I was diagnosed with Stage IIB breast cancer in 2010, when I was 41 years old. My son was just seven at the time. We have no family history of breast cancer, and the diagnosis came as a massive shock. I proceeded to undergo mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, reconstruction, multiple hospitalizations for infections and failed reconstruction, hormone therapy and ovarian suppression.
When I began treatment, I was at my oncologist’s office and read about a fun-sounding event for cancer patients, being held at a fabulous hotel in downtown San Francisco. I grabbed a couple of my friends who also had breast cancer, and we went. We looked forward to some yummy snacks and some pampering from the Look Good, Feel Better team, who were going to offer us make-up tips and products to hopefully help us feel a little less sick-looking.
It was fun to circle-up around the tables, surrounded by other women with breast cancer and a large crew of volunteer make-up artists who were there to take care of us. We were excited about what was to come. There was a lot of friendly banter and enthusiasm in the room, as there often is when women get together! Then, the goody bags of cosmetics were handed out, and my mood turned from upbeat to angry.
Imagine my shock and confusion when I saw what was in those bags, being handed out by the American Cancer Society. Without naming the brands, I will say that every single product contained both fragrance and parabens. I called over to one of the cosmetologists. I said, “There is fragrance in these products!” She responded, “They are all natural. We only use the highest quality ingredients.” I replied, “All of these products have fragrance and parabens, which are DANGEROUS for those of us with breast cancer.” (At that time, I was on Tamoxifen and didn’t even realize the additional issue: that these toxic chemicals may interfere with Tamoxifen’s effectiveness.)
I was stupefied that we were at a cancer-related event, sponsored by the American Cancer Society of all organizations, and we were being given products with known carcinogens and hormone disruptors! I was in active treatment for highly estrogen-sensitive breast cancer. I was cutting out estrogen-mimicking compounds everywhere I could. I was on medication to block my breast cells from binding to estrogen. Then, I go to a cancer-related event, intended to support me, and was given estrogen-mimicking products? It made absolutely ZERO sense to me, and I got PISSED.
I told all the women at my table that these products were ill-advised for us, and I expressed my strong disapproval at the hypocrisy of the situation. I got up and left, and my friends came with me. We went out for dinner, instead. Much safer and less enraging.
The next day, I called the organizer of the event, and shared my feelings about the dangerous products they were handing-out to cancer patients. The organizer was courteous (though clueless, sorry), and said she would “pass along my feedback.”
This was 5 years ago. Nothing has changed.
#PoisonIsntPretty and we deserve better than to be lured in by the promise of personal care and pampering, only to be polluted. The fact that the American Cancer Society is the perpetrator here is just a sick and twisted irony. Something needs to change. There ARE clean and safe cosmetics and personal care products on the market. How about the ACS provides THOSE?! Or how about at the very least, they use the SkinDeep app to evaluate the products they receive as donations for the Look Good, Feel Better program, before they choose to distribute them to a vulnerable population? That way, they can be a part of the solution, rather than becoming complicit in peddling poison. I expect better from the American Cancer Society.