Archive for the ‘Breast Cancer Awareness’ Category

An Introduction to METAvivor

METAvivors are different from traditional cancer survivors (http://www.metavivor.org). This is a community of people living with stage IV cancer, and advocating for the research that may, one day, save their lives or the lives of others like them. The “meta” in METAvivor is a reference to Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC) – or stage IV breast cancer. When breast cancer has spread to non-adjacent parts of the body (brain, spine, lungs) it is considered to be metastatic. The cancer has metastasized. This is the advanced breast cancer that kills; and it kills as many as 40,000 people each year. It is important to note that there has been no decline in the number of annual deaths due to MBC over the last two decades. None. Yet, of the billions raised annually for breast cancer research, only 2% goes to MBC – even though 30% of  breast cancer patients progress to stage IV.

METAvivor is an organization and community that has developed to raise awareness of Metastatic Breast Cancer and to provide researchers the grants they need to transform this from a terminal disease to a chronic disease. Below is a screenshot of the header image from the METAvivor Facebook page. Note the prominence of their Elephant in the Pink Room Campaign. I’ll talk more about that in a minute. Please keep reading.

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Here’s a video created by METAvivor to explain their cause and ask for our support:

There is friction between the “pink” organizations and the METAvivor Community. In the past I’ve written about some of the challenges the pink movement poses for those with stage IV breast cancer (“Think before you Pink”). One problem is that most of the funds raised through Pink campaigns (those that are legitimate) do not go to support MBC research. In many ways, the Pink Ribbon has become a divisive symbol within the breast cancer community – helping create a fracture.

Now The Rant

(I rarely use my blog as a bully pulpit, reserving that for special occasions. This is one such occasion. By the way, I can’t help but smile knowing that my mother would love the thought of me using of a Teddy Roosevelt related term – bully pulpit.) One of the most recent examples of the friction within the breast cancer world came when Kohl’s co-opted METAvivor’s “Elephant in the Pink Room” Campaign. The Kohl’s version is the “Pink Elephant in the Room.” Beginning in 2012, METAvivor used the Elephant in the Pink Room as a symbol of MBC – “the dark side of breast cancer that no one wants to acknowledge or talk about.” (Source: METAvivor letter to Kohl’s, February 24, 2014) Now, as you can see below, Kohl’s and Susan G. Komen have co-opted the Elephant campaign and are using it in their own breast cancer awareness campaign. The problem? The problem is that, as I pointed out at the beginning of this post, MBC is different and for once had its own strong campaign and messaging. Now all of that is being watered down by a corporate giant and the breast cancer awareness establishment.

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Here’s the letter that METAvivor’s president recently sent to Kohl’s, asking that they abandon the campaign and stop infringing on METAvivor’s intellectual property:

February 24, 2014

Kevin Mansell, President and CEO
Kohl’s Department Stores
N56 W17000 Ridgewood Drive
Menomonee Falls, WI 53051

Dear Mr. Mansell,

Your current Pink Elephant in the Room campaign is a clear infringement of METAvivor’s Elephant in the Pink Room Campaign (www.MBCaware.org) and has done considerable harm to the metastatic breast cancer community and to METAvivor.

The Elephant in the Pink Room is not merely a clever slogan, it represents the core of our work and what we stand for. In our campaign, which originated in 2012, the pink room represents the primary breast cancer community which has more funding, recognition and attention than any other disease. Primary breast cancer is hardly a pink elephant – women cannot escape that breast cancer conversation. The real elephant is metastatic breast cancer, the dark side of breast cancer that no one wants to acknowledge or talk about. As our Elephant in the Pink Room campaign states: “In the ‘pink room’ of the breast cancer conversation there’s an elephant being ignored – we the 30% of patients with breast cancer who metastasize”.

Metastatic breast cancer is stage IV breast cancer, a terminal illness. The US metastatic breast cancer community grows by 73,000 to 86,000 each year, and suffers the loss of more than 40,000 women and men annually. It is the metastatic community that is underserved. It is only people with metastatic disease that die from breast cancer.

The Kohl’s Pink Elephant in the Room Campaign, using much of the same verbiage as our Elephant in the Pink Room, reverses the critical conversation begun by METAvivor in 2012, and undermines the hard-won progress that we have made in raising awareness of metastatic breast cancer.

