Different shades of pink

When it comes to Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I find myself confused and conflicted. I have been kind of sitting this one out this year.  I read and take on board the apparent hi-jacking of the ribbon, particularly in the US and the contradiction in the small amounts of proceeds going to breast cancer work, in particular research into metastatic breast cancer.  At the same time, my heart is incredibly warmed by close family members supporting pink ribbon ventures and adventures. I hear the arguments that in some contexts, there is inappropriate marketing and commercialisation.  I believe it is not an “either/or” situation or awareness versus research.  Until Breast cancer touches us, we tend to close our senses to awareness.  Added to that, it seems that there are huge swathes of populations the messages
do not reach or choices are not there.  Equally, there is a glaring lack of research around metastatic breast cancer (MBC).  I am woefully uninformed about research into MBC, particularly over here, so am not going to even attempt to discuss that.

But I want to focus on where I am, right here, right now and share some thoughts and observations, purely on awareness and its connection to pink. There is already more than enough for me to say about basic and real awareness.

I flagged down a taxi outside the hospital in Bangkok on Day One of the checks, to head back to the hotel.  The taxi was bright pink.  Now actually that is not unusual as many taxis in Thailand are pink.  Some are green and yellow and a small number are blue, orange or other colours.   But the majority, to my eye seem to be either pink or green and yellow. However, what struck me particularly about this taxi, was the upholstery which was a bright shocking pink!  That is far less usual.

Having just drawn away from the hospital doors and their Pink October campaign, and being surrounded in the blogosphere by a range of views and discussions around pink and the pink ribbon, my mind was swirling in confusions and associations.

Pink is a very auspicious colour in Thailand, and I would be very surprised if the first meaning associated with the colour is anywhere near breast cancer.  People wearing pink t-shirts can be seen in swathes in Thailand,  as a sign of support and respect. So in Thailand, pink already has differing significance and there is a wealth of pink in sight.   In terms of Breast Cancer Awareness, there is a level of pink ribbon presence, but I have yet to see inappropriate or broad sweeping pink ribbon marketing.

Then something interesting happened.  In my bonus days in Bangkok, for the extra scans and work, I escaped for some numbing, only-looking shopping time to one of the big malls. My eye was caught by a card display, with lovely geckos on the front.  The cards were printed in brightly coloured, good quality paper.  Each set came in a grouping of five colours.  Of course, including blue.  So one of the five cards in the set was the most beautiful image of a group of very feisty blue geckos.

I had to have a set. I took them down and examined them, with their lively colours, heaps of attitude and little gems to accentuate the artwork. And then I saw this:

“Supporting Breast Cancer Outreach Projects”

You have to remember that I live in an environment where there is little “pink ribbon” marketing, so to see this was incredibly warming.  Not to mention, uncannily pertinent! This does not appear to me as commercialisation or exploitation of the  pink ribbon.  Jaab is a fair trade company and a proportion of the proceeds go towards a variety of Breast Cancer Projects.  In particular, there is a focus on outreach work for women in marginalised or difficult circumstances.

My views on pink ribbon marketing are no secret, and not exactly mainstream.  More like slipstream.  I am keenly aware that the marketing seems to exist in extremes around the globe.  Here, awareness seems to be much more tightly linked to the pink ribbon that it does in more commercialised contexts.

After the checks in Bangkok, of course, I returned to Yangon.  I have already written a fair bit about the void there is here in terms of awareness and marketing.  It is not my intent to repeat what I have said earlier, but rather to add to this. I ran a short session earlier this month with a group here and showed the pink ribbon as part of the introductory discussion. Not ONE single person knew its association / designation of breast cancer. Not one. I knew awareness was in a different place, but this really shook me, and shows just how incredibly inconsistently the pink ribbon is known and used around the world.  We went on to discuss some basic awareness including signs to have checked, and again talked explored beliefs about causes and risk.  Many believe that wearing old and tight underwear is a cause, and that it is a disease which mainly affects unmarried women.  For me real awareness is just that. REAL awareness.  And it is so important here, for example, where much is very different, yet the disease impacts cruelly and indiscriminately.

My plea is simple.  All I ask is that we remember that awareness varies enormously, as does the use of the pink ribbon and merchandising.  There are so many different shades of pink.  And perhaps we can learn about different ways of balancing marketing with awareness raising from unexpected sources.

