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Thinking pink proves personally rewarding

By Kristine Gill

Saturday, October 16, 2010

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Aileen Magnotto

Breast-cancer campaign not without its detractors, however

By Kristine Gill

If it weren’t for all that pink, Aileen Magnotto’s cancer may have gone undiagnosed.

The Hermitage, Pa., woman said the pink-ribbon campaign made her more proactive when she noticed a lump in her breast in 2005 after having attending a Susan G. Komen for the Cure race earlier that year.

“If it hadn’t been for all the awareness, I wouldn’t have reacted,” Magnotto said.

But if it weren’t for all that pink, some say we could stop breast cancer from affecting women at all.

Gayle Sulik is the author of “Pink Ribbon Blues,” a book that explores the effect of breast-cancer awareness, which many claim has done little to improve women’s health.

Sulik sees a huge disconnect between pink products women can buy, which range from clothing to KFC chicken, and the message advocacy groups are trying to promote.

“It definitely detracts from the real message,” Sulik said. “People don’t even know what awareness is anymore. Awareness of what? Awareness has been replaced with visibility.”

Carrie Glasscock, manager of corporate relations for Susan G. Komen for the Cure, disagrees.

“There’s not enough pink when every 69 seconds a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer around the world,” she said. “Women are still dying from this disease.”

The pink ribbon first became the symbol of breast-cancer awareness in 1992 when Susan G. Komen teamed up with Est e Lauder to pass them out at a race event in New York City. Since that time, countless groups have taken up the color to symbolize their own breast-cancer awareness efforts, so it’s difficult to pinpoint where these efforts come from and what sort of action they’re meant to inspire.

If you noticed uncharacteristically sexual Facebook status updates from friends recently, you’re a witness to that concept.

John Yang, a website manager and entrepreneur in Austin, Texas, saw friends writing “I like it on the floor” and “I like it on the kitchen table” for their Facebook status and wanted to know where it was coming from.

“I was really confused,” Yang said. “I did a little bit of research and found out it had to do with breast cancer.”

But the trend wasn’t obviously connected to any breast-cancer awareness group including Komen or the American Cancer Society, and you had to navigate away from Facebook to learn what the loosely connected stunt was tied to.

“It wasn’t us, but we’re really excited about anything that brings awareness to our cause,” Glasscock said.

Al Stabilito of the American Cancer Society agreed.

“Whatever clever way they want to come up with as long as it’s in good taste,” he said. “The American Cancer Society encourages people to spread the message.”

Yang sensed an opportunity and quickly launched a website where he now sells T-shirts and bracelets with the saying. Yang said he will give $5 from each shirt and $1 from each bracelet to Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

“Guys were thinking of it as a sexual thing, but whether it was positive or negative press, it eventually brought attention to breast-cancer awareness.”

Samantha King, author of “Pink Ribbons Inc.,” wrote her book when she noticed an increasing trend toward encouraging people to show their support or concern for a cause by shopping for such products.

“Most of these corporations start these campaigns out of good intentions, but their good intentions are tied to their bottom line,” King said.

Glasscock said Komen encourages consumers to ask themselves questions before impulsively purchasing a product they assume will further a cause. They include asking whether the company is committed, how the program is structured and whom it will benefit, how the money will be used and whether the program is meaningful to the consumer.

“There are a lot of ambiguous campaigns out there,” Glasscock said.

Still, Magnotto is passionate about the campaign that led to her diagnosis. She even designed her own pink product — a “pinky” ring featuring the iconic ribbon encrusted with a colored gem. The custom-made ring retails for $300 through jeweler Caesar Azzam of Caesar’s Designs in Pittsburgh. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the local chapter of Susan G. Komen for the Cure in Pittsburgh. A more affordable version costs just $70.

“If you wear it with the tails toward your heart, you’re a survivor,” Magnotto said. ”If you wear it the other way, it’s in honor, memory or support.”