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The Cancer Cottage Industry

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When it comes to cancer, there can be such a thing as "good exploitation. Actors, musicians, and sports stars with the illness can create much-needed awareness and support.

When it comes to cancer, there can be such a thing as “good” exploitation. Actors, musicians, and sports stars with the illness can create much-needed awareness and support.

In the case of Lance Armstrong, that awareness manifested itself in millions of yellow “Live Strong” bracelets and translated into over $14 million raised for research. Sometimes, seeing a star battle cancer in the spotlight, like Melissa Etheridge’s performance at the Grammy awards, can inspire and move us all.

But for every A-lister who fights cancer under the media microscope, there are plenty of regular folks who deserve just as much respect and support. And the money that celebrities encourage us to donate is money that reaches the people and families who need it most.

Ya Pays Yer Money

Between the bracelets and the pink appliances, there are lots of ways for us to support cancer awareness and research–and it’s often through consumerism. While there’s nothing wrong with that, especially if you’re buying products that you already would have, it might do to have a closer look at some campaigns to see how much is being donated.

Often you’ll see the phrase “a portion of the proceeds” donated to cancer research–but how much is a “portion?” If you’re buying an eighty-dollar item but only two dollars makes it to a foundation, it might be a better idea to simply donate some cash on your own. It pains me to suggest that shopping isn’t the cure for everything, but as unpleasant as it sounds, for some companies, getting on the cancer bandwagon is at best an exercise in good public relations, and at worst a charitable tax shelter.

Ya Takes Yer Chances

Other than our own consumerism, there’s a more insidious side to what has become the lucrative “cancer cottage industry.” Because “traditional” medical treatments are not for everyone, there are huge numbers of alternative and healing arts that provide different illness battle plans.

And just like conventional therapies, these treatments have varying rates of success that depend as much on the type and severity of the disease as on the mindset of the individual. Presented with all of these options, only the patient can decide what’s best for him or herself. But in a situation full of fear, confusion, and desperation, there’s a nasty breed of snake-oil salesman that shows up, looking to separate sick people from their money.

And They Line Their Pockets

I don’t doubt that some of these individuals have noble intentions and truly believe in the power of their suggested treatments, and some may even have real rates of success. But for every one of those, there are ten vultures who pitch useless, appallingly expensive, and potentially dangerous courses of action. We don’t like to admit it, but no matter how tragic the situation, if there’s money to be made, someone will exploit it for profit.

So let’s try to be hopeful and calm in the face of a disease that causes fear and panic. Maybe buying pink candy and casting about for someone to promise us the moon isn’t the answer. Let’s instead give with our hearts, our support, and with our money, but just be sure it isn’t lining some corporate pocket.

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