I won’t be wearing pink this month, or taking part in a breast cancer walk, or donating money to breast cancer research. It’s not that I don’t think beating breast cancer is a good cause. It is. I believe that to my core. Money raised by breast cancer charities has increased screening and funded important research. It has saved lives, including those of people I know and love.
My issue is that the amazing job that breast cancer charities have done raising funds and awareness has exacted a heavy toll on awareness and fundraising opportunities for other types of cancer — like colorectal cancer, the one I am currently living with.
As cancers go, it’s a big one. An estimated 135,430 Americans will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer this year, and 50,260 will die from it. That puts it in the top three cancers for both new cases and deaths. Yet when I told family and friends about my diagnosis, many didn’t know what colorectal cancer was, let alone that it was a leading cause of cancer deaths. When I was being treated — losing my hair and sporting a chemotherapy-related pallor — I was often asked if I had breast cancer and if I was going to lose my breasts. I lost a sizable chunk of my colon, but no one ever asked about that.
I could not find a colorectal cancer support group in Westchester County, N.Y., where I live. There were, however, many breast cancer support groups there.
I understand why. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. An estimated 252,710 will be diagnosed with it this year. But with 40,610 estimated deaths, it is far from the deadliest. Lung cancer takes the top spot, with 222,500 new cases and 155,870 deaths.
I share these statistics solely to bring some perspective to the issue. A cancer diagnosis is devastating, no matter the type.
Breast cancer survivors, charities, and the businesses that have partnered with them have done an enviable job raising awareness and funds, as well as providing services and support to patients and their families. Thanks to the work of these charities, many communities have organizations that provide emotional, social, and educational support for breast cancer patients and their families.
These types of services should be available for all cancer patients. But not all cancer charities are as well-funded, and so can’t offer as much to patients. It goes back to the disparities in fundraising and awareness.
I am tired of well-intentioned people asking me to donate money to breast cancer. I want someone to ask me to donate to help support research on pancreatic cancer, find a cure for childhood leukemia, or help the quarter of a million of Americans diagnosed with lung cancer every year. That rarely, if ever, happens. And that’s a problem.
I am not involved in fundraising and know nothing about the nuances of raising money to support cancer research. Yet I wonder, why doesn’t the sales associate at Bloomingdale’s ask me to donate to support colorectal cancer? Why doesn’t the cashier at my local grocery store cajole me into doing my part to find a cure for glioblastoma?
The disparity goes beyond money for research and supportive services. Awareness is skewed as well.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, marked by a slew of activities. Even the National Football League gets into the act with its Crucial Catch initiative that promotes breast cancer screening. Throughout October, NFL players, coaches, and referees will wear pink game apparel. That’s great. Increased awareness has resulted in better and more accessible screening that has saved lives, which is an important outcome.
The unfortunate thing is that hardly anyone knows when Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month is. Or Brain Cancer Awareness Month. Never mind what color their awareness ribbons are. (March and May, and dark blue and gray, respectively.) Perhaps the NFL’s My Cause My Cleats program, in which players wear custom cleats that reflect their commitments to charitable causes, will help, but it’s just one weekend and the players will be supporting myriad causes, from suicide prevention to food insecurity, autism, sickle cell disease, childhood cancer, and more.
Celebratory months and ribbons aside, these awareness initiatives can have tremendous value in increasing familiarity with the symptoms of a disease and providing information on early detection programs. Similar initiatives for less-prominent cancers would save countless lives.
I’m not suggesting that people stop donating to breast cancer charities or stop wearing pink ribbons in October. I just think that lingerie companies should have fundraising initiatives for colorectal cancer as well as breast cancer (hey, they make panties as well as bras), grocery stores should take up collections for melanoma research, and that this October, instead of NFL game officials wearing pink caps and wristbands every weekend, maybe on alternate Sundays they could wear emerald green caps and wristbands. After all, October is Liver Cancer Awareness Month too.
Tamlyn Oliver is managing editor for Biocompare, a life science media company based in San Francisco.
Thank you my daughter has stage 4 lung cancer and I just learned that each cancer has their own ribbons I had no idea and it is so sad that people don’t know these things you said it most eloquently and I thank you.
I’m so glad you wrote this article! I have a son with Type 1 Diabetes, so we have always been involved with JDRF by donating and doing the walks every year. Makes me so mad about how ignorant people are about Type 1 vs Type 2. I thought my job in life was educating everyone about Type 1!
