More than a pink ribbon
Beyond the washing of October in pink, Breast Cancer Awareness Month can highlight the importance of screenings and research. But also remember that breast cancer awareness is more than a pink ribbon. It is about women and men impacted by every diagnosis. Keep reading to learn how you can help make a difference in fighting breast cancer.
The impact of a pink ribbon
Can I share a secret? I have never been a fan of pink. Not even as a young girl (purple was my color; still is, along with blue).
And a bigger reveal? I often roll my eyes at the “pinkwashing” that occurs during October. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the importance and effort of these awareness months. I very much do because we need people to pay attention. However, too often, little of the fundraising and awareness that companies participate in don’t actually make it to the important research and support of survivors (that it claims to).
Once I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I admit that it made me pause when I look at pink. Because to many cancer survivors, their families and friends, the pink ribbon stands for something more than a pink ribbon. It’s courage, strength, community. It’s the ability to identify those who have fought the same fight, face the same side effects and insecurities. And there is great strength and comfort in knowing that you are not alone in this fight. While I’m still not a big fan of pink, I am a fan of community and helping each other.
The pink ribbon stands out because breast cancer affects a lot of people. Consider these 2022 statistics from breastcancer.org:
- 1 in 8 U.S. women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime.
- Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among American women. An estimated 339,000 new breast cancer diagnoses are expected in women (about 30% of all cancer diagnoses this year).
- Breast cancer will impact about 2,710 American men this year (a man’s lifetime risk of breast cancer is about 1 in 833).
- American women face higher death rates from breast cancer than any other cancer, except lung cancer.
- As of 2021, breast cancer became the most common cancer globally (12% of all new annual cancer cases worldwide), according to the World Health Organization.
- About 85% of breast cancers occur in women who have no family history of breast cancer. These diagnoses happen due to genetic mutations from the aging process and life in general. The most significant risk factors for breast cancer are sex (being a woman) and aging.
I am much more than a pink ribbon
I don’t take my health for granted, especially after being diagnosed with bone cancer 25 years ago, followed years later by melanoma. So I don’t mess around with cancer prevention. A 3D screening mammogram saved my life three years ago when it showed a suspicious shadow. A lumpectomy removed early stage breast cancer, followed by chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Since then, my ovaries were removed to lower hormone levels and I take a daily estrogen inhibitor for 3-5 more years.
As a breast cancer survivor, I am much more than a pink ribbon. I am a woman who went through hell to survive another day. A woman who feels insecurity, frustration, anxiety, sadness at the many changes to my body due to breast cancer, from surgeries to radiation to surgical menopause and more. But also a woman who faces these moments with courage, resilience, strength, joy, hope, love and gratitude. Every single person impacted by any cancer is more than a ribbon and even their cancer. We are people, excited and hopeful to live another day.
Ways to positively impact breast cancer awareness
Mammograms continue to be a great screening option to catch changes in your breast. Women 40 and over should get an annual mammogram. It is also important to know your body so you can be aware of changes. And if you notice any changes in your breast, regardless of age, contact your doctor immediately.
Side note: many insurance programs cover screening mammograms, thanks in part to the Affordable Care Act. However, not all Americans are insured or have access to affordable, quality insurance coverage. The National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program is one such program available to women with low incomes who are uninsured or underinsured. Other organizations, such as Planned Parenthood, provide low-cost or free breast cancer screenings.
Directly support organizations that help survivors and fight cancer.
Giving directly to a charity is often the best way to make a great impact. While it’s fun to attend events, buy raffle tickets and clothing that states it supports a charity, the charity often times receives a small percentage of proceeds. So check into how the proceeds benefit the named charity. There are many great organizations that support breast cancer survivors in a variety of ways, including emotional support, cold capping/saving hair (read my blog about saving my hair from chemo), financial assistance, fertility preservation, screenings and more. Consider contacting these types of charities directly to donate and/or volunteer so you can make a greater impact.
Use your voice for positive change.
Research helps ensure advancements continue in screenings, treatment options and prevention. And funding for research and preventive programs, access to affordable care and protecting our health rights often occur through legislation created by our elected officials. For example, the Affordable Care Act made preventive screenings, including annual mammograms, accessible to more people. Funding for research has progressed detection and treatment for breast cancer and many other cancers and diseases, helping lower death rates and even diagnoses. Your voice can make a difference. Your vote matters. [Read my post on how ‘your vote can help fight cancer‘ and this post for ‘five ways to advocate for change.’]
Go beyond any ribbon to fight cancer
I’m not saying don’t wear pink and promote the pink ribbon. Showing your support for breast cancer awareness is appreciated and needed! We all need to work together to fight this terrible disease. Just be aware that fighting cancer is more than a pink ribbon. It’s supporting each other, ensuring access to screenings and care are available to all, and pushing for research to find an end to breast cancer and all cancers.