Pink October: Who Profits the Most?

I suspect that there are very few people today who are not aware that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  It’s hard to escape the pink “stuff” being advertised to support breast cancer awareness and research.  I always wonder, though, why people don’t just donate money for research.

I guess if you really need a blender and pink is the perfect color for your kitchen, then it makes sense to buy a pink blender because it has that added value of contributing to cancer research.  If you love pink clothes and sneakers and shoe laces, you can buy them in October and support research.  If you are a candy addict, you can purchase bags of pink M&Ms and kill two birds with one stone (although I probably should find a better way to say that).  You can even buy Yoplait yogurt and send in the pink lid so 10 cents will go toward research.

It’s ironic that many companies (Avon, Revlon, Estee Lauder, for example) that use parabens in their products support breast cancer research.  The FDA is aware that parabens are a known carcinogen because of their estrogenic effect.  Cosmetics companies are reluctant to remove them because it might cut into their profit margin, so October will continue to be the month the cosmetic industry runs ads in support of breast cancer research while continuing to manufacture products with parabens.  Other companies, such as pharmaceutical firms, also seem to profit from breast cancer.  At times it makes me wonder if profit is coming before cure or prevention. If you read any of the October magazines, look for articles that claim we are making progress in the treatment of breast cancer, articles that are then followed by advertisements by companies that profit from their “pink” sales during this month.

Really, I don’t get it.  As a survivor, I certainly have purchased my share of pink products, mainly jewelry and pink ribbon pins, along with all the freebies I always get at the Susan G. Komen for the Cure races.  I have drawers full of pink survivor shirts and hats and a jewelry box full of pins earned for completing the walks.  But still there is no cure.  Every 69 seconds someone in the world dies from breast cancer.  Every hour, while women and men and children are walking in support of breast cancer research during the October walks, 20 women in the U.S. are dying of breast cancer.  What are we doing?

This all makes me wonder in those dark hours in the middle of the night why my sister died when she had such hope and such courage and such a strong desire to live.  Why did treatment fail her?  In 2005, the year she died, companies were vowing their support to eradicate breast cancer.  People were buying pink kitchen tools and blenders.  Women were buying pink clothing and wearing pink ribbons and walking in walks and racing in races and showing support.  And still my sister died.

I won’t be buying many pink products any more. I certainly will not buy products that contain parabens.  I will continue to be a member of organizations like CRAAB (Capital Region Action Against Breast Cancer), a local advocacy group working with the government to reach a cure or work on prevention.  I still have hope that a cure will come, or that we will eliminate the environmental toxins that are promoting cancer growth.  Every company that continues to put chemicals in their products needs to find a way to take them out and still have a great product.

October is a hard month for me.  It’s the month of my sister’s original diagnosis, and in 2003 it was the month of her recurrence and the month of my own diagnosis.  I continue to be angry that such little progress has been made in preventing breast cancer, although I know advances have been made in diagnosis and treatment.  It’s just not enough.  I hope there will continue to be ways to show support for breast cancer research, but more than anything, I wish everyone would work to boycott companies that use parabens.  Check out The Paraben Free Princess web site.  It’s very informative.  Read about the Safe Cosmetics Act.  Become informed.  Become an advocate for a clean environment because cleaning up our environment may be the only way we will ever prevent breast cancer.

September Blues

September blesses us with autumn colors–vibrant reds, oranges, earthy browns- that energize and elevate us, as long as we try to think of autumn as just a different kind of beginning, not really an ending.

All my life September has meant the start of school.  First as a student and then as a teacher, the sadness of the end of summer was mollified by the excitement of the beginning of a new year.  Ah, the fun of it all.  Notebooks, packs of lined paper, Bic pens, No. 2 pencils, text books filled with all kinds of wonderful information.

I particularly loved September as a teacher.  All those new faces, all that potential, all that fun and laughter and those serious classroom discussions, all that writing, all that reading, all those videos and recordings and computer searches.  Everything fresh and new.

