Updated: May 1, 2019
Cancer isn’t a pretty pink ribbon.
Cancer is rubbing your mom’s back while she’s getting sick in the bathroom for the 4th time that day. Cancer is answering questions like “Why doesn’t your mom have hair?” to unknowing children who don’t understand that this has become “normal” in some people’s lives. Cancer is brushing your mom’s hair for her when it finally starts to grow back because she missed the way it felt. Then watching her pull out the wig as it starts to fall out from yet another round of chemo. Cancer is sitting by your mom’s bed at age 10, talking to her while she balances on the brink of consciousness as Hospice workers go about their duties. Cancer is getting called home early from 5th grade camp because your mom is no longer part of this world.
Cancer fucking sucks.
So while this pretty pink ribbon has done a lot for the awareness of breast cancer and the fight against it, I also think it allows people to forget how serious and dangerous breast cancer is. Sometimes it’s easy for us to hide an ugly disease behind a ribbon because that makes it easier to swallow. But we can’t forget how many lives cancer truly touches. And how much work there still is to be done to educate women (and men) on the importance of early detection, self exams, and prevention.
I’d like to ask a question: When was the last time you gave yourself a breast exam? Or had a mammogram? 41,070 people are estimated to die from breast cancer this year. 41,070 people and all of those who care for them and love them will go through the struggle of watching someone they love fade slowly out of this world like I once did at the age of 10.
41,070 people are estimated to die from breast cancer this year.
So while I love what this ribbon has done for creating awareness around a disease that touches far too many people in our society, this pink ribbon is useless if people don't view it as a reminder to be proactive with their own health. The pink ribbon makes an ugly disease more easily digestible for a society that doesn’t want to see the horrors of cancer. But a pink ribbon won’t schedule your yearly mammograms for you. A pink ribbon won’t give you a monthly self breast exam. A pink ribbon won’t force you to have conversations with your children about hereditary risk and genetic predisposition.
I’m going somewhere with all this, I promise.
I have a favor to ask of everyone working to promote breast cancer awareness this October. Keep raising awareness, keep raising funds, keep lifting spirits as we fight against this disease. Whether you do this through the use of a pink ribbon or not is up to you. But what I ask is that in addition to whatever you do to support Breast Cancer Awareness Month, please also take some time to prioritize your OWN health and well-being as well.
…please also take the time to prioritize your OWN health and well-being as well.
Here are some ways you can do that:
Schedule a yearly mammogram. If you’re 40+ you’re in the age range where you should absolutely be doing this yearly. If you have a family history of breast cancer you should start getting mammograms approximately 10 years prior to the age your family member was diagnosed. All it takes to do this is a call to your doctor and a quick appointment. Seriously. It’s that easy and could literally save your life.
Give yourself a monthly self breast exam. An easy way to remember this is to “Feel It On The First.” I follow this Instagram account that posts reminders on the first of every month. You can also sign up for monthly breast health reminders here through one of my favorite organizations, Bright Pink. Early detection is HUGE. Catching cancer early can increase the 5-year survival rate to 90% depending on the stage you’re at when it’s detected. If you don’t know how to give a self-exam- Google it. There are a million tutorials online. Here’s one to help you get started:
Ask about your family history. While only about 5-10% of breast cancer cases are thought to be a result of genetic mutations, those who fall in these categories can have up to a 90% chance of developing breast cancer in their lifetime. With preventative measures we can eliminate a large percentage of that risk.
Keep supporting other women. Rally behind them. Support them. Cheer them on. Help them when they’re down. Attend races and fundraisers and events. Provide a support system for women (and men) going through the scariest time of their lives. Wear that pink ribbon loud and proud. But don’t forget that your health should be a priority in the midst of this support as well.
So. While I love that pretty pink ribbon for rallying a society around a common cause, a ribbon simply isn’t enough. Stay on top of your health so we can continue to raise awareness not only around breast cancer, but around prevention and early detection to continue saving lives