I will be the first to admit, The Pink Ribbon campaign has never been my cause du jour. I have always found it silly to focus on breast cancer as the worthy cause, when breast cancer is not just one disease. The causes of breast cancer are widely known or suspected, and they range from genetic to environmental to just bad luck. Why focus on one body part, when all cancer needs to be addressed?
The Walks for the Cure, now a registered Trademark to the Susan G Komen foundation, were supposed to raise awareness of breast cancer and women's health- as well as money. Finally, a huge corporate cause that everyone can feel good about. Breasts make women beautiful (because we spend a gazillion dollars a year on lingerie and breast augmentation or lifts) and they feed babies. They nurture the young and the old alike. Who doesn't enjoy looking at a soft pair of boobs? Without breasts, what woman could feel whole, what man could really love his wife, what child could feel nurtured?
The foundation played on the feelings- and also helped empower a lot of women to take back their definition of femininity by surviving the disease. More deals and sponsorships were made, and the Think Pink crap started showing up everywhere. Ironically, hormone laden cow dairy and plastic cups (from, let's say, yogurt with a pink cap on it) do make breast disease and hormone related cancers worse. Plastics from cheaply produced goods in our oceans and landfills and air do increase exposure to environmental toxins and xeno estrogens that increase all cancer risk, and especially hormone sensitive cancers. Still, people raised money, and they walked for a good cause.
The good cause is supposed to be saving women's lives. This means education and screening, and that means access to people who can educate you and screen you. Komen partnered up with Planned Parenthood- one of the largest primary care providers in the country for urban and rural women with no access to other health care- whether or not they are insured. And Komen has now bowed to the non-scientific and completely political forces that allow them to amass loads of money and put it into whatever research suits their own agenda. With that, they have decided to no longer fund the services at Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screening.
Why is this so important?
Breast cancer occurs in 1 in 8 women, well below the number of women who will get and die from heart disease (1 in 3). Most women will survive breast cancer- some types are not as malignant as others. Eventually, most women who live long enough will develop some type of breast neoplasm (cancer)- just as most men will develop some type of prostate neoplasm.
This is important because breast cancer is still a reproductive health issue for women. Not having breasts does not mean you can't get pregnant, but having early breast cancer may signal a much higher risk for ovarian, uterine and endometrial cancers. The estrogens that your ovaries are pumping out, and that you are drinking in the plastic water bottles and eating with your farm fed animals and farm raised salmon, all add up in the body and need to get eliminated properly. If you are a heavy bleeder or developing fibroids, you cannot do this well. The same estrogens that go to the uterus go to the breast and the brain. Difficulty eliminating this toxic build up sends toxic estrogen to the brain, the breasts, the lungs, the colon, the uterus.
What's critical here is that for poor women, all risk factors for breast cancer, uterine cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer, increase with their environment: cheap and shitty packaged fast foods, junky meat that is loaded with all sorts of growth hormones, garbage processed dairy products that similarly contain hormones, plastic containers everywhere, and increased risk of obesity. Cigarette smoke and cleaning fumes and dirty air from incinerators and cars all increase these cancers. Obesity makes your estrogen more toxic, and the fatter you are, the higher your risk for all these diseases, plus heart disease and diabetes! These are known things, not speculated. Poor women suffer disproportionately for lack of choice of where to live, and how to have a clean, safe environment, and health food.
When you treat poor people as women who can't make good choices for themselves, look at the resources and options before them. How would a young woman seeking pelvic health care (cervical cancer screening, infectious disease screening, pregnancy prevention or control) not need to know that her breasts are part of her health- not just an appendage for the purpose of the sexual behavior that brought her there? Planned Parenthood is about education, choice, prevention. Sometimes the only health care women get is after they have had infections raging for months- or haven't had a period in a really long time. Those extra five minutes of breast cancer screening services they have now cut may be the only five minutes some women will ever hear about the importance of breast health.
Planned Parenthood, now cut off from many federal funds due to the completely religious and unscientific bias of right wing politicians who have no grasp of biochemistry or basic health, relies on donations from major and minor fundraising groups. Recently, Planned Parenthood of New England partnered with The Hicks Foundation to provide services for the annual Cervical Cancer Screening Day in Vermont, Jan 28. They had the most successful campaign to date, and they provided screening services for those women for breast and heart health as well. For some, it was a lifesaving day.
I have never donated money to the Komen Foundation, and I did think before I pink'd- realizing that all those dollars were not serving the purposes they intended. Do we need a pink Sponge Bob Square Pants doll? Do I care if a football player is wearing a giant pink ribbon? or do I care that actual women get breast care?
Of course, I work in primary care, and often with a lot of uninsured women who have not gotten their annual pap and not gotten their annual mammogram in a long time, not knowing why they needed to or how it would make a difference. The difference of a couple years of skipped screenings could be life and death .
The key to prevention is education and screening, which is part of the cure. Shame on the Susan G Komen Foundation for taking that last bit of health security away from the women who have relied on it for their lives.