Now as a retired teacher I look at September in a different way.  I am entering my third year of retirement and the sadness and emptiness is just starting to soften a little.  I can go into Staples or Target and pass those aisles of school supplies with just a hint of sadness.  I still want to buy everything.  I go into Michael’s and see displays for teachers of bulletin board borders with their patterns of apples and textbooks and pencils curving around the sides, posters to inspire the most reluctant students, attendance logs and storage containers.  I still want it all.  I still long to pack up my tote bags with classroom supplies, create colorful bulletin boards, decorate the walls of my room with informational posters, arrange desks and bookshelves, and stand at the door expectantly, waiting to see new faces and hear laughter in the hallways, the sound of young voices eager to be with their friends again.

I know retirees who are happy to finally go to the Cape in September with its lower rates and fewer crowds, walk the beaches, eat seafood, take the ferry to Nantucket, breathe in the cooler fall air, and relish the peace.

Not so much for me.  Not that I don’t love the Cape, and the first year my husband and I were both retired we spent a long weekend on the Cape in September.  But Hyannis was a little too quiet, too boring.  The sun still had a little warmth, but not enough to lie in the sun smothered in sunscreen and listen to the waves and the gulls, radios, and indistinguishable voices.  In fact, it was downright lonely.

Twenty-five years ago September came with excitement and nervousness for my family.   We had just moved into our new house in a new school district.  Our daughters were in the sixth and ninth grades.  The morning of the first day of school I watched doors open, cars move, the exodus from homes begin, and children of all ages walk to the end of the road to get the school bus.  It was almost magical.  A few weeks ago on the first day of school, I watched the older kids leave about 7 a.m. and at 8:45 the younger ones began their slow walk to the end of the street accompanied by a few mothers and dads.  The parents were carrying their cameras and the photos began.  One dad stood at the end of the road long after his child was on the bus still taking pictures as the bus drove his child away from his protective arms.  Mothers cried, then slowly walked back to their empty houses.

Now it’s not until October that I begin to enjoy the colors of the leaves, the cool air, and the crops of apples and pumpkins and squash.  The first week of September is the hardest when there are beginnings for children and parents as school begins, when other teachers enter their classrooms with enthusiasm, and I watch from my window as the children begin a new school year.  Three years into retirement I still feel the loss.  I am wondering how many years it will take me before I truly feel relaxed and happy that I am not heading off to school myself, and instead I am looking forward to the beaches of the Cape.  September blues linger for me still.

Morning Fog

Morning Fog

September fog hangs low in the morning sky,
shrouding the lake in gray forms
that move slowly over the deep blue water.

Darkness unfolds into light.
What was unseen is seen,
secrets illuminated when the rays
of the early morning autumn sun
filter through the clouds.

Surprises await beneath the parting fog–
a fisherman in a small boat sitting patiently,
lost in his own personal reverie,
a line of ducklings
following their mother in precise formation
as they glide across the smooth surface.

A momentary glimpse within the fog
until sunrise spreads its colors in shimmering splendor
over the glassy water,
beginning a day full of morning possibilities,
like life.

© Barbara Flass 2011



Gray light settles softly upon hard objects unseen,
dissolving dark edges, revealing potential.
Subtlety slinks its way into crevices,
smoothing along ridges,
releasing energy in spaces unfulfilled.

Darkness lingers shyly on the fringes,
transforming into light that banishes the gray,
leading to revelation,
merging into brilliant purity of white.

Inspiration comes.

© Barbara Flass 2011

Mirage at Midnight

Mirage at Midnight

Unfamiliar darkness on a familiar country road
Where the pine trees provide shade in the August sun
Now lonely and deserted, eerily silent.

A mirage—an optical phenomenon—occurs.
The grass, summer green in soft daylight,
Now white in the headlights,
The silvery dew like summer hail
Beneath pine branches edged in white lace.
Snowstorm’s beauty, summer night’s winter mirage.

Illusion almost missed without this
Midnight ride between fear and security.
Nature once again balancing reality with what could be.

© Barbara Flass 2011