Beyond Pinkwashing: 8 Things to Actually Do About Cancer

pinktoberPinktober is almost over, which means that Movember is going to be upon us soon and we will be going from too much pink to too much male facial hair. Each set of efforts has at its heart a good thing, to raise awareness about cancer and to raise funds to support research and treatment. All good.

What isn’t good is what has been called “pinkwashing:”

“Breast Cancer Action coined the term pinkwashing as part of our Think Before You Pink campaign. [It refers to] a company or organization that claims to care about breast cancer by promoting a pink ribbon product, but at the same time produces, manufactures and/or sells products that are linked to the disease.”

Everything around us turns pink in October: bracelets, buildings, drill bits, ribbons, yogurt lids, chicken buckets, football players’ socks, and everything in between. But is anything actually happening when you wear and buy pink stuff? Make sure you find out.

As Susan Sered put it: “Maybe I’m a cynic or an agnostic, but as a means of averting breast cancer I’d rather put my money on cleaning up toxic chemicals from the environment than on adding a bunch of pink ribbons to our November trash piles.”

Here are eight things you can do this week (and next week and all year long) to support cancer survivors and be a cancer warrior yourself:

  1. Donate money. Find a local campaign or organization providing mammograms and other health services to low-income women. Here’s an interactive map of agencies providing services.
  1. Donate your time. You have that friend or family member posting Facebook updates about their mother, sister, child, friend’s child, neighbor, brother struggling with cancer, right? Reach out to her. Help him out this week.
  1. Donate a piece of yourself. Last week I donated 10 inches of my hair to Beautiful Lengths, the partnership between Pantene and the American Cancer Society to make and provide real-hair wigs for women battling cancer.hair This is just one of many organizations who take hair donations out there. Find one, get a cool new cut, and grow some more. I did this two years ago with some friends and wrote about it here.
  1. Exercise. Don’t underestimate self-care: “Most studies indicate that physically active women have a lower risk of developing breast cancer than inactive women.”
  1. Eat cleanly. Another form of self-care: “A body of research suggests an overall healthy diet filled with colorful fruits and vegetables is the key to skirting heart disease, diabetes, and possibly cancer, too.
  1. Read a book about hope, or give it to a friend who needs it. My friend Deanna Thompson has written a beautiful theological memoir about her battle with stage 4 breast cancer. She is still surviving and Hoping for More.
  1. Pray, if you are among those who believe that focusing energies and attention on healing and health contribute to well-being. I like this description of it: “In prayer, we self-consciously make ourselves aware of God’s presence–listening for the voice of God in calling us to realize our possibilities for greater well-being, and offering our prayers to God, to be incorporated into God’s self and made part of future possibilities for the world.
  1. Share this ritual, written by Diann Neu at the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual, with someone who might need it (then reconsider #3):

“Lamentation for Hair Loss”

How long, O Divine Wisdom, how long?

When my hair falls out, strand by strand, bless me.
When my eyebrows and eyelashes disappear, bless me.
When I hold clumps of my hair in my hands and weep, bless me.
When I try to hold onto vanity, bless me.
When I feel so desperate and depressed, bless me.
When all seems lost, bless me.
When you seem so far away, bless me.

How long, O Divine Wisdom, how long?

Take my hairless head in your hands
And brush my scalp with your blessing.
Take my hairless body in your arms
And hug me with your blessing,
For I know you are near even when
my spirit is broken.

How long, O Divine Wisdom, how long?

Invite a friend to help you shave your head.

There are so many other things you can do beyond wearing pink and consuming products. Someone needs you to do them.

Images mine.

 

About Caryn Riswold

Caryn D. Riswold is a feminist theologian in the Lutheran tradition. She is Professor of Religion and also teaches Gender and Women’s Studies at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois, where she has worked for over a decade teaching undergraduates to think critically and creatively about religion. She earned her Ph.D. and Th.M. from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, holds a master’s degree from the Claremont School of Theology, and received her B.A. from Augustana College in her childhood hometown of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.