I Always Hated Pink, Anyway

From when I was 6 until I was 16, in two different houses, my bedroom was painted pink. I don’t think I ever liked the color, but I learned to loathe it along the way, even if it was just my parents’ half-hearted attempt to encourage me to be girlie.

But I suspect that’s only a part of the reason why, as a breast cancer survivor, I learned to hate the pink ribbons purportedly serving my interests.

It may have been when Eureka developed an ad campaign around the pink ribbon. I was less than thrilled that Eureka tried to use my cancer as a reason to sell women more vacuum cleaners along with their stale gender stereotypes.

But I think the moment when I most realized that the cancer industry was about turning breast cancer patients into profit centers came when I went to a Komen-funded Young Survival Coalition conference. The organization itself–focused on breast cancer resources for those diagnosed under the age of 40–was a godsend. But the conference insisted on calling us patients and survivors “customers.”

Customers, I thought (as I got the swag bag full of drug marketing gimmicks). I’m a customer because I have cancer?

Though we conference attendees had our revenge at the session sponsored by Genentech, the maker of the anti-nausea drug Kytril. As the speaker thanked “Genentech, maker of Kytril,” someone yelled out “it doesn’t work.” And another. Then me. And another. And another. It took getting a bunch of us in a room together to compare notes and learn that a bunch of us found the $50/pill medicine to be less effective than older drugs.

You have to be a shrewd customer to survive cancer without getting fleeced.

Komen just pretended to reverse its decision defund Planned Parenthood’s cancer screening services (it promises only to consider PP applications in the future, not to fund them). And, as Greg Sargent reports, they deny that Nancy Brinker did anything wrong.

But now that everyone has become aware of Komen’s sleaziness, it’s time to look at what they–and the cancer industry–do more generally. They fund efforts to diagnose and find a cure but–as this excellent diary describes–they work against things like prevention. They also tend to push back against research that shows we’ve been over-diagnosing and over-treating breast cancer. (I know such studies are controversial, but as someone who learned only after my treatment that European countries would have treated my case very differently, for a fraction of the cost and invasiveness, but with statistically equivalent outcomes, I take them seriously.)

One of the leading breast cancer doctors and advocates, Susan Love, had this to say Tuesday.

Rather than putting politics into the breast cancer movement, lets rise above the political divisions and work together. Let’s redirect all the money that will be spent on investigating Planned Parenthood into funding studies looking to find the cause and prevent the disease once and for all. Let’s redirect our anger to making mammograms unnecessary because we know how to prevent the disease.

We ought to use this scandal to examine more closely where cancer money gets spent–on treatment, turning cancer patients into customers–and rarely on prevention.

While I appreciate the gesture, pink ribbons to me have come to symbolize cancer patients as profit centers, both for consumer goods capitalizing on an association with the goodwill (and Komen), as well as for ungodly expensive drugs that don’t always provide better outcomes. They’ve come to symbolize the same kind of passive compliance I think of when I remember those damn pink walls.

It’s time we aspired to stopping cancer, not just throwing tons of increasingly expensive drugs and consumer products at it. And that, in turn, means finding some other entity besides Komen to take the lead.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

32 replies
  1. scribe says:

    Let’s not forget the NFL players wearing pink socks and with pink hand towels, and baseball players with pink bats on Mother’s Day.

    That shit needs to go, too.

  2. klynn says:

    EW, thank you.

    A friend posted something to me about agreeing with SGK and I wanted to be thoughtful about my response. So, I tried to locate some factual documents and information I had read about the congressional PP investigation. Normally, I am a fairly decent researcher and usually find my resources. Today, I could not find one of them.

    I could not even locate the transcripts from the hearings to date. I did 8 different searches on different search engines and went through as many screens/pages as possible (upwards of 35 pages per search) Came across maybe two to three articles about the failed outcomes to date but the Cath and PrL listings and RW listings still blaring propaganda were enormous numbers-wise. It just appears strategic to a disturbing level…Not to mention the FB postings I read today from diff people were posted with the same words and concepts — as though a mass email went out to some list telling people to, “… get on social media sites and countermand the response to SGK — here are some talking points.” . Absolutely creepy.

    I imagine I just lost my research skills…and need a tin foil hat.

  3. PeasantParty says:


    I’m with you all the way on this topic. 100%

    The research has been skewed for years and I know that there are cures for certain cancer cells. However, the drug and physician groups will never allow it to see daylight.

