I flew on Delta Airlines this October and the airline was ALL about breast cancer and pink ribbons. I arrived in Minneapolis to change planes. Before passengers boarded onto their connecting flight, flight attendants brought out a shellacked pink pumpkin, got on the public address system, and asked people to donate $10’s and $20’s (preferably), “just stick it in the pumpkin.” It felt like a shakedown.
When I travelled on this Delta flight, I had just finished radiation treatment. Now, I should tell you that I was diagnosed with breast cancer in October of 2012. Within that same week, I had watched Pink Ribbons, Inc. and read Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book. These two sources, along with my proclivity for healthful living and a non-corporate lifestyle, set the tone for my foray into Western medicine after my diagnosis. As I stood in the departure lounge, I felt really embarrassed for everyone involved, the whole scene was embarrassing. I wanted to cry out to everyone: “THINK BEFORE YOU PINK!” The in-flight magazine featured pink lemonade alcohol drinks that donated a portion to breast cancer. Unable to help myself, I scrawled my commentary on those pages. I knew if I spoke up to the crowd of people I was flying with, there could be consequences that I just didn’t have the energy to negotiate. I imagined the scenario: not being allowed to board, being escorted off the plane, having to complete my trip on a Greyhound bus. As passengers from each zone were called up to board the flight, they stood in front of that pink pumpkin, some taking longer than others. It very much felt like if you don’t pay, then you don’t care.
This feel-good exercise smacked of absurdity to me. Just months before, just after completing chemo, I flew this same route with this same airline. A chemo-related snafu created a difficult situation for me, and not one employee appeared to care during an obviously stressful moment, including the exposure of my newly bald chemo head and my surgical mask. Maybe if I’d been carrying a shiny pink pumpkin with me I’d have received the help I needed. Maybe not.
All of you at that gate had my sympathies. You perhaps were standing up to pay it forward or perhaps you’ve already lost a mother, a sister or a friend. I wanted to say: “Don’t donate your money to this organization. It supports bloated administrations and redundant research.” Or “I want a portion of this money to fund prevention and finding the cause of breast cancer. Do you know that we are poisoning ourselves with chemical laden products—many of them with pink ribbons attached—and the next generation has even more cause for concern?” But I didn’t. So I’m saying it here and now.
In my experience, one of the components of cancer treatment is watching the people we know adjust, step up, or stumble, and there’s a whole world of well-intended but inadequate responses. People either understand the cancer experience or they don’t. And they‘re either willing to learn or they’re not. What to say? What to do? How to help with breast cancer? For too many people Breast Cancer Awareness Month solves this issue. Want to help? Want to do something? You can. It’s easy. Just put a $20 in the shiny pink pumpkin at the airport gate and you’re done. Pop in your $20 and you can feel good and walk away—fly away home, even!
In my dream do-over of that lost opportunity at the Delta gate, I see myself silently handing out brochures, asking people to Think Before You Pink. In the brochures are links to websites such as Breast Cancer Action and the Environmental Working Group. I would leave them on seats, hanging over the backs of chairs, in the restrooms at the airports, wedged in those flight magazines, on the check-in counters, all over the departure lounge. Maybe if I wasn’t intimidated by the limelight or hadn’t been so exhausted from treatment, it would have felt empowering to do that. Under the circumstances, my silent seething was all I could manage.
Editor’s Note: We hear from lots of members who experience frustration and outrage over “pink ribbon shakedowns.” We all have moments where we just can’t respond as we’d like. In a perfect world, we’d have the tools to respond at our finger tips. In a direct effort to help out in such situations, we created the Think Before You Pink Toolkit, which includes printable Think Before You Pink “wallet cards” you can hand out to your community. It’s free and you can download it from here. And remember, you are not alone! People across the country are seething about and taking action against pinkwashing.