Sunday, May 31, 2015

Ribbons

I'm all for it when it comes to cancer support groups and advocacy.  Indeed, such support groups have helped many people and have advanced the progress of research.  But I admit to being highly influenced when it comes to ribbons by my late friend Monique Doyle Spencer, who was greatly bothered by the pink ribbon campaign surrounding her disease (breast cancer).  She felt that it had been commercialized to an extreme, especially by the Komen Foundation, allowing companies to profit by their association with it and their use of the logo.

Beyond that, she just had an interesting and thoughtful approach to the disease. As I noted shortly after she died:

Monique signed her comments on this blog with the moniker "NASOV."  When I asked her what it meant, she said, "Neither a survivor nor victim."  She continued, "I have this disease, and I am going to fight it, but I am not a survivor or victim.  I just have a disease.  There are lots of people who are going through worse."

While I can see how differentiated logos can act as a kind of touchstone for people with a specific type of cancer, I also worry that the spread of these multi-colored ribbons might actually undermine the effectiveness of individual groups in garnering support from the public as a whole.  Can we really expect the public to differentiate the type of cancer by whether the ribbon is burgundy or teal? (And by the way, the ribbons go well beyond cancer.)

On the other hand, maybe that's not the purpose.  Maybe it's designed to just send a quiet signal to someone else touched by your disease that they have someone else they can talk to.

I'd be very interested in your thoughts about this topic.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am glad you included "the ribbons go well beyond cancer." We had a beloved member of our community pass. Ribbons went up around the town. The unofficial town FB page (gossip page) had multiple postings..."What are the ribbons for? ______ cancer? ____ disease?" People were confused. People were upset. "How can the ribbons be this color? The color means...(fill in the cancer/disease)." An organization and/or disease does not own a color. And if someone uses that color it is not disrespectful.

Daniel Skinner ‏@danielrskinner said...

From Twitter:

I certainly can't keep track.

Skeptical Scalpel ‏@Skepticscalpel said...

From Twitter:

Spot on. Too many ribbons. PS: Who in the U.S. is not aware of breast cancer?

Anne Llewellyn said...

From Facebook:

For those impacted having a ribbon gives them an identity.

Nancy Thomas said...

What was the first? AIDS red ribbon? Or yellow 'bring our soldiers home' ribbon? I seem to remember an awards ceremony where all the stars wore their red ribbons. And then it took off. In the case of AIDS, it truly drew a nation together...same with pink for breast cancer... If you are Jewish and grieving, instead of ripping your shirt, as was custom, you now wear a large black ribbon. I think the basic ribbons are fine, though brandishing yourself with a pink ribbon in hats and sweatshirts and jewelry seems a bit much - does that now make you present yourself, first, as the disease, and second as the person. I read and obituary recently that espoused a breast cancer woman's accomplishments in her advocacy about her disease. It never mentioned her stellar military career and there was only a line or two about her children and family. Not only did she live her life after breast cancer as a "survivor", when she died her obit was homogenized to be the sum total of her life. I say leave the ribbons for special events, and lead with the person, not the disease.

Emily said...

A big thumbs down for the Komen Foundation. They sue any other charity that might have the word "cure" in their name. It hit close to me as one charity I support, "Ovations for the Cure" a small ovarian cancer charity run by volunteers in Boston. Founded and funded by the late Patricia Franchi Flaherty who passed from the same disease. People who donate to Komen should be aware that their donations fund powerhouse lawyers who use their big guns to intimidate small organizations who can't afford to fight back.

Susan said...

I too have had breast cancer 20 years ago and frankly am sick of pink anything. I am not a hero or have not achieved any measure of worth from being diagnosed or treated for this disease. I have always wondered if the people applauding "survivors" aren't just glad it's me and not them. That being said, there is a strong kinship among women who have been treated for breast cancer. I know I have been an encouragement and support for my patients who are newly diagnosed.

So stop the ribbons on everything and instead spend that money on better research, treatment and direct funding to those women who need the help.

Don Sharpe said...

Good article. I'm done with multi colored ribbons.
Except for the yellow 'Support our Troops'...
and black 'Line of Duty Death'...
and the green 'Responder Mental Health'...
and the Pink Cancer ribbon (but only sometimes),
and the ... darn.
Seems people always push a good thing too far.

My Dad always said, "Son, You'll live long enough
to see someone screw up every good thing you ever did."

Carole said...

I seriously had no clue there were so many ribbons for so many illnesses and causes. And the different replies and opinions were very interesting . ( sorry for the loss of a great person and friend )

Bob said...

I agree about the Komen Foundation -- terrible. I also think all this ribbon stuff is a way for people to feel that at least they can try to do something about it. So while it annoys me, I think a lot of people are trying to feel better somehow about a loved one. I like your friend's approach the best.

Meanwhile, the landscape of cancer will change in the next 5 years from area of origin to the genetics of the type. There is lots of really good progress being made.

Carole said...

could you speak a little more about this komen foundation. My best friend a survivor of Brest cancer this could be something I need to share with her, thanks,whenever.

Paul Levy said...

I think it best if you just do a search on it, and you will read about some of the controversy.

Stacey Gordon said...

Komen saw the power behind the original red ribbon campaign for AIDS advocacy and jumped onboard with the pink ribbon. If they know nothing else, they know marketing. Also is the notion that pink is somehow a "female" color. Prior to WWII it was not. Only thanks to marketing have we been convinced/brainwashed that somehow pink =female. Remember when it was cool for men to drive Pink Cadillacs? Wear pink suits?
Now it's just Shrink it and pink it...

A few thoughts for you, from a breast cancer survivor that does not fit the mold:

http://southgeek.blogspot.com/2011/01/metastatic-pink.html

http://southgeek.blogspot.com/2011/01/heroes-and-tigers-and-saints-oh-my.html

Cheers!