Dear Mr. Buffett, Oracle of Omaha,
Since you no doubt read my blog religiously, it will come as no surprise that I have a lot of respect for you – your commitment to the common good, politics, parenting, business acumen – you are one rare bird. I know you are not involved in the day to day operations of the Berkshire-Hathaway holdings, but with your history of social responsibility, I thought this might pique your interest.
I fished this catalog out of the recycling bin at work today. Oriental Trading is a seller of all things cute, crafty, and cheap. I’m not going to complain about the business model here because, hey, I doubt you’re going to exploit the employer/employee relationship in order to inappropriately dictate healthcare decisions like a certain competitor.
However, I see that the Trading company, celebrating 80 years of fun, is helping us prepare for October, a month that has seen it’s natural red and gold beauty edged out by a soft shade of pink. I suppose the early notification is to allow us adequate time for shipping and handling.
Welcome to my wheelhouse.
Honor, Overcome, Participate, and Empower. That’s a new one to me. Unfortunately the weird sunglasses, babygirl pink feather boas, ribbons, and ear-to-ear smiles are not.
Here’s a summary of my issues with this issue. Please click the links to learn more.
1. Breast Cancer isn’t cute or smiley or even remotely giggly. It’s a vicious disease that killed more than 40,000 women in the United States last year. It will kill that many women this year too. Open that up to men and the whole globe, and the numbers of people who aren’t here anymore exceed 500,000 annually.
That’s half a million people killed by this disease every year. (just for comparison, Ebola has killed about 1,000 people this year and we’re freaking the eff out like it’s a Hollywood movie.)
Those of us who live long enough to receive treatment are left disfigured, numb, damaged, and scarred both inside and out.
So what on earth are all these people smiling about??
2. Over the last couple of decades, a narrative has arisen that if we catch breast cancer early, we increase the chances of survival. Despite the fact that this adage has been proven untrue, it continues to dominate our thinking. I understand it too, because the idea that we can control the outcome is seductive. Conversely, the unpredictable truth about the disease lives somewhere on the scale between unsettling and terrifying.
Breast cancer that stays in the breast is not an existential threat. If it moves beyond there it can take up residence elsewhere, like the liver or the brain. At that point, it’s considered manageable but incurable.
Get that? There is no cure. And despite what we would like to believe, even a cancer that’s teeny tiny and very early in its development can come roaring back in a deadly form at any time. My locally advanced breast cancer (Stage 3A), diagnosed six years ago this month, is unlikely to return but the only way I can tell for sure that it won’t is to die of something else. Doctors think that the individual biology of the cancer is what matters, but they don’t know why or how or even which one. They treat them all the same way now because that’s all they can do, so some people might go through surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy on a cancer that never would have killed them.
And some will go through it all and die anyway.
3. Everyone loves a party. Given a choice between hanging out with the fun gals in feather boas or the Princess of Gloom telling you that up to 30% of all breast cancers will come back to kill, who would you pick? And that’s the danger here, Mr. Buffett. All the funny sunglasses and $.06 edibles drown out the truth about this disease.
The way I see it, the popularity of the pink ribbon can be explained by two factors: (1) People have a sincere desire eradicate breast cancer; and (2) It’s one helluva marketing strategy. I have nothing against making money, but those two aren’t necessarily the best combination because the bottom line potential of #2 can take advantage of the good will of #1.
So I ask you, Mr. Buffett, consider the impact of programs such as Oriental Trading. Please align your means with the end we all want — eliminating breast cancer once and for all.
Thank you for your time,
Ms. TimeForSuchAWord, Princess of Gloom