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  • DON RYAN / Associated Press

    An Oregon State football fan wears a hat made of pink breast cancer awareness foam sticks. Writer Ann Silberman argues that cancer awareness programs do little to help women with terminal cancer.

  • Ann Silberman, who lives in Sacramento, was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in 2009 and metastatic cancer in 2011. Read her blog at

Viewpoints: Marrow donors are needed more than pink-ribbon hype

Published: Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 3E
Last Modified: Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012 - 8:38 am

As Breast Cancer Awareness month ends, it is time to put away our pink cans of Progresso, dust off our running shoes, mail in our leftover yogurt labels and begin November satisfied that we have done our part to end the scourge of breast cancer.

Are you satisfied? Do you believe that buying pink UGG boots, a pink flashlight or any of the myriad pink items displayed in stores this month helped cure anybody like me, who is terminally ill with metastatic breast cancer?

If so, it is time to dismount from your unicorn and pay attention: The only one helped when buying a product tagged "awareness" is the company that slapped the pink label on it. Catching breast cancer early does nothing to stop it from progressing to stage 4, the deadly stage. Only 6 percent of women are diagnosed with late-stage cancer. The rest, like me, progressed from its early stage. Cancer does what it wants. Breast cancer is sneaky and can come back to kill you years after you thought it was gone.

Officials with the Susan G. Komen for the Cure organization will tell you that the five-year survival rate for breast cancer – due to their awareness efforts, of course – is 98 percent. They don't say that their perky stats include women with stage 0 pre-cancer who cannot die of this disease. You aren't informed that due to the emphasis on early detection, women are having what may be unnecessary mastectomies. They don't tell you that the death rate from advanced cancer has not dropped since the pink ribbon made its debut.

Because of "pinkwashing," people now believe that nobody dies of breast cancer, or that it is the "good cancer" to get. Women like me – whose cancer has spread to the liver, or brain, or lungs – are the stain on the underside of the ribbon, and Komen does little for us. Only a tiny percentage of the massive pink fundraising effort goes toward research for metastatic women – yet we are the only women who die of breast cancer.

The focus on awareness is the wrong focus for our times. Who, by now, is not aware of breast cancer? We are oversaturated with awareness. Education has been achieved. Now it's time to do something about what we've learned, with dollars going toward research rather than a tent rental and pink balloons.

If you're disappointed to learn your pink purchases have no value, don't be. You can still help. You can save somebody's life, in a real, personal way, and you can do it today: Immediately contact the bone marrow registry and sign up online to be a donor. They will send you a kit. You will swab your cheek, send it back to them, and you will then be put on the list to save a life. So simple, so meaningful and so real.

Whose life will you save?

How about my son's friend, Kurt Lee? Kurt is a 16-year-old boy diagnosed with leukemia two years ago. He is of Chinese descent and now needs a bone marrow transplant. Can you imagine being 16, missing two years of school – the world of teenage fun: homework and crushes and sports – all going on without you? Can you imagine living your life on chemotherapy, feeling sick and constantly exhausted?

I can. I do it every day. I won't survive this cancer experience; it's too late for me. But Kurt can live and you can make it happen. My suffering with cancer has not been easy, knowing it will best me. But it would be agony to watch my child go through it and with a cure so tantalizingly close; a mere cheek swab away.

Kurt can have all that I, in my 54 years, have had. Friends, love, children, a career. A life. And, you have the power to give this to him.

On Monday, from 2 to 7 p.m., Mira Loma High School in Sacramento will have a bone marrow drive. If you are 18-44, it's free. If you are of Asian heritage, you are especially needed.

Here is awareness for you: There are only 6,000 Asians on the entire marrow registry. I'll be there to show my love and support for this child and for his family, who have suffered enough. If I – with half a liver, one breast, on my sixth consecutive chemo – can go, so can you. Tell your family, tell your friends, and tell the world.

It's time to put down the pink, and pick up the swab.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Ann Silberman

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