It's all ego. The Onion: "My Dead Kid's Foundation Kicked Your Dead Kid's Foundation's Ass"
posted by msalt at 12:08 PM on October 3, 2009


Great timing as ever MetaFilter. Here was me feeling all inspired having just got back from the local Race for the Cure this morning. My wife dragged me along to take the kid on the family walk and keep him occupied while she did the 5k. Yes, there were a lot of corporate sponsors, and some of them have probably used or released a product linked to cancer. And yes, I could have stayed home watching cartoons and mailed a check. But then I would have missed seeing a turnout that must have been over 10,000, an inspiring number of survivors celebrating just being there and a rather moving amount of folks there in memory of someone close to them. A lot of money was raised and it will be put to good use in the local area. I'm glad I went, I'm glad I pledged money. It's not about the yogurt lids.
posted by IanMorr at 1:40 PM on October 3, 2009



For whatever it's worth, my understanding is that many people with types of cancer other than breast feel similarly, and that's completely understandable.


Thank you. I really figured I would be slammed for saying it but it feels amazingly refreshing to admit it.

As far as ovarian cancer vs kidney cancer etc. I completely understand the reasoning behind the push on ovarian cancer treatments and boy, I hope they come up with something to make the chances of surviving that diagnosis more likely. I just wish that kidney cancer had the same push.

Renal Cell Carcinoma-clear/conventional is the type of cancer I have. There are very few adjunct therapies. A few pills that might slow the progress but only one drug that has something like a 7% chance of cure. I'm lucky, my tumor was just under stage 2, in fact was stage 1b grade 2. My tumor and my right kidney were removed in an open nephrectomy in December of 2008.

As of August, my scans looked good, my adrenal gland still looks 'funny' but unchanged so we're just watching it. I have no tumors right now. Yet, I know the changes of it coming back are enormous. And, it is something I think about every single day. I'm only a year from diagnosis so maybe if it continues to remain clear, I will someday not think of cancer every day of my life but, from a year out, it still fucking scary.

What I took away from the last conversations with and death vigil for my mother is this: Eventually, you have to define your living and dying on your own terms, or that last good night won't be a good one at all.
posted by eegphalanges


Eegphalanges, I am sorry for your loss. Your Mom sounds like a pretty damn smart woman and one I would love to emulate.

Rage might not be becoming on the saintly cancer patient image, but it's a reality. Rage and guilt, guilt and rage.

Aren't we so brave?


That nails it on the head so much that it is scary. I am not brave. I'm scared. I'm angry. I feel guilt that I wish my cancer type had more money. I feel guilt that I am putting my husband, my parents, my siblings, my niece and nephews through all of this. Cancer fucking pulls along the whole damn family.

When I walk into one place that my family goes to often, I get that whole "oh brave woman shit." I hate it. I am not brave. I want to scream and yell and hit things, still. I hate this disease.

t was more like, "Well, shit, you do what you gotta do."
Most people don't do this, though. They give you the 'be brave', you can do it, on and on thing. Cancer is a personal disease, I don't believe any 2 people experience it exactly the same.

And, just to say, I rage here, I admit here that I am scared. I said it on MetaFilter but you won't see me admitting it to my family. They don't understand the anger and the fear. My husband is my best friend on the planet, a fantastic man whom I love and adore with all my heart. We've been together 13 years, married 11 this month, yet, even he can't completely understand how I feel about this so I don't let it all show.

There are just sometimes it hits me that I need to let it out and MeFi was the one that got it this time.
posted by SuzySmith at 8:27 PM on October 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


I was at a early cancer detection fundraiser this summer. It was in the blazing sun, although they were providing sunglasses (plastic) and sunscreen (not sure of the toxin rating, though). Everybody got a free chargrilled beef burgers or hot dog, potato chips (not baked) and a soda. There were no veggie options and I don't recall any healthy options, such as veggies or wholewheat buns.The kids were jumping up and down in bouncy castles fueled by generators. The event was in a park really far from transit, in the middle of a suburb, so everyone had driven there.

All I could think was that cancer agencies should model behaviour if they want to turn the tide.

(Note: I do think the charity in question is fantastic.)
posted by acoutu at 9:26 PM on October 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


I was having this discussion offline and have a question. My impression is that these disease-targeted organizations draw funding away from basic research (that, say, the American Cancer Society or government might otherwise fund) and toward funding specific to breast cancer, kidney cancer, etc.

But I have to admit that I don't really have any data on this. Does anyone know? Do any of the breast cancer groups, for example, fund basic research on cells, blood, etc. such as the telomere studies that just won the Nobel Prize?
posted by msalt at 10:28 AM on October 5, 2009


msalt, The simplest answer is, it depends on the organization. Almost none of the monies donated to the Susan G. Koman foundation go to basic research. On the other hand, the Gateway Charity donates 99% of the monies they fund-raise to research groups. Whether the research being funded is specific to a particular type of cancer also depends on the organization.

Health.com has a nice breakdown.
posted by zarq at 2:55 PM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Awesome! Thank you so much.
posted by msalt at 7:59 PM on October 5, 2009


You're very welcome!
posted by zarq at 6:45 AM on October 6, 2009


« Older VeganMoFo 2009!...  |  The pitch was extravagent: a m... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments