Pinkwashing is when companies or brands claim to support breast cancer awareness but are really using the color pink for their own marketing efforts and profits.
When Kelly Kashmer was 31 years old, she went to a routine doctor’s appointment and her doctor started asking her questions about her family’s history with cancer.
“It really was the first time that anyone had asked me about that, and the more I started talking, the more I realized, I actually do have a significant history,” says Kashmer.
Kashmer’s family had a history of breast cancer on her mom’s side and ovarian cancer on her dad’s side, so her doctor encouraged her to get genetic testing for hereditary cancer. She did the testing that day, but she wasn’t too concerned.
“They gave me information about the test that I was taking, and I remember coming home and throwing it away. I just really didn’t think too much of it.”
About 2 weeks later, Kashmer got a call telling her she tested positive for the BRCA2 mutation.
BRCA1 (BReast CAncer gene 1) and BRCA2 (BReast CAncer gene 2) are genes that can help repair damaged DNA, but harmful variants to these genes can lead to cancer. Gene mutations can be inherited from birth from a parent who carries the mutation.
Anywhere from 45% to 69% of those who inherit a mutation of the BRCA2 variant will develop breast cancer by 70 to 80 years old. In addition, 11% to 17% of those with a mutation of the BRCA2 variant will develop ovarian cancer by 70 to 80 years old.
“For me, it wasn’t an if, but more of a when this would happen,” says Kashmer. “I spoke with a genetic counselor, and they gave me a few options. One option was prophylactic surgery. I could have a mastectomy and my ovaries removed and really reduce that risk. Or I could do more aggressive screenings every 6 months — do an MRI, mammogram, and ultrasounds.”
Kashmer decided that she would do the scans for a few years and then revisit things. It was already a busy time in her life with two young daughters and everything that came along with that.
After doing her baseline tests, Kashmer’s doctor called her in to review the results.
“I kind of knew as soon as I saw the doctor that they had found something. They found that I had stage 2 triple negative breast cancer, which was surprising,” says Kashmer. “I didn’t have a lump. I wasn’t sick. There was no redness or irritation. Nothing was different in my life to give me any indication that I had cancer. I was very active. I was extremely healthy. I exercised all the time and took care of myself. I really had to be since I was raising two little girls at that time,” she says.
Kashmer started on a treatment regimen, ultimately undergoing about 10 months of chemotherapy and 11 surgeries.
Kashmer was diagnosed in the month of October, which also happens to be breast cancer awareness month — a time when it’s hard to escape the color pink, as it’s excessively used to raise awareness for the disease.
“I remember even at every doctor’s appointment, there were pink ribbons everywhere. The doctors’ and the nurses’ outfits were all pink. There were pink ribbons all over the place, even in the parking lot. And, of course, every store that you go into, it’s just splashed everywhere,” says Kashmer.
This is what fueled the name NothingPink, because “there’s nothing pink about breast cancer,” she says.
NothingPink is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that Kashmer founded in 2015 in South Carolina to help bring awareness to genetic testing, early intervention, and preventive options for breast and ovarian cancer. The organization also provides support to local families that are dealing with cancer.
Kashmer encourages people to take a critical look at how the color pink is used in association with breast cancer.
“Pinkwashing is when an organization or business claims that they are going to promote the awareness of breast cancer, but really utilizes pink for their own bank accounts,” says Kashmer.
She explains that sometimes these products are unhealthy, create pollution, or cause other harmful results that are the opposite of what the movement is supposed to be about, which is eliminating breast cancer. Other times, brands only donate a small percentage of profits, such as 5%, while using the other 95% to increase the company’s bottom line. Even worse, some companies capitalize on the color pink without any intention to contribute to the cause at all.
Kashmer encourages people to research brands that say they’re donating to breast cancer research or nonprofits to find out how that money is actually going to support the community. Rethinking Pink and Think Before You Pink are two helpful resources she recommends for looking into what brands or nonprofits are actually donating to breast cancer research.
While Kashmer finds it frustrating the way some brands exploit the color pink by neglecting to fulfill their commitments, she says the use of the color can serve a positive purpose.
“There is something to be said for the color pink. If it jogs somebody’s mind to say, ‘I forgot to get my mammogram. I need to go ahead and schedule it,’ [then that’s] great,” says Kashmer. “I don’t hate the pink ribbon.”
Kashmer also says that businesses don’t need to rely on the color pink to support breast cancer awareness. “What businesses can do other than pink, is to give back to local organizations and communicate how they are doing this efficiently and effectively,” she says.
NothingPink encourages people to start a conversation with their families about breast and ovarian cancer to better understand their risks. The organization helps women take educated steps medically, whether that means getting counseling or more screenings.
“I remember one of the first times that I had a speaking engagement, and I asked, ‘Please raise your hand if you have ever heard of genetic testing for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.’ I think there was one person out of a room of 300 who raised their hand,” Kashmer says. “My goal is to do the speaking engagement and for every person in that room to raise their hand.”
Medically reviewed on October 29, 2022
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