13 thoughts on “Different shades of pink

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this post. In my trip around the world, I saw a shocking lack of awareness in many, many countries. So, although I agree that we have gone too far in the United States in turning awareness into profit, I want to see MORE awareness in many countries around the world. It is only through true awareness and dialogue that we can change the conversation and reduce the stigma, secrecy, and shame. How is it possible that we still live in a world where I met women in Africa who believe cancer is a death sentence and told me that they would rather get AIDS than cancer because if they get AIDS, they will get treatment, and if they get cancer, they will die. Or a world where women in Bangladesh hide their symptoms and commit suicide after a diagnosis because they don’t want to bring shame to their families?

    Thank you for bringing back the global element to the Pink Conversation. I believe breast cancer unites us across the world, in spite of race, religion, or access to awareness campaigns. I’d love to see us use some of our energy to elevate awareness and give patients in other countries hope about a day where breast cancer doesn’t come attached to shame, secrecy, or stigma.

    p.s. LOVE that the card supports Cancer projects. How perfectly fitting. Did you buy boxes and boxes of them? That would become my new signature card, if I was you:)

    • Thank you so much Terri – I knew that you would get it. I remember your reflection that in Africa a woman would rather be diagnosed with AIDS than cancer. It just shows what CAN be done, though of course there are still huge gaps there in HIV/AIDS awareness too. It also breaks my heart that people die of cancer because they cannot afford treatment. I also want to focus energy on these areas, where I feel there is so so much to be done.

      It is so good to able to have this conversation across the globe, and find ways of strengthening our efforts where it is needed.

      Hugs to you, Philippa xoxox

      PS Yes, was that not an amazing coincidence about the cards? I bought oodles, and will be getting more stocks next time I am in Bangkok – there are just gorgeous designs. I have also contacted the company and am finding out more about their work. Serendipity indeed 🙂

  2. Very important messages in your blog. I do think there is a possibility of balance so long as the awareness is linked to a call to action. In this situation the obvious one is breast awareness. I do think metastic breast cancer needs more focus, information and research too. I feel sure it’s possible and important to do both. Wouldn’t it be great if we could do more to support the awareness across global communities. It’s great work you are doing. I hope you are feeling stronger too. Ax

    • Exactly – it is not an either/or question in my view too. There is a danger of throwing out the baby with the bathwater if we move away from awareness and only focus on metastatic breast cancer, but the focus for MBC is urgent. I agree about the accompanying call to action too. I agonise over this as raising awareness must be accompanied with access and choice in terms of treatment and care. There is SO much to do..

      Thanks for your kind words. I am feeling stronger, getting there slowly. I hope you are well too. xox

  3. What a unique perspective on the whole pink-tober issue. It’s refreshing to know that not all countries subscribe to this pink awareness phenomenon. And I love the blue geckos. Uncanny? You bet! You have had incredible foresight about that imagery. xo

    • Thanks J, for listening when there is so much about pinkness around. I am so keenly aware of the differences and will continue to shout about our differing contexts. And what about those wonderful blue geckos? Just amazing 🙂 xoxox

  4. An excellent post about shades of pink and awareness. I kinda dropped my jaw slightly when you wrote that many of the ladies you spoke with thought breast cancer was for unmarried women. Yes, we need awareness and it needs to be real, informative and reaching to women everywhere. Pink campaigns aside, conversation and demonstration are really quite essential.

    And how amazing that you found those blue geckos? Rather amazing, I think. 🙂


  5. Beautiful post, P! ❤ I love how the universe seemed to be sending you messages, and to me – it seemed like messages of hope – during your stay in Bangkok. It sound like magic. All the pink taxis (of course, they're there), but the one with the pink interior! Then just after, some feisty blue geckos. I hope you send Jaab an email w/ a link to your blog. How amazing.


    • Thanks B 🙂 Yes, so many messages heading straight at me, or so it seemed! I couldn’t resist contacting Jaab and shared this post with them prior to posting. I am keen to learn more of their work and will keep in touch with them. 🙂 And I just LOVE their cards – I will try and remember and bring some on Monday! xoxox

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  7. Excellent, insightful post. I learned so much about the culture in your neck of the woods, and I agree that a balanced view of pink is not such a bad thing. It’s so true that breast cancer is an exploited disease here in the US, with all the pink hoopla, but it would help to have awareness in other areas of the world.

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