We were told by a member of your staff to expect a phone call from you on February 21 to discuss this issue. That phone call has still not come. We trust you will make good on the promise to talk to us by contacting METAvivor no later than 5 PM CST on Tuesday, February 25, 2014. If you truly care about breast cancer you will make this right.


Kelly Lange, President
METAvivor Research and Support, Inc.

cc: Judy Salerno, Jen Johnson, Katie Holmes

This is an emotional charged issue – and there are many shades of grey. Kohl’s does a lot of good through its corporate giving. In this case, they made an error at the expense of a small community of people who have worked very hard to put metastatic breast cancer on the agenda. Now they have once again been marginalized and undermined – perhaps unwittingly.

For more information about METAvivor and its negotiations with Kohl’s, please visit http://www.metavivor.org. For another perspective, read read Gayle Sulik’s blog post – The Pink White Elephant. Gayle A. Sulik, PhD is a medical sociologist and author of the book, Pink Ribbon Blues – a revealing history of breast cancer advocacy. Also check out Kathi Kolb’s blog post, Komen & Kohl’s Klueless Kampaign,

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Pinktober is not for everyone. Sandra’s post, from her Cats & Cancer blog, gives you another perspective on Breast Cancer Awareness Month and all the merchandizing and promotion that goes along with it. I appreciate Sandra, a cancer survivor, lending her voice to this conversation.

Cats & Cancer

The much-hated (for me) Pinktober is now in full swing.  What is Pinktober?  It’s the 10th month when yogurt suppliers, kitchen appliance manufacturers, carmakers, Facebook pages and other media messages are tagged with “breast cancer awareness.”  They want you to buy stuff and do stuff for the cause.  They want to take your money, later donate some of it, and not tell you how they use the funds.  Some call this “Pink-Washing.”

This year, there is a “Go Braless for Breast Cancer Day.”  WTH?  What does going braless have to do with breast cancer and what are people really thinking?  Will men go all day with an open fly for prostate cancer awareness?  Will teens decide to cut themselves for leukemia awareness?  Maybe women with mastectomies and no reconstruction ought to go shirtless for the day.  Wouldn’t that raise some “awareness?”


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In the past I’ve written posts about the fracture that has occurred within the breast cancer community over the issue of Pinktober. I’ve also written about companies who shamelessly use “pink” to drive business and affiliate with a cause.

My friend Alicia Staley is a three time cancer survivor and is far more qualified than I to address the challenges with Pinktober. Here’s a link to her blog post titled: “Lawsuits for the Cure.” This post was originally written in 2010, but remains relevant today. Here’s Alicia’s preface to the post:

“The following post was originally posted on December 9, 2010. Almost 2 years ago. In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I’ve pulled this post from the archives to share with you. We still have a great deal of work to do – the Pink Ribbon has fractured the breast cancer community. It’s time to work as a collaborative community, ditch the cause marketing campaigns, and refocus on our energies on the real meaning of the pink ribbon: Hope.”

I also read an interesting article from Reuters last week titled “Stern Advice-How to shop during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.” (Reuters, October 2, 2103) Here’s a brief excerpt from that article:

“The “pink” campaign – started in 1990 by the then-titled Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, now called Susan G. Komen for the Cure – has been criticized by anti-cancer and consumer advocates such as Breast Cancer Action in San Francisco and in the 2012 Canadian film “Pink Ribbons, Inc.” Critics claim some companies “pinkwash” their products and contribute little to the fight against breast cancer. Others say that after 30 years of pink branding, everyone is aware of breast cancer and raising awareness further isn’t really going to help cure the disease.” (Reuters, by Linda Stern, October 2, 2013)

I’d like to hear your perspective on Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Susan G. Komen, and Pinktober. Please feel free to leave a comment. Meanwhile, here’s a blog post I wrote a year ago titled “Breast Cancer & Those for Whom Pink Doesn’t Apply.” There are many for whom Pinktober does not resonate, in particular women with met metastatic breast cancer. Within my post, I write about Laura Wells, and her experience with the Pink Movement when she was initially diagnosed with breast cancer. Then, having a recurrence of her cancer at Stage IV, she shares with us the perspective of those for whom Pink may have little relevance – “those beyond prevention, beyond cure, beyond survivorship, beyond pink.” As Laura reminds us, many women feel left out in October when everyone is celebrating Pink Power. Here’s a link to Laura’s powerful blog post on Occupy Healthcare blog.

