As some of my readers may be aware, one of my favourite family members (after my father) has spent the last 18 months or so kicking breast cancer’s ass. Thoroughly. I’m quite happy that she has been so successful, because things were looking ugly for awhile. (She’s also a fine veterinarian–if you’re ever in the Napa area and in need of medical care for your animals, I’ll hook you up.)
My first reaction when she was diagnosed was well that sucks. My second thought was wait a minute…we still haven’t cured cancer yet? My third thought was what can I, as an individual, do to help combat breast cancer and other devastating illnesses like it? My fourth thought was this, and it’s one I think you should all consider if you haven’t already: Think Before You Pink Being a smart consumer doesn’t stop at charitable giving–indeed, it’s even more crucial that you donate wisely, to any cause, so that you know your money is being used in the most effective way.
You may not be aware, gentle readers, that breast cancer is a multibillion dollar industry. Yes, you heard me right. Breast cancer rates are on the rise, and numerous companies are making a fortune from it. Not just corporations which profit directly, like AstraZenica, inventers of Tamoxifen. Numerous companies ride on the tails of programs like the “pink ribbon campaign,” which generates great public image and free advertising for companies. Yoplait, for example, which donates a whopping ten cents to cancer research for every lid that’s sent in, and rests assured that shoppers in the dairy section who want to be seen as cancer aware will purchase their product. That is, patrons who aren’t cancer aware enough to know that they should be purchasing organic, raw milk products for their health.
Organizations like The American Cancer Society, Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, and Breast Cancer Action claim to be supporting the war against breast cancer. Interestingly, most of these organizations have campaigns centered around detection and treatment, as opposed to actually, say, curing cancer. “Charities” such as the American Cancer Society are actually raking in money hand over fist, with salaries like four hundred sixty five thousand dollars in 2004 going to their CEO. By the way, the ACS manages to eke out a whole twenty three cents on every dollar donated to use for their “cause”.
Breast cancer is one among a host of cause based marketing tools. Corporations sell product and charities collect…but it’s unclear where the money goes from there. Or how much of it. Consumers feel good because they’re “doing something” and meanwhile people die. Of things other than cancer, even, sometimes.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not dissin’ on cancer research. Cancer isn’t a cool cat. I’d put cancer on the top ten list of diseases I never, ever want to get…not even a little bit. But even with all the fundraising inefficiency, cancer is still one of the most funded diseases in the United States. It does kill a lot of people, and that really, really sucks. AIDS kills a hell of a lot of people, too, though. Hepatitis C infection rates are growing–and we don’t even fully understand what Hepatitis C is, let alone how to cure it. Haemorrhagic diseases kill. Malnutrition, diarrhea, and malaria kill. There are an awful lot of diseases out there killing people, and many of them are fully preventable, with funding. Others are growing plagues which we would do well to address ourselves to.
I’m all for advancing scientific research, and I am very supportive of direct contributions to disease studies.
But think before you donate. Ask yourself how much of your donation will actually go to fighting the disease in question. Ask how the organization you are donating to is fighting this illness. Ask if your dollars or time could be more effectively spent elsewhere.
I think it’s important that we have campaigns to raise awareness–not just about cancer, but about other nasty things that can happen to us, and I think it’s crucial that we constantly seek newer and more effective ways of preventing, detecting, and treating illnesses. In that order. The majority of research funding should go towards active efforts at prevention, rather than maintaining the status quo.
Education and early detection are important, especially with preventable illness, and I applaud outreach efforts carried out by a variety of organizations. But when you aren’t investing much funding in prevention, it’s hard to educate people on ways that they can prevent themselves from getting the disease in question. And if you focus on prevention, you can dispense with the need for early detection altogether.
You want to make a difference in the lives of people with cancer?
Most communities have a Cancer Resource Centre which is aimed not only at community education and prevention, but at providing services to cancer victims. Sometimes this might be food or financial assistance–sometimes a companion to sit with you during a chemotherapy treatment. Local centres are a great way to reach out into your community and help actual people struggling with actual issues.
Try researching and donating directly to actual medical research–if you can find a lab that wants your money. You might be surprised.
Work within your community to elimate environmental toxins and pollutants, both of which are leading causes of cancer.
Fight for health insurance for all, because let me tell you something: cancer is expensive.
Or could you could decide to make a difference in the lives of other people around the world who are suffering from underfunded, underpublicized diseases. Like leishmaniasis, found in at least 88 countries. Poliomyelitis which, yes, still exists in other parts of the world without widespread access to vaccines. Cholera, an extremely unpleasant and widespread disease–easily treatable, if you have access to clean water and drugs. Ebola, a disease with a kill rate of almost 100%–and still totally incurable. Plague. Typhus. Tularaemia. Yellow fever. The growing alphabet soup of hepatitis (we’re up to G now, not including the numerous subtypes of each hepatitis virus). Or you could help the estimated 1.2 million Americans who are living with prosthetics.
Don’t be taken in by trendy causes, no matter how worthy they are–remember that there is a bigger world of suffering out there, and that each of us has a responsibility to ease suffering, even if only in a small way. Instead of buying yourself a pink wristband, why don’t you spend the money on gas driving a dialysis patient to a clinic? Or the rubber on condoms for STD prevention? Or the energy on going to City Hall to object to unehtical business practices? It’s easy to make an actual difference, and you might as well give yourself a concrete action to pat yourself on the back for.