You growing a moustache for Movember?
This would be to do what? According to the initiative’s website, the aim is to “raise vital funds and awareness for men’s health, specifically prostate cancer and other cancers that affect men”.
Red ribbon for Aids? It’s “an international symbol of AIDS awareness that is worn by people all year round and particularly around World AIDS Day to demonstrate care and concern about HIV and AIDS, and to remind others of the need for their support and commitment” (source: avert.org).
Or do you do the pink ribbon for breast cancer? The pinkribbon.com website says the aim is to raise awareness and funding for breast cancer.
I get that the very good and honourable organisations working in these fields need to raise money and awareness, and I get that catchy gestures are an easy way to get media support and capture public imagination.
But I just don’t get how wearing some facial hair or a bit of pretty cloth has any real connection to a deadly disease.
Do the majority of people who take part in these initiatives donate any of their own money or time to helping people who are coping with these diseases? Wearing the ribbon in these cases has only one function then: they make the wearer feel virtuous.
Taking this slightly wider, I’m fascinated by how particular diseases get to be taken up by the media and by health authorities - and how some don’t.
Fantasy author and brilliant mind - and early onset Alzheimer’s sufferer - Terry Pratchett has had some strong things to say on the subject. He told the Telegraph in 2008 that research into Alzheimer's and other diseases was underfunded because they lacked the “heroic glamour” of cancer
Pratchett told the newspaper: “I think Alzheimer's tends to happen in the home, or in a home, and it involves a loved one and a carer and it's fairly quiet, whereas, and I say this with a certain amount of care, there's a kind of heroic glamour about the battle against cancer.”
IOL Lifestyle carried a heartbreaking story recently about a wife’s long struggle to cope with her husband’s mulitple sclerosis - another disease which tends to happen quietly in homes.
A family member on my husband’s side of things took several long and agonising decades to die of the disease. And she didn’t need people to wear ribbons (not that there is one for MS): she needed big business and big government and big media to sit up and take notice. She needed well-funded and good reasearch. She needed good drugs. The family needed volunteers to help with her care. Organisations who work in the field need people who are willing to give time, and people who will donate cash.
And cynically, if an A-list celebrity was diagnosed with any of these quiet diseases, that would really help.
In the meantime, I won’t be wearing any ribbon of any colour - and I won’t be growing a moustache either.