The Washington Post

Komen no longer owns pink

It’s time to take back the pink. And pay more attention to the red.

It’s time to declare that the Susan G. Komen Foundation, which just ‘revised its revision of its funding policy,’or something like that, no longer owns that color. And neither, though I myself am a breast-cancer survivor, does the breast cancer cause.


It’s also time to focus on the No.1 killer of women in the U.S.: Heart disease.

Komen linked the color pink with the breast-cancer cause long ago, creating pink ribbons for its events. But even before it pulled and then may have unpulled — hey, the day is young — funding from Planned Parenthood, not everyone agreed with how Komen operated.

In fact, the way the foundation goes about fighting breast cancer has made pink a dirty color. There’s even a documentary, “Pink Ribbons Inc.,” that takes the giant nonprofit and its corporate style to task.

Komen’s apparently politically driven decision to stop providing grants for breast cancer prevention services to Planned Parenthood may well spell the end of the “pink-washing.”

That’s what Breast Cancer Action has been calling it for years in its “Think Before You Pink” campaign. That group advocates for research into the root causes of breast cancer, not just the treatment-oriented research and screening message advocated by Komen.

In recent years, I’ve favored pink as my own personal representation of GRRRRLLL power, with an emphasis on the GRRRR (even though I’m in the Red Hat Society age range). I’m definitely not choosing pink because of the Komen connection, but am trying to create more of a saucy feminist - not feminine - meme.

My computer cover is hot pink, one of my computer bags is light pink. The tool-kit bag on my road bike is pink. I even have a wonderful pink backpack I received at the end of Denver’s Komen Race for the Cure several years ago, one of the perks of survivorhood, I guess.

Because like my colleague Melinda Henneberger, I’m still here after cancer. Eight years ago this month, I was recovering from a mastectomy and beginning four rounds of chemotherapy. Lucky for me, I could rock the bald head and my tests have been clean since.

But my cancer wasn’t detected by the yearly mammogram that Komen promotes so heaviy. It was found a month after my mammogram, when my physician’s assistant found a lump in my left breast that turned out to be an invasive, non-hormonally driven version of the disease.

Here’s the thing: A federal task force recommended cutting back on mammography screenings a couple of years ago. They based their recommendations on the fact that there are many false positives and not enough evidence that annual screening for most women improves detection.

In fact, most of my friends in this unfortunate sisterhood were diagnosed after feeling a lump.

Yet Komen keeps on pushing for more mammography - detection, with a heavy focus on mammograms, is one of the charity’s primary efforts. That’s what some of the Planned Parenthood money goes for. It isn’t necessarily money well spent.

Then there’s the red.

That’s the color adopted by “The Heart Truth,” a campaign to educate women about the No. 1 killer, heart disease. Never heard of it? Well, this is American Heart Month and the 10th anniversary of “The Heart Truth.”

Did you know that women have different symptoms when having a heart attack than men? Do you know what they are? Pain beyond the heart area in the shoulders, neck, back and even your jaw is one symptom. Dizziness or nausea, shortness of breath, clammy sweats, stomach pain.

A couple of years after my hair grew back, I learned that a friend and former co-worker at the Orlando Sentinel, Susan Strother Clarke, had died suddenly. A heart attack, boom, on a Sunday night. Susan was slim, bubbly, always smiling. She was only 47.

Let’s put Komen’s vision of pink behind us and reclaim the color for our own reasons.

But let’s also get more serious about what red represents this month. If you’re a woman (or a man), do some research about heart attack risks.

Unlike breast cancer, the causes of heart disease are clear and you can do something to prevent an attack.

Sandra Fish teaches journalism at the University of Colorado and has reported on politics in Iowa, Florida and Colorado. Follow her on Twitter at @fishnette



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