This afternoon I watched Pink Ribbons, Inc – Lea Pool’s documentary on the breast cancer industry and the com-modification of philanthropy over the past twenty years. It is based upon the book of the same name, Pink Ribbons, Inc – Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy by Samantha King.
First and foremost, I watched it to see a few snippets of my college roommate, Maricela Ochoa (front row, dark hair, glasses), being interviewed as a member of Austin’s IV League (Stage Four cancer, no cure.) I wanted to see my girl — just once more alive, still on terra firma, more than a year after her death. I wanted to hear the husk of her voice again, with its caramel timbre hitting something deep inside me. That familiar sound took me back to the girl she was when Mari and I met in August of 1983. I wanted to remember that girl. Even for just a moment.
When she first appeared on screen, my eyes filled with tears. I couldn’t help but wonder how much courage it took to lay herself out there, just months before she died. She had formed a sisterhood with the ladies sitting around her. They were clear they were dying. There was no false hope there. The specter of death sat amiably on the couch, its arms around their shoulders. They spoke eloquently of the need for real research into the causes of cancer, rather than just the feel good message promoted by Avon and the Komen Foundation through their walks and races for a “cure.” They were unimpressed with the pink washing of their disease. Mari said at one point, “We’re more than a little pink ribbon.”
My Nana died of breast cancer in 1964. I find it difficult to believe that in the nearly fifty years since her death, we are no closer to finding a cure than we were then. The methods to treat cancer are draconian, at best. “We burn it, poison it, or cut it out” (Dr. Susan Love, Pink Ribbons, Inc. 2011). And the same industries that sell the treatments for cancer, also sell the pesticides, plastics, formaldehyde, and other carcinogens that cause it. Many of the cosmetics companies most involved with the cause of breast cancer, continue to sell products that are full of lead, petroleum, and other chemicals that mimic an over-production of estrogen, one of the main causes of breast cancer. So, these companies sell products that are potentially dangerous to our health, and then make even more money selling us pink-washed products once we get sick.
Research dollars are largely spent on pricey treatments rather than an elusive cure, or the least glamorous option, prevention.
Why? Why is only 5% of the money raised spent on prevention?
Why hasn’t more been done to find out why 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer in their lifetimes? In the 1940s, that figure was 1 in 22. Things have gotten worse. Why have cancer rates continued to rise despite all these races for the cure? Despite all the hoopla and fanfare, more women are dying.
According to Pool’s documentary, 59,000 women in the US die every year from breast cancer.
Mari was just one of sixty-thousand souls who died last year. Mothers, daughters, grandmothers, great-grandmothers, sisters. Why is it OK for so many of us to be getting sick? Why is the medical response no more effective now than it was when I saw my Nana die of the disease when I was four-years-old?
There’s no money in a cure.
There’s money in customers. Big pharma is not interested in curing cancer. They are interested in creating expensive treatments for it. Those treatments may extend a woman’s life by a few months or weeks, but at what cost?
Why aren’t we investigating the personal care products we use? Why aren’t we looking at the foods we eat, and the way we live? What is it about our current lifestyle that is so toxic that it is smothering the life out of our women?
I don’t have any answers. I am just thinking about my friend — whose light went out before she hit fifty. Part of me wishes I could fall back in time and tell her again how much I loved her. Part of me wishes she could know the profound impact her life had on everyone who knew her. Part of me wishes I could her hear sing again — sing something I wrote — and I could join her on the chorus. We could wander down to the Village to get a cappuccino before classes at NYU.
I wish I could tell her what I know about her now. That she was resilient and brave. That she never gave up. That she danced next to her death bed during her last summer on earth.
That she died too soon.
© 2012 Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved
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