When I was little, we used to collect the lids off of yogurts with pink ribbons on them and mail them…somewhere. That may have been the first time I became aware of breast cancer.

This year is my first Breast Cancer Awareness Month having actually had breast cancer. I don’t notice the pink ribbons any more than usual, but I do think about the word “awareness” more. “Awareness” is a strange, abstract thing. Most people are aware that breast cancer exists, so what are we raising awareness about?

There were a million things I wasn’t aware of when I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

I wasn’t aware that I would have to hold my breath during 33 rounds of radiation treatment in order to move my heart and lungs out of the way of the beams of radiation.

I wasn’t aware that I would have to get monthly shots in my butt of a drug that goes into the body as a liquid and then solidifies, painfully, under the skin as a solid in order to suppress my ovaries.

I wasn’t really, truly aware of all the scary, alarming statistics…until I became one.

And when you become a statistic, when the donations raised go to funding research for a disease that tried to kill you, when it becomes personal…you start wondering, “Where exactly did all my yogurt lids go?”

I’ll give myself a pass because I was just a kid who liked pink and yogurt, but it represents a bigger issue – this lack of awareness of where our money is actually going when we purchase something pink or bedazzled with a pink ribbon. So many of us are clueless consumers, who genuinely want to do good, and assume that because a company turns their product pink in October, our purchase will support breast cancer in some way.

But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Breast cancer has become an unregulated multibillion dollar industry. Companies can turn their products pink or slap a ribbon on them in the name of “breast cancer awareness” without actually giving anything back.

What really opened my own eyes to this problem was the launch of a recent awareness campaign by the nonprofit group, The Breasties, called Pink Is Not The Problem. The problem, they explain, is not the color pink or the pink ribbon; the real problem is pinkwashing – a tactic used by companies and organizations to exploit breast cancer for profit, marketing, or public relations.

I highly encourage you to watch this group’s incredible video (below) and check out their entire website at https://pinkisnottheproblem.org/ to learn about the harms of pinkwashing and what you can do to combat it. And then encourage someone else to check it out. THIS is awareness.

Now is the perfect time to become an informed and aware consumer. October is when we’re often inundated with pink and pink ribbons and everything claiming to support the cause or raise awareness. But unless you do your research, those claims mean nothing. Monetary donations are still imperative to breast cancer research and resources, but before you purchase an item, know where your money is going. Find out what organization is receiving the donation, what their mission is, and what percentage of proceeds will be donated.

I may not have known where my yogurt money was going back in the day, but when you know better you can do better. And isn’t that the whole point of raising awareness?

This is part of a blog series written by Caitlin Kingsley, Marketing and Communications Manager for My Gene Counsel, in which she shares some of her experiences, advice, and resources following a breast cancer diagnosis in October 2020 at age 33. You can find related posts here.