Breast Cancer Awareness Month gifts include the Coach BCA Signature Patchwork Scarf.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month gifts include the Coach BCA Signature Patchwork Scarf. (Handout / October 2, 2012)

The following is inspired by a bunch of bitching on Twitter, as well as a really crappy week. You’ve been warned.

Monday night’s Bears-Cowboys game was peppered with pink flashes across the field: cleats, flags, pole wraps, hats, sweatbands, flying pig blimps... One of these things is not true, but you get the point. It was all in the name of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which kicked off on Oct. 1.

So let me ask you a serious question: Are you aware of breast cancer? Pretty easy one. Yes, you are. Because it’s 2012, and we’d be hard-pressed to find one single person on a crowded bus during rush hour who hasn’t known someone who struggled with or died from cancer.

Next question is a bit harder: What does “awareness” mean, in the context of cancer? Here, I’ll give you a spot to fill in the blank: Cancer awareness means ____________________.

What’d you write? Because whatever it is, it’s an empty statement. And it’s not enough. No, “awareness”--whatever the hell it means--pinkwashing Cowboys stadium, buying that ugly rubber bracelet are never going to be enough. At least until the organizations that focus on “awareness” campaigns and cute products shift their priorities, and, in turn, ours, to funding for research and a real cure.

Every year, companies scramble to come up with highly marketable, highly profitable pink products to sell us for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It’s a magnet for your car, it’s a souvenir to-go cup, it’s a pink collar for your dog. Some fraction of the purchase will go toward [insert cancer charity here]. It’s probably about 10 cents. We buy them, we feel good about ourselves and we think good thoughts about how we’re contributing to “awareness” and to “the cure.” So did it make you more aware? Do you wear these products, see those tweets and honk your horn and feel like you’re contributing? What are you contributing to? If you said “awareness,” just put this away right now and go grab a protein shake or something.

What makes us truly “aware” of the havoc cancer causes is going through it ourselves, whether that means it’s living inside of our own bodies or we’ve watched it break down someone in our lives, even if it’s just that acquaintance from work or, God forbid, our actual blood relatives.

Just how aware am I about cancer? I’m currently packing a suitcase for a trip home to see my grandpa for the last time before his “days, maybe weeks” left are up. His cancer came back with a vengeance after more than 10 years in remission. And I’m pissed/sad/regretful/anxious/scared. And I’m one in a billion who has been this “aware.” No pink cleats or stupid bracelets will ever make me as “aware” as hearing my grandma sob about preparing to lose her partner of more than 50 years to something she lived through herself, all the while living in fear of losing her home because she won’t be able to pay the medical bills.

We all want to help. I get it. We want to do our part, however small it is, and we honestly just want to feel a little better about ourselves as human beings. But we also need to take responsibility for knowing and researching more about the organizations who we filter our support through and stand up against them when it’s being misused or even abused. The one you see plastered all over your TV, your department store and your local KFC isn’t the only one out there (and definitely not the most charitable one, if you think about it).  

Last question: Do you feel more “aware,” now? And also, #fuckcancer.

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