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Breast Cancer and the Pink Ribbon Symbol

The Creation of the Breast Cancer Awareness Ribbon

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Updated June 18, 2014

Pink Ribbon Pins

Pink Ribbon Pins

Photo © Pam Stephan
Updated June 18, 2014

Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM) has been with us now for 26 years. But the pink ribbon symbol did not come about until around 19 years ago. Here's a little background on the pink ribbon, and how it came to symbolize the cause of breast cancer.

Pink Ribbons - Symbol for Breast Cancer Awareness
Yellow ribbons have been used to remind us of soldiers and hostages that have yet to come home. Red ribbons are used for HIV/AIDs awareness. Black ribbons are for melanoma, death and mourning, silver for aging, and lavender for any type of cancer. Pink is used for breast cancer, a disease that affects women as well as men. Pink communicates youth, peace, femininity, a sense of calm, and health. And yet, the first breast cancer ribbon was not pink.

The Original Breast Cancer Ribbon
In 1992, Charlotte Haley created peach-colored ribbon loops while sitting at her dining table. Ms. Haley was a breast cancer survivor, one of four generations of women that had already fought with the disease. Personally distributing the peach ribbons in sets of five at her local grocery stores, Ms. Haley asked people to wear the ribbon and write to their legislators. Along with the ribbons, she gave each person a card saying, "The National Cancer Institute annual budget is $1.8 billion, only 5 percent goes for cancer prevention. Help us wake up our legislators and America by wearing this ribbon."

Pink Ribbons, Politics, and Promotions
That same year, Alexandra Penney, who was then the editor in chief of Self, and Evelyn Lauder, a breast cancer survivor and senior corporate vice president of Estée Lauder, teamed up to create a pink ribbon. While Charlotte Haley had a very personal, hands-on way of getting her message out, the Estée Lauder Company went directly to their makeup counters with 1.5 million ribbons. Along with those pink ribbons, each woman was given a breast self-exam card, and in return, the company collected more than 200,000 pink ribbon petitions aimed at the White House asking for increased funding for breast cancer research.

Peach or Pink - The Ribbons Are Here To Stay
Pink ribbons have entered politics, and changed the way corporations, legislators, and everyday people communicate their allegiance to a cause. The original peach ribbon, humbly passed out for free at a supermarket, seems to be no more. Yet Charlotte Haley did much good, igniting a new awareness that has caused a dramatic increase in money spent on breast cancer research - now estimated to be in the hundreds of millions. Evelyn Lauder helped found the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, which gives 91.8% of its funds to breast cancer research and public awareness campaigns.

Fade to Blue
Here's the latest twist on the pink ribbon symbol - men with breast cancer now have their own ribbon. Nancy Nick created the male breast cancer ribbon in honor of her late father, John W. Nick, in 1996. The male breast cancer ribbon is pink and blue - in order to help us remember "men get breast cancer, too!"

Celebrate Breast Cancer Survival
Look around any October, and you'll see pink ribbon symbols on just about anything. Much has been said of the commercialization of this symbol, but the same could be said of motherhood, apple pie, and baseball. Marketing for a good cause is part of modern life now. As for me, I'm going to pin on my pink ribbon all year long, and be glad to see others wearing them, too.

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