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I’ve written previously about the Pink Glove Dance Video Competition. It has truly become a phenomenon within the healthcare industry. For me, it has hit very close to home with my client, Lexington Medical Center, winning the competition in 2011 and 2012. Now Medline has come out with an infographic celebrating the growth of this phenomenon.

Here are some interesting stats, some of which you’ll see represented in the infographic below:

  • Pink Glove Dance participation continued to grow in 2012, with 80,000 people dancing
  • 45 States participated in the competition, plus Canada and Puerto Rico
  • Medline has raised $1.2 million to provide education and free mammograms to women in need
  • In 2011, competition videos received 1 million YouTube views in 2 weeks
  • In 2012, all competition videos received 1 million YouTube views in 48 hours
  • In 2012, there were over 1,000 articles and TV spots about the Pink Glove Dance


To check out the infographic on Medline’s website, go to http://www.medline.com/special/aorn-2013/2013-03-01.html.

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Against all odds, the team at Lexington Medical Center (my client) has repeated as the Pink Glove Dance Video Contest champion! This would be a remarkable accomplishment for any organization, not to mention a mid-sized community hospital in West Columbia, South Carolina. If you’d like to watch Lexington Medical Center’s 2012 Pink Glove Dance Video, click here. I embedded it in an earlier blog post.

The process of participating in the Pink Glove Dance Competition, and then actually winning the contest, led to a significant amount of press coverage: local, regional and national. It was exciting Friday to watch hundreds of Lexington Medical Center employees dancing on national television, as the Fox & Friends Morning Show did live shots from the hospital. Of course, these dedicated employees gathered at 4am for the morning show appearance! Below are some screen shots that I took of some of the press coverage.

Congratulations to the employees at Lexington Medical Center, the marketing team, and members of the community who all rallied to support the hospital’s Pink Glove video. This is an amazing example of audience engagement, on so many levels. It is also a testament to the culture at Lexington Medical Center – a culture that clearly resonates with employees and members of the community.

Now my only question is: Will Lexington Medical Center go for a third Pink Glove Dance Video Championship? Yikes!

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This month I have an article in Spectrum, a publication produced by the Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development (SHSMD). The title of the article is “Doing the Dance: A Lesson in Audience Engagement.” It tells the story of Lexington Medical Center’s participation in the 2011 Pink Glove Dance Video Competition and how the hospital managed to successfully engage its community, employees and much of the State of South Carolina in its quest to win the contest. My firm’s engagement marketing team worked with the talented in house marketing department at LMC to drive engagement and sustain interest throughout the promotion. This is a great story and a terrific example of a hospital that knows how to engage its key audiences. If you get a chance, I recommend you take a look at the article; it is the cover story in the November/December issue.

Fast forward to October 2012. The 2012 Pink Glove Dance Video Competition is winding down (or coming to a climax) after three weeks of voting. This year more than 260 organizations, primarily hospitals, entered the contest. With two days left in the voting (ends at 11:59pm on Friday, November 2), Lexington Medical Center (LMC) once again finds itself in the lead. This morning they have more than 14,000 votes, while the nearest competitor has roughly 8,500. LMC’s video has 63,000 views on YouTube. I am amazed. When Mark Shelley, the director of marketing and advertising, told me that they were going to enter the contest again this year, I told him that the odds of winning two years in a row were minimal. Foolish me, I wanted to manage his expectation. True to form, Mark believed in his team, his hospital and the community. He never doubted that they could once again take on all challengers and potentially win this competition. They haven’t won yet, and they may not win at all, but they have blown me away by their effort and passion.

Mark and his team did not rest on their laurels. This year’s video is a major production – filmed and edited entirely in house by the LMC marketing team. The video features the compelling story of Lexington Medical Center nurse Amy Kinard of Lexington, who was diagnosed with breast cancer at the young age of 34. The video, involving approximately 1,000 employees, was shot in the hospital and around the community – including a special pink glove skydiving adventure. Yes, I said skydiving. The star of the video was filmed skydiving! I’m biased, but watch this video for yourself and tell me that you’re not impressed. If you’d like to vote for their amazing video, go to http://on.fb.me/T0UJRu.

