It’s October, one of my favorite months. The weather begins to turn crisp and cool, making me sneeze when I first step outside in the early morning. The leaves blush into sunset colors: reds, oranges, yellows. Pumpkins, squash, and apples claim space at the local farmers’ markets. The fair comes to town. Halloween is close behind. Somehow, the sky seems a little more blue and a little farther away.
But October also has a shadow.
In 2011 alone, it is estimated that 230,480 women in the United States will receive the heartbreaking news — no easier to hear the second time or the first — that they have invasive breast cancer. This year alone, 39,520 women will die from breast cancer.(1)
Men are not exempt. An estimated 2,140 men will receive the same news, and 450 men in the United States will have died from breast cancer this year.(2)
The numbers may sound abstract, but breast cancer is a very personal enemy in my family. My mom is a two-time survivor, and my aunt is also a survivor.
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Although fundraising and awareness-building events go on year-round, this is one month when organizations like Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure and the National Breast Cancer Foundation combine their efforts to reach as many people as possible.
When she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1974, First Lady Betty Ford wrote about the difficulty of going public in the face of “this traditional silence” about the disease. Although we have come a long way, the effort is still ongoing to portray breast cancer as an enemy to be defeated, not a thing of shame for the men and women fighting it.
Even if, like me, you are not in the position to donate millions to cancer research, provide free preventive screenings, or conduct public information campaigns, you can still help. If you enjoy running or walking, find a local Race for the Cure and sign up. Another simple way you can get involved is to buy Dannon or Yoplait yogurt –the ones with the pink lids.
You can also take the Pink Ribbon Challenge from the NBCF. Nothing is required of you but two minutes of your time and a click of your mouse.
The most important thing you can do is to know your own body and take care of it. Find out what controllable factors put you at risk, and work to reduce their effects. Find out what screening measures you should be taking at your age, and get screened.
This year, won’t you join the fight?
Actress Lynn Redgrave (Gods and Monsters) described her battle with cancer in this way: “But when this happens to you — and I think other people would identify with this — suddenly, colors are brighter. You see everything.”
October seems like an appropriate month to do just that.
1. American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts and Figures 2011. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society, 2011.