Barbara Brenner (1951-2013) “Social justice activist. Corporate ass-kicker. Civil rights advocate. Profound changer of lives.”

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That’s the way Barbara is described on the website of Breast Cancer Action, which she ran until 2010 when she stepped down because of her ALS diagnosis. She died last Friday.

You can read more on their site.  But I chose this key excerpt:

“One of the most successful – and controversial – of the BCA campaigns was “Think Before You Pink,” launched in 2002, exposing how pink ribbon marketing did not help fund prevention or find a cure for breast cancer. BCA coined the term “pinkwashing,” exposing the hypocrisy of companies that used the pink ribbon to boost sales but covered up their own record of selling cosmetics, foods and other products that harmed women’s health. Brenner used to say, “If shopping could cure breast cancer, it would be cured by now.”

BCA targeted everything from pink buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken and pink-lidded Yoplait yogurt to “Clean for the Cure” Eureka Vacuum Cleaners and pink Ford cars. Brenner’s sharp critique was highlighted in the 2012 film, “Pink Ribbons, Inc.” and even cited by Stephen Colbert.

Medical sociologist, Gayle Sulik, author of Pink Ribbon Blues said, “Barbara Brenner was powerful, at times obstreperous. She never seemed to be afraid to call things as she saw them, and it didn’t seem to matter who got upset about it. Barbara reminded us that sometimes it takes ruffling a few feathers to dislodge complacency.

“Who will push us to stretch our minds and abilities until we pave a new road in breast cancer? Who will remind us that if we are comfortable with the pink ribbon state of affairs, then we are part of the problem? It’s up to us now,” Sulik added.

Another controversial issue that Brenner took on was the over-promotion of mammograms. She wrote, “The dominant message about mammography is that it will save your life. That message is so oversimplified as to be dishonest. Mammograms can only be life- saving if they find a cancer that is treatable and if the woman gets treatment in a timely way – and one of the known causes of breast cancer is ionizing radiation, the kind you get from medical X-rays.” She warned that the science about the potential harm of over use of mammography was being discounted or ignored. Her position was recently confirmed by the FDA, which revised its recommendations concerning the frequency of screening mammograms for healthy women.”

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