    NOTE: I said certain cancer cells, not all of them.

    I worked for years in radiology. When our group started adding more than two mammogram machines, I knew then that it was a cash cow. You cannot radiate soft tissues continually without adding the risk of cancer and they know it. I am not saying that women should not have screenings. What I am saying is that YOU have to take an active part in your own body and health. Always check in the shower when soaped up and in the bed with arms over your head. DO NOT depend on a doctor that cannot for the life of themselves talk to you about it without ordering annual mammograms.

    I have supported October as breast cancer awareness month for decades. What pisses me off the most is the money train behind the disease that could be prevented and cured if only there were not vultures taking a picnic on innocent human beings. Tell me why every single woman on this earth has not been instructed on the different cancer cells that attact the breast tissue, where they may originate from, what is being done to prevent and cure these cell attacks, and exactly what a node or lump should present itself as during a self exam?

    France had been light years ahead of the US in treating breast cancer until recently when the US finally adopted some regimes in the phama sector. However, you have to be wary of the PHARMA sector and their part in finding ways to medicate instead of irradicate.

    Rant over.

  4. Petrocelli says:

    Thanks Marcy, the same is true for many organizations … they’re a money-making arm of BigPharma. I’ve had to explain this for many years, to my friends who campaign for these charities.

    Kids are also being forced on to drugs for ADD, ADHD, depression, etc. at an alarming rate when simple, available, cures would suffice for many of them.

  5. Jim White says:

    @klynn: Nope, you haven’t lost your research skills at all. The Congressional hearings haven’t even started yet. I’m sad to admit that they are being called by my wingnut Congressman, Cliff Stearns. I’ve invested a lot of time and money into trying to unseat this cretin, but he’s thoroughly entrenched.

  6. JohnLopresti says:

    There are pesticides that are known to concentrate in breast tissue, mother’s milk, and through that pathway to contaminate infants that are breast fed. Juvenile humans have undeveloped natural defenses against such insults, so kids get poisoned. Many pesticides are stored in human lipid tissue.

    There may be a profiteering problem in the chemotherapy industry, and there may be sociopolitical restraints preached in congress against letting experiments proceed in some areas of nanotechnology for cancer therapies; but there is an economic decision making process, too, through which known carcinogens are legally introduced into the environment.

    This is a complex of interrelated problems. Republican presidential candidates this year uniformly seem to want to decrease epa’s work and make it less transparent. The petrochemical industry is not the only sector manufacturing pesticides, either.

  7. Starbuck says:

    “You have to be a shrewd customer to survive cancer without getting fleeced.”

    Equally shrewd to survive almost any medical procedure involving medications without getting fleeced or laced with compounds that, while extending the possibility of increased health in one direction, takes it away in another.

    Read the label, then Google the name.

  8. klynn says:

    @Jim White:


    I recall reading about some of the investigations to date indicating that current evidence was not revealing any misappropriations to date. Were there pre-hearing committee meetings? I am trying to remember where I read this and I recall the information coming out not too long ago.

  9. Karen Sandberg says:

    I’ve had BC twice. 1985 age 45 – I found the first lump – DCIS- modified rad mastectomy. Second time (1997) my Doc found a lump I could not feel – mammogram couldn’t see – verified with ultrasound and biopsy – diagnostics that saved my life. Followed by second mastectomy. No lymph nodes – I didn’t take chemo or radiation. Just lucky – still alive – and I had insurance!
    I’ve never liked the Pink marketing machine, and hope PP chooses never to apply for their grants again. Marcie put my feelings into her articulate words – thank you Marcie.

  10. kgb999 says:

    I don’t know. When I first moved up to the Spokane area, there was a facility here that held the remains of people who died from nuclear radiation. There were a couple of articles on it “Spokane’s Nuclear Mauseleum” was the specific title of one.

    Now, no matter what I try … can’t find any reference to the facility … and the (sometimes detailed) online history of individuals I’m sure the article referenced doesn’t mention that their remains had ever been held there. Same as you, I just wonder if my search-skills or memory escaped me or what.

    But it’s uncanny when something you *KNOW* is there seems to have been disappeared. Especially knowing the increasing desire to use search-engine result tampering as a enforcement tool. I can’t help but wonder if we’re going to find a secret “national security” based program that allows requests to be made through something like an exigent letter. It’s not like these corporations have demonstrated any qualms about embracing all the other secret plans hatched and implemented that we then found out about.

