Fifty Shades of Pink
They’re everywhere, aren’t they? Those pink ribbons that remind us October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM). Not to mention pink cakes, pink bracelets, pink pins, pink charms, pink t-shirts, pink collection boxes. Pink merchandise on counters by cash tills. Pink, pink, pink, pink, pink. Now apparently some of us are pig sick of all the hype surrounding these pretty pink trinkets and calling into question the wisdom of focusing on one particular cancer and of investing so much money on marketing rather than concrete research. The critics may or may not have a point.
Personally, I see a different danger in all this lush pinkness but let’s start from the beginning.
NBCAM was founded back in the pre-Internet days of 1984 when public breast cancer awareness was sparse, accessible information was scarce, the practice of women regularly checking their breasts was paltry, and the breast cancer mortality rate in the western world was significantly higher than it is today.
Then in 1985, a very dear friend was diagnosed with breast cancer. Over the following 11 years, she underwent hugely invasive surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy cycles. I watched her panic, fight, panic, fight and ultimately put her affairs in order. And then I literally watched her die while helplessly holding her hand. Shell-shocked, an overwhelming fear of breast cancer took root in the depths of my soul and I was offered annual mammograms to ease my paranoia. They made me feel safe.
Meanwhile, the breast cancer awareness pink ribbon – launched in 1991 when they were handed out to participants in a race for breast cancer survivors by the Susan G. Komen foundation – had taken off and was making an international impact on public awareness and women’s health. While treatments and technologies to combat and cure what is the first or second (depending on race) most prevalent cancer among women undoubtedly improved, the experts agreed that early detection is key to a happy outcome or at least the chance of a longer survival period.
Significantly more ladies were checking their breasts on a regular basis. The advantages of regular mammograms were debated and started to be systematically introduced and funded by countries that could afford to act on early detection being a sound investment. Girl friends discussed boob protection. Mothers talked to daughters. More incidences of early-stage breast cancer were discovered and successfully treated.
Breast cancer was no longer perceived as being an automatic death sentence. We all knew someone who had survived. Celebrities, too, were coming out of the chemo closet and thereby giving hope and courage to other women inflicted with the dreaded BC. And October was slowly but surely turning pink as we supported the ribbon in a bid to chip in to the cause – and score a little chemo Karma for ourselves?
In 2006, a very dear friend discovered a lump while checking her breasts. Two surgeries later, I started to accompany her when she went for her 6-weekly chemotherapy treatment.
“I’m the only one wearing a wig,” she whispered in the waiting room. I looked at her wig – an accurate reproduction of her own hair and style. I looked around the room. Who knew?
“Bet everyone is thinking that,” I said. She grinned.
Even breast cancer general care was improving. A battery of well being aids – such as customised wigs – and treatments were now routinely offered along with reconstructive surgery.
We celebrated when she was declared cancer-free.
We cried when the breast cancer suddenly returned. And after her funeral, shell-shocked, we sent a donation to breast cancer research and examined our breasts. A coffin is a cruel reality check.
Last Tuesday, on 1st October, I added a pink twibbon to my Twitter and Facebook profile pictures in tribute to those I have loved and lost to breast cancer. And in support of those currently battling this deadly disease.
It’s been 9 days since I added the twibbon. And now I don’t even notice it there. And THIS is what concerns me most about pink October and National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Are we becoming media and merchandise immune to all the routine pinkness and in the process missing the point of the campaign – to raise awareness? Not specifically money, just general awareness that breast cancer still kills. And mammograms are not foolproof. When did you last check your own breasts? You too, guys.
I now have another pal currently battling breast cancer. She was diagnosed this spring after a biopsy on a lump that hadn’t shown up in November’s mammogram.
So whether or not you support pink October, and whether or not you are having regular mammograms, please check your own breasts. Add a monthly reminder alert to your smart phone. Just do it.
Early detection is, and always will be, key.