Did you know that Betty Ford had a mastectomy in 1974 and was one of the first women in America to speak openly about her illness and recovery? It is hard to remember history when you are young and healthy, but it was only forty years ago that breast cancer was considered an invisible disease.
Forty years, people!
Most women take Mrs. Ford’s bravery for granted. She wasn’t brave for having a mastectomy. She was brave for using her platform as First Lady to remove the shame of breast cancer.
That’s right. Breast cancer used to be shameful. Women suffered in silence. When I think about how far we have come since Mrs. Ford’s game-changing speech on breast cancer, I count my blessings. Survival rates are up. New drugs are on the market. Flight attendants wear pink scarves.
All of that is great, but I cringe when I walk through an airport and see kiosks filled with pinkwashed merchandise. I also cringe at breast cancer breakfast cereals, breast cancer duct tape, and breast cancer vacuum cleaners.
(All of those things exist. I bought a Dyson Breast Cancer vacuum on clearance in 2008.)
Corporate marketing ruins everything. If we want a cure for breast cancer, we need to focus our time and attention on evidence-based wellness programs and better diagnostic tools. We need to remove administrative and financial hurdles that are baked into the crazy process it takes to get a promising drug to market. And we need to push for a cure for cancer in its entirety. If we fund great science on pancreatic cancer or liver cancer, we’ll probably learn something about the human body — and breast cancer — in the process.
October is a busy month, and many HR departments are front-and-center in the battle to fight breast cancer. Are you organizing and participating in a 5K? Are you raising money to benefit a local charity? I applaud your efforts. I have a close family member who is a three-time breast cancer survivor. Your actions mean a lot to me.
Human resources professionals can be heroes in the battle against cancer. I hope you can strike a balance between a respectful tone and the heavily-branded pinkwashing efforts of many corporate charities.
Laurie Ruettimann is a former HR leader and an influential speaker, writer and marketing advisor. Her work has appeared in many mainstream print publications and major news media outlets. You can find her on twitter at @Lruettimann.