    Yep. Enough to make one break out the tin-foil.

  11. Mimi says:

    If I were about to lose a $half-million-plus paycheck, I’d be sending out a pseudo-retraction, too. She’s already richer than my wildest dreams. These Republicans are the definition of greedy.

  12. Gitcheegumee says:


    You know you are getting older when you remember more vividly things of the past,rather than things that happened just yesterday.

    Does anyone but me recall the outrage a couple of years ago regarding the Susan Komen Foundation and their ties to Hadassah Lieberman (Joe’s wife)?

    FDL had a petition to sign against it,IIRC, and Mrs. Lieberman was/is a lobbyist for big pharma,at least she was then.

    I moseyed over to FDL and used their search engine ..some very interesting hits-especially the ones that include Lanny Davis.

    FWIW, I have NEVER been fond of pink,either. Always makes me think of Pepto…and all that that entails. Great piece,ew, and thanks much for the dearly earned honesty.

  13. greenharper says:

    Yes. As I recall, with no research skills whatsoever, Mrs. Lieberman was getting more than $300,000 per year from the Komen Foundation. That plus its obvious belief that there were as yet no cures did it for me.

  14. Gitcheegumee says:


    Ya know,greenharper, this tactic of using the “investigation” to pull funding reminds me of the Pimpostor O’Keefe’s efforts to sabotage Planned Parenthood–after they successfully torpedoed ACORN with Congress’ full blessing…and very little investigation .

    I get a creepy feeling that their are some usual suspects’ fingerprints all over this M.O..

  15. Phoenix Woman says:

    I get a creepy feeling that their are some usual suspects’ fingerprints all over this M.O..

    And you would be right:

    Ari Fleischer, former press secretary for George W. Bush and prominent right-wing pundit, secretly helped guide Komen Foundation’s disastrous strategy regarding Planned Parenthood. Fleischer personally interviewed candidates for the postion of “Senior Vice President for Communications and External Relations” at Komen last December. According to a source with first-hand knowedge, Fleischer drilled prospective candidates during their interviews on how they would handle the controversy about Komen’s relationship with Planned Parenthood.

    Fleischer’s relationship with Komen and the Planned Parenthood controversy was previously undisclosed. Fleischer confirmed to ThinkProgress his recent role in filling key communications positions at Komen. He stressed, however, that another communications firm (Ogilvy PR ) was retained by Komen to deal with the explosive controversy over the last few days.

  16. Ken_Muldrew says:

    I remember Nixon funding a plan to cure cancer by 1976 to celebrate the bicentennial. Turned out to be a really hard problem. America is going to have to stop fighting all these expensive wars or it won’t be able to afford the research necessary to stop cancer. If only Americans felt secure enough to reign in their paranoia over national security.

  17. Mary McCurnin says:

    The little pink ribbony things always bothered me. After surviving BC, they bothered me even more. Sometimes things annoy me unnecessarily so I didn’t think about it much. Then SGK imploded and it was heartening to find out the little pink ribbony things made a lot of people itchy and scratchy.

  18. Gitcheegumee says:

    @Phoenix Woman:

    WOW, thanks Phoenix Woman…I had not seen that piece. I am working on a reply regarding the resignation just this week of the founder of another org that has received beaucoup bucks from the Komen Foundation.

    Just coinkydink,I suppose.

  19. P J Evans says:

    I got an email from Boxer touting Komen’s ‘backing down’. Replied that they had only promised to go through with the already-promised funds, not to continue funding past this round. Also that she shouldn’t trust them any farther than she can throw their board as a group.

  20. Gitcheegumee says:

    @Phoenix Woman:

    Do you happen to remember Freedom’s Watch? Fleischer figured in front and center on that group. Interesting Wiki on that one.

    Sheldon Adelson (who has been throwing $$$ New’s way ) was one of the major donors.And ,IIRC, the Evangelicals and right- to -lifers were big contributors,also.

  21. Duncan Hare says:

    Let’s face the facts:

    What happens to the SKG Foundation when a cure is found? It is wound up, and all the staff laid off?

    Not the desired outcome? Then lackadaisical efforts and misplaced funding will prolong the mission.

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