But I was given a bigger job when I was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma Nov. 2018. It is so misunderstood and it is a complicated cancer. I received my bone marrow/stem cell transplant June 19, 2019. I have a local Onc and an Onc at Emory in Atlanta where I received my BMS. Between the two of them (top docs in their field) I get different answers, both use different language to describe things, they even interpret tests a bit differently. I am currently on intravenous chemo (Kyprolis) twice weekly and an oral pill (Polmalyst) daily for days 1-21, I will be on this regimen for at least one year then who knows?! It is a cancer that is never cured.
Research has gotten better but so MUCH more needs to be done because the diagnosis rate is going up and those being diagnosed are much younger than they used to be. I was 59 when I was diagnosed.
So yes, I get a bit nauseous seeing all the pink!
I’m trying to find a nice MM shirt and can’t! What’s up with the ugly maroon!
Stay well, stay positive and let’s be here for each other!
Nancy Stephens Apex, North Carolina
Thank you for raising this issue. I was diagnosed with bc stage 1d in 2005. Because I had a larger tumor than most stage I I had to have an additional 4 cycles of chemo. I continued teaching through this challenging time and finished treatment in 2006. I always felt a little unnerved about the attention that bc sufferers get to the detriment of other cancer sufferers. ( I use the word sufferers because they do suffer in myriad ways.) When you are in treatment you see all types of people with all types of cancer and they all need encouragement and respect. I am now under treatment for NHL. Love to all cancer patients out there😍😇
So true — and a bit impolitic to say, so good job saying it.
The big reason is that women usually survive breast cancer in 2019 — therefore there are lots of survivors-turned-advocates. Few survive people pancreatic cancer, lung cancer, or GBMs. Therefore these worst cancers don’t have survivors to advocate.
So it’s a bit of a negative feedback loop in that cancers that remain the worst have few advocates.
I too have colorectal cancer and the first time I saw a breast cancer poster, after I was diagnosed I almost cried. I thank you for your words, too. Society needs to be more sensitive to those living with the ‘other’ cancers.
Thank you for your words. The family and friends affected by and who died from cancer have largely not been breast cancer. I was wondering why we don’t hear about the rest. Sending you healing energy.
Thank you for your words. I agree it doesn’t matter what cancer it is, it’s all important. I am a new survivor 1 year of colorectal cancer, and I would like people to know it is the 2nd most detected cancer. It is the only preventable cancer, and the most noted curable cancer. I wish that March would be more recognized and royal blue ribbons would be more abundant. Just like October is.
Thank you for writing this!!!! I am so tired of breast cancer awareness. Of course not a popular opinion although this is the first I’ve shared it except for with my husband. It’s just too much, there are so many other cancers and diseases. I googled this and found your piece. So nice to not be totally alone!
Hi. I am a breast cancer survivor and I am sick of breast cancer awareness, pink ribbons, etc. I always wonder why there are no big campaigns for other cancers. What is it about breast cancer that makes everyone get involved? I am more concerned about children losing their lives to cancer than women, including myself, losing breasts.
Thank you for your post. As a colorectal cancer survivor, I have felt so torn about the ‘wave of pink’ everything supporting breast cancer. While I am so happy for the help this is bringing many women, I do feel like breast cancer research and progress is being funded often at the expense of other cancers. It has become somewhat of a media circus and ‘trendy’ to publicize support for breast cancer. I hope that other cancer awareness groups can learn from this success and more strongly support research and funding for all types of cancer. They are all vicious enemies and we need a wave of all colors to fight the big ‘C’ together.
Well someone feels the same way I do! I have Leukemia and I will be on a chemo pill everyday for the rest of my life. We do not have a remission. We have “controlled” when our blood numbers are good. I also looked up the numbers for my Leukemia. Mine is chronic and hard to control. Out of all the leukemia’s mine is chronic and hard to control. Breast cancer has the best odds of survival rate at 99%. If I make it to 5 years I have a better chance to have “quantity” of life. But its not quality. We also have a 20% chance of getting another cancer. Some of us hear from our ONCs that we have the good cancer … I wanted to slap him! I got a new ONC. My cancer flows to our vital organ’s. With my age bone marrow transplant is not really advised to have one. There is only a 20% making it a year. I hit a brick wall for everything I try to get more information about my cancer. The side effects are horrible, Fatigue,Bad bone pain. Oh and the chemo brain I forget everything! I am in Erie PA and have gone to the LLS and I am the only one here in Erie with my leukemia. Not much support either. Friends do not call when there is a get together. I just chalk it up to .. They look and see the mortally they will be facing when they are at their end time. My last comment is … Breast cancer gets all the publicity and all of with other cancers are put on the back burner! September is Leukemia and Lymphoma month. We have the event Light The Night!
Comments are closed.