Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Can We Rally Around A Symbol, Melanoma Community?

May, Melanoma Awareness Month, is half over and already it has been a learning experience. Which I don't mind as I like to learn. It's what I've learned that bothers me and prompts this post.

What I've learned is that there really is no one officially recognized color that we in melanoma world can embrace as our own. Many of us claim black and it fits. It's even inherent in the very word itself. Melanoma means "black tumor."

But...not everyone, person with melanoma or organization dealing with melanoma, rallies around black. The American Academy of Dermatology launched its Spot Orange Campaign this year and asked people to wear orange on Melanoma Monday. They claim May for Skin Cancer Awareness and give melanoma the first Monday in May. Orange didn't go over well with many of us in the melanoma community.

Hotel Melanoma posted on Melanoma Research Foundation's Facebook wall about it and MRF responded with, "We've seen this question come up a lot recently, as you can imagine. It is our understanding that the American Academy of Dermatology was looking for a symbol to help raise awareness of all skin cancers, and didn't feel they could use black—the color most often used for melanoma. We have actually had a lot of complaints from the melanoma community about the color black, since it is often associated with death. It might be worth noting that for years the Melanoma International Foundation has used a bright green for their color in raising melanoma awareness. And, when Bristol Myers Squibb launched their Melanoma Exposed campaign last year they chose an olive green for their color. We understand the feelings of all members of the melanoma community. AAD's use of orange this month has spurred a great deal of conversation and that has helped raise awareness about melanoma and the use of black throughout the melanoma community. At the end of the day, anything that helps raise awareness is a good thing. Thanks for asking!" (red mine to make what I consider pertinent to this post stand out)

So, the AAD chooses orange (which is quite a tasteless color for SKIN CANCER and MELANOMA!), the MIF likes bright green, and then there's olive green associated with a company's campaign. Within the melanoma community, I've noticed a few groups that choose particular colors for their own group. 

But what really bothers me is often folks don't realize that this fracture makes a difference. I've seen many comments like the MRF ended the above copy/paste with. The idea that awareness is awareness and it's all good and what difference does a color make as long as there's awareness. 

But color does make a difference. It's a symbol for people to rally around. People don't rally around words the same way we do a symbol.

Take the most famous awareness campaign of all time, Breast Cancer Awareness. They staked out "pink," nobody dared challenge "pink," and "pink" it is to this day. And pink grows every year. It is so associated with BCA that all that is needed now on a product is a pink ribbon and we know. We know. We used to see pink and think of a little girl. No more. Pink Nation has done that good a job with color recognition.

People and organizations in the world of melanoma, it will help us a great deal if we can come together and agree on a color as our symbol and make that color ribbon ours. If people can come to recognize a black ribbon as melanoma awareness that will be huge and a great open door for us to keep talking. Yes, I'm assuming "black." But we need to stand united behind a color and work, together, to get our color recognized and make that part of our awareness and education package.

Where would BCA be today if a handful of colors could stand for BCA? Probably in a boat similar to ours. Where can we be in several years if we unite around a common color? Probably in a boat similar to theirs. I like their boat. And I want to paint it black.

Symbols and words go hand in hand in our culture and often it's the symbol that catches the attention first and opens the door for words to be heard. Often symbol and picture speak louder than words. A black ribbon stands for melanoma awareness just as surely as a pink ribbon stands for breast cancer awareness.

Or does it? Only if we lay aside other colors and stand behind black and make black the one and only face of melanoma. It works for pink.

Something to think about as we move forward.



  1. Thanks Carol. I agree with your thoughts on this, a symbol does matter. The black ribbon has been the symbol of Melanoma since before our son was diagnosed in 1998 and it fits in my opinion. Yes, black is also the color associated with death, but maybe that is a good reminder. With Melanoma patients still tanning etc, maybe they need a reminder that Melanoma DOES kill. Jon died in 2002 and the black ribbon along with Operation Wardog still symbolize his fight. Thanks for listening.

    1. Thanks for sharing. I agree with you, black is a good reminder of death that often comes with melanoma. I'm sorry about Jon...and I'll always listen.


Thank you.