By Kristi Marsh
As temperatures drop in New England, plumes of vibrant fall color adorn my routine. Along with russet and pumpkin hues, seas of curvaceous pink breast cancer ribbons are omnipresent. Bits of coral flicker from baseball hats and sweatshirt logos. Professional football players suit up in pastel pink jerseys and hot pink shoelaces. The smattering of color also weaves its way into local businesses and product marketing. Grocery stores are full of costumed packaging—salsa cans with temporary disco pink metallic lids and cereal boxes with swooping embellishments. Our corner donut store has a freestanding five-foot ribbon in their drive through, and even my quaint community paper delivered an entirely dusty pink edition to my mailbox. Pink ribbons, originally used to express support for those diagnosed with breast cancer, have grown to global recognition, turning October into a festive cancer-awareness carnival.
The little pink ribbons emblazoned on packages are indeed enticing. Feeling benevolent one evening while at the grocery store, I deviated from my routine and spent seventy-five extra cents on paper towels that displayed the pink ribbon. I wanted to “support the cause” and since I needed paper towels anyway, I chose the ones who claimed to support breast cancer awareness. Win-Win. As I was loading my car, it dawned on me that I had zero idea how the company supported breast cancer awareness or what their intent was by using the logo.
Now, not only do I view paper towels as waste of money, but I am also wary of products claiming to support this cause; especially when I have no idea how they actually do that. Before I reach for a product out of empathy, I want to know more. What does a “percentage” of profits mean? Is it a meager donation or a significant five-figure gift to an organization in the name of prevention? How do they define “awareness?” Early detection? Research? Treatment? Prevention? I am searching for companies who raise their pink flag proudly and share the specifics of how they donate and support this cause. With stories of mammograms gone badly and one in eight of my girlfriends at risk for breast cancer, I am already gut-wrenchingly aware. If the funds go towards the prevention of cancer, I’ll play the game and buy those products. I just want to know how the company is contributing and where my money is going.
I have made a lot of changes in my life since diagnosis (five!) years ago. Once of those changes is learning to use my voice and question what is going on as a consumer. I feel good about the new products my family uses, the foods we eat, and the items I use in and around my home. Now that I am stronger and more aware, I realize I can allow my passionate views to influence other surroundings. I can go beyond my one acre. I can support active non-profit organizations—like the Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition. Instead of feeling insignificant, I understand I have the power to educate and encourage our government and businesses. I set out on this journey intent on rebuilding a new body after chemotherapy, but what I built is a new me.
If you would like to sharpen your pink-smarts this October, start discussions with your friends, push your comfort zones, support, “like,” post, and tweet about supporting organizations and shout upward to companies.
Kristi Marsh is a mother of three and a breast cancer survivor (five years this month!) who works to educate women and families about the harm to our health caused by toxic chemicals in personal care products and other everyday exposures. She founded Choose Wiser, an organization dedicated to educating and empowering women to impact their personal environmental health. She encourages and inspires women to speak out for safer chemicals and products through her newsletter, Facebook page, and videos. She has developed her own dynamic, inspiring workshops which she has presented to hundreds of people including Easton residents and health care providers at Boston area hospitals. Her book, Little Changes, will be available in 2012. For tips, events, and updates, subscribe to Be Choosy! Newsletter at www.choosewiser.com.