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One Caveat: Before reading this post, please know that I am not a cancer patient, nor am I a cancer survivor. When it comes to the whole Pink Movement, I defer to those on the front lines –  cancer patients and survivors. If you’d like the perspective of one amazing cancer advocate and survivor, check out this blog post by Jody Schoger titled “Women with Cancer: Redefining Pink.” I follow Jody on Twitter and recommend that you do the same. She is a writer, blogger and a self-proclaimed optimist. As a cancer survivor, I give her views on Pink a whole lot more credibility than my own. That said, within this blog post I will share with you my thoughts on how some businesses approach Pink. I know I am treading into dangerous territory, but I’m going there anyway.

This October I am seeing pink like never before. It’s everywhere. And I’m no stranger to pink. Each year I participate in a number of breast cancer awareness and survivor events sponsored by my hospital clients. I even have an assortment of pink neck wear for October, including a couple by Lilly Pulitzer. Fancy!

Here’s my problem. I already support a few cancer related organizations with donations each year. With that in mind, I’d prefer not to get a sales pitch about supporting a breast cancer charity when I walk up to the counter to buy my skinny Latte at my local coffee shop. On the most basic level, I don’t want to be put in the position of having to say “no thank you” to the lady behind the counter wearing the crazy pink hat. I don’t want to have a conversation with my Barista about my views on philanthropy and my history of giving. That’s what happens at my local Caribou Coffee establishment. During October and part of November, Caribou Coffee Company sells its Amy’s Blend collection in honor of their Roastmaster Amy Erickson who passed away from breast cancer. Amy was a real person who lost her tragically lost her life to breast cancer. That is real and should not get lost in this story about Caribou Coffee. When a customer purchases Amy’s Blend products, Caribou donates 10% of sales to CancerCare – a non-profit organization that provides counseling and financial assistance to people dealing with cancer. Based on the most recent annual report I could access online, CancerCare spends $0.17 of every dollar it receives on fundraising, management and general expenses (overhead). The rest goes to support its programs. It gets three stars from Charity Navigator. So it looks like a good cause – and a less controversial choice than the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

I applaud Caribou’s support of the cause and the passion embodied in the actions of its employees. But I don’t like being asked daily by a coffee worker to give to this cause by making an additional purchase. And by the way, the only way that I am aware of giving via Caribou is to buy more of its products. They are using this promotion to up-sell me on products I don’t normally buy.

Here are the rough economics behind this promotion: A pound of Amy’s blend is $15.99. My understanding is that a pound of beans, including packaging, costs an organization like Caribou about $4.00 per pound. That means they make $11.99 margin per pound, and donate $1.59 per pound to CancerCare. Amy’s blend is also priced higher than most of their coffees (see the graphic to the right). Overall, Caribou is doing a good thing, but let’s acknowledge that they are using it to drive business and build goodwill for their organization. That’s the principle behind a lot of the corporate philanthropy. They are connecting with consumers around values. “Look at how passionate we are about breast cancer. Won’t you join us.” In Caribou’s case, the link with their former employee (Amy) helps to take the promotion out of the realm of “pinkwashing.” Amy is their genuine connection to the issue. This marketing practice is called Echo Branding – connecting with consumers through a display of shared values. I teach businesses how to do this. But I teach them to do it in a more genuine, authentic and less obtrusive manner.

I wouldn’t mind it nearly as much if a Caribou employee asked if I would like to make a $1 donation to a breast cancer charity. But that is far different from asking me to buy a $15.99 product where 10% of the purchase will go to a charity and Caribou will make a large profit from the transaction. It is a win, win, win for them. They get goodwill from the association with breast cancer, increased $ per customer transaction during October, and they get to feel good about the real money they direct to CancerCare (a good outcome).

I want to close this post with a quote from Jody’s blog post. Her words are far more powerful than mine. Please visit her blog and check out the post in its entirety.

“The first week of Breast Cancer Awareness has ended. Sometimes it reminds me of how Christmas has been commercialized – it starts early, is in your face, and makes myth of the experience itself. It can trivialize a serious disease, divert discussion and dollars. I happen to think if we continue to act fearlessly – as friends, as survivors, advocates and activists – in bringing our intellectual collective to bear on the issue we can change the landscape for your daughters. Last week I was stunned to hear someone on our weekly #BCSM chat express the thought that we – co-moderators Alicia Staley and Deanna Attai, MD and I — had a political agenda. If having an anti-cancer, evidence-based, pro-survivorship, community-based agenda is political then yes, I’ll be the first to print campaign buttons and banners. On my dollar. Not from pimping cancer.”

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