We’re approaching the Pink season, my heart sisters. It’s that time of year when breast cancer awareness campaigns and their accompanying corporate marketing shills rev into high gear. Last Pinktober, we saw pink buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken, pink-handled Tasers, and (yes, seriously) pink Smith & Wesson handguns – each somehow helping us to be more aware of breast cancer.
What could possibly top what breast cancer survivor and author Barbara Ehrenreich calls this “cult of pink kitsch” again this year?
From my perspective as a 35+ year veteran in the public relations field, I have to say that my friends working in breast cancer fundraising have done a fabulous job in raising awareness of their cause. So fabulous, in fact, that they have erroneously convinced women that breast cancer is our biggest health threat.
It is not, of course. This year, heart disease will kill 5-6 times more women than breast cancer will. In fact, heart disease kills more women each year than all forms of cancer combined.
Please don’t misunderstand. My concern isn’t about a spitting contest between who suffers more, and none of us would ever argue that a diagnosis of breast cancer – and indeed any form of cancer – isn’t a truly horrific experience. Instead, I’m puzzled about why heart patients and those who care for us seem to be oddly content sitting quietly on the back burner of that massive pink retail-shopping stovetop. I have nothing against pink itself, but as one of my friends who’s a two-time survivor of BC said once:
“Since when did my disease become your shopping experience?”
So in the interests of offering some balance here as Pinktober hits, I invite you to watch this 3-minute film called “Just a Little Heart Attack”.
I love this Elizabeth Banks film so much that, as you may have noticed, I have inserted it permanently into every page at Heart Sisters (just scroll down the right sidebar). I also use it to kick off each of my public presentations about women’s heart health.
Banks, an Emmy-nominated actress, has first-hand family experience with heart disease: her own mother and sister have both been diagnosed with heart disease. In her film, she perfectly captures a typical multi-tasking woman putting her own needs well behind those of everyone else around her. She plays the harried heart attack patient here in an exquisitely hilarious yet frighteningly realistic fashion.
And her film also reminds us that young women can have heart disease, too. Heart attacks can happen in every age group. And according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, women under 55 are far less likely to seek medical attention for cardiac symptoms, and are more likely to die in hospital from a heart attack compared to men of the same age.
Ironically, the chances of a 37-year young woman (the age Elizabeth Banks was when she made this little film) being diagnosed with heart disease are four times greater than her chances of being diagnosed with breast cancer.
This is particularly true for women whose heart attacks do not include chest pain (at least 10 per cent of us will experience no chest symptoms at all during a cardiac event). According to this JAMA report, 15% of the women under age 45 when they suffer a heart attack without chest pain will die in hospital, compared to just 2% of those with chest pain.
When other researchers reporting in the New England Journal of Medicine looked at more than 10,000 patients (48 per cent women) who had gone to their hospital Emergency Departments with chest pain or other heart attack symptoms, they found that women under the age of 55 are SEVEN TIMES more likely to be misdiagnosed in mid-heart attack than their male counterparts are.*
A commonly heard pronouncement delivered by too many Emergency physicians to too many female heart patients is:
“It’s not your heart. You’re too young to be having a heart attack.”
My sister heart attack survivors have been raving about this little film. Please do us all a favour and forward this link to the women you care about, reminding them that:
- heart disease is our #1 killer
- heart disease kills more women than men every year
- women typically wait too long before seeking help despite heart attack symptoms
- up to 80% of heart disease is preventable through lifestyle choices like regular exercise, healthy food choices, stress management, and not smoking
- women must pay attention to ALL cardiac warning signs and call 911 immediately!
- YOU KNOW YOUR BODY! YOU KNOW WHEN SOMETHING IS JUST NOT RIGHT!
Find out more myths and facts about women’s heart disease.
♥ Thank you in advance for remembering to Facebook/Tweet/email/post/print/ or share this link with your friends, neighbours, co-workers and family members.
♥ And for a surprisingly inane and uninformed perspective on this little film, read the otherwise intelligent Gary Schwitzer‘s 2011 review in Forbes (along with the reader comments in response to his article advising him to give his head a shake).
♥ The National Film Board of Canada has produced the documentary Pink Ribbons Inc. Watch the trailer.
NOTE FROM CAROLYN: I wrote much more about women’s cardiovascular disease in my book, “A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease”. You can ask for it at your local bookshop, or order it online (paperback, hardcover or e-book) at Amazon, or order it directly from my publisher, Johns Hopkins University Press (use their code HTWN to save 20% off the list price).
♥ And speaking of All Things Pink, the corporate pink ribbon campaign can also be misleading for those who don’t read the fine print. The late Shelli Ray Gibbons, a woman with metastatic breast cancer and founder of the popular site, The Dirty Pink Underbelly, once wrote to me:
“Those of us in the thick of breast cancer are SICK of the pink and the hype – at least the realistic among us are.
“Breast cancer gets the attention because of society’s objectification and sexualization of women and breasts. Can we please spread the word that it’s not about boobies – it’s about life and death, like every other cancer out there.
“I wish that October were about women’s health in general, and I wish we could get away from the commercialization of it all, and the trivialization of women and the disease that Pink Industry Month perpetuates.
“I have cancer. It happens to have started in my breast. It has metastasized to my bones. It will eventually spread. It will kill me – if heart disease doesn’t sneak up on me first.”
Under the noble auspices of charity, argues Queen’s University professor Samantha King in her book, Pink Ribbons Inc: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy, global corporations, politicians, and “regressive white middle class family values” are all getting a big shot in the arm from this pink ribbon juggernaut. She notes that, beyond being an all-too-frequent and still-too-lethal disease for many women, breast cancer is a corporate dream come true.
“Corporations secure free publicity and a means to expand their market share via enlogoed ‘awareness’ campaigns. The rank and file, conditioned by now to believe that there’s no problem shopping can’t solve, are invited to feel virtuous and altruistic whenever they buy a Yoplait yogurt or a pink KitchenAid mixer.”
Consider, for example, last year’s Lean Cuisine packaging that featured the ubiquitous pink ribbon of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
But consumers who bought their Lean Cuisine frozen dinners believing that a portion of the purchase cost would benefit breast cancer charities learned upon reading the very fine print that they actually had to visit the company’s website and purchase a Lean Cuisine lunchbag. Only then would a portion of that bag’s purchase price be donated to the cause. Brilliant marketing campaign – resulting in all those Lean Cuisine lunchbags helping to freely advertise the company’s brand in staff lunchrooms all over North America!
(1) Pope JH, Aufderheide TP, Ruthazer R, et al. Missed diagnoses of acute cardiac ischemia in the emergency department. N Engl J Med. 2000;342:1163-1170.
This article was originally posted here on September 26, 2011.
Q: Have we gone too far with Pinktober?