Donya Currie is the editor of The Free Lance-Star's Healthy Life section and Healthy Life Virginia newsletter.

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Awareness fatigue?

I don’t respond well to pink ribbon campaigns. Or red ribbon or blue ribbon or any other color ribbon campaigns. All those ribbons feel gimmicky to me.

If you want my attention, talk to me about scientific breakthroughs and research roadblocks. Talk to me about treatments and trends. Talk to me about people and pain and progress.

But don’t give me a ribbon, tell me it represents a disease and expect me to immediately print a story/make a donation/see the light.

It feels blasphemous admitting that, but I know I’m not alone. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised to find a column on the New York Times health website today titled “Pink Ribbon Fatigue.”

In it, Dr. Barron H. Lerner of Columbia University Medical Center describes both the “spectacular success” of the pink ribbon campaign and the concern among some breast cancer activists that the campaign is obscuring some real issues and needs surrounding breast cancer.

Lerner describes concerns about conflicts of interest involving drug-makers and others involved in the pink ribbon campaign. Lerner also quotes from the website of medical sociologist Gayle A. Sulik. Here’s an excerpt:

“The pervasiveness of the pink ribbon campaign leads many people to believe that the fight against breast cancer is progressing, when in truth it’s barely begun.”

I’ll never tire of spotlighting the need to push for cures for cancer and other diseases. And I realize sometimes it takes a gimmick to catch a person’s or country’s attention. The pink ribbon campaign for breast cancer certainly has been remarkable in terms of getting people to talk more openly about the disease and to push for early detection and better treatments.

Still, I wrestle with elevating some diseases over others publicity-wise. I wrestle with the branding of diseases. And I wonder about the irony of, say, a KFC bucket turning pink during breast cancer awareness month—and being stuffed with the kind of fried foods that doctors say raise your risk for many diseases, including cancer.

I’m asked almost daily to promote awareness of this disease or that. Choosing is a challenge, and I appreciate those who try to get their medical cause on my (and others’) radar. They’re doing meaningful and significant work.

Still, I wonder: Can a ribbon campaign outlive its usefulness? Can it start off raising awareness and eventually lose its power?

To read more, check out Lerner’s full column at:

Later this month in Healthy Living, by the way, you’ll find a column on cancer by local oncologist Dr. Frederick Tucker, as well as a story about the so-called “breast cancer gene” and what it means for women who have it.