Think pink for breast cancer awareness month

October 18, 2011

Every once in awhile, someone leaves a footprint that should be filled. You know when you were kids, you would find one in the sand or the snow. It was gigantic and none of you could resist the temptation to put your foot in the impression and compare it to your own tiny print. There is just such a person whose efforts help us celebrate an important designation for this month of October, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. She’s not a Nobel Prize winner; she’s never had the political title of senator or president, and she probably has never been on the cover of a weekly celebrity magazine. She is now recognized, though, as one of the most influential women of our time.

This person is Nancy Brinker, who started the Susan G. Komen Foundation 25 years ago; it eventually became the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, launching the global breast cancer awareness movement. October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Pink, the color of the symbol, is everywhere.

I know there are many worthwhile causes out there today. But this one is very close to my heart, having fallen prey to the disease myself. It is like no other in that it targets the fabric of our society, women. There is a percentage of men who also suffer from breast cancer, but the majority of its victims are our mothers, daughters, grandmothers, nieces, aunts, friends and those Mother Earth figures that seem to guide the cradle with a steady hand.

Breast cancer saves its most vicious attacks for the very young, those who are reaching the late 30s or the beginning of the middle part of their years, taking them swiftly from their young children and families and ending their life, but not the spirit they embody.

Statistics tell us that breast cancer will strike 207,000 women this year and claim the lives of 39,000. It is the most common type of cancer in women. I had never heard of Nancy Brinker or Susan Komen until I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I am now an eight-year breast cancer survivor. Susan Komen, the sister of Nancy Brinker, was only 36 years old when she died of this disease in 1982. It was her deathbed wish that her sister help through any effort possible to promote awareness and help put an end to this curse.

I can only relate my own personal experience. Not everyone has this journey; some have an easier time than others.

So don’t let statistics lull you into a sleep; I had none of the classic signs: there was no history of breast cancer in my family and I had no palpable lump.

Yet, there it was, sitting like the finger of doom on a mammogram. The American Cancer Society tells that some 13 million women over the age of 40 have never had a mammogram.

Removing the cancer was the easy part. It was after that that I became familiar with all the rigors of keeping this disease at bay. There were rounds of chemotherapy, with untold side effects, and then rounds of radiation. I carried a kit with me every day that contained the lifelines to my existence: anti-nausea pills, crackers, water, scarves for my bald head and most important of all, a prayer card someone sent me. The sun hurt my eyes; walking hurt my bones and the sight of food would send me retching.

I share this because breast cancer likes us to be quiet. Cancer always wants you to believe it will happen to someone else. Surviving breast cancer should be celebrated out loud with a lot of noise and activities. If caught early, it is treatable. We have tireless workers in our healthcare industry who help us achieve that goal.

Sometimes you can look at a painting and its vagueness strikes you. The colors are muted and blended. There is no clear direction; the figures are elusive. If you let it, breast cancer can haunt you like this painting.

Now is the time to step into those footprints and do something positive for breast cancer month. If you can’t participate in an organized event, just wearing a pink ribbon or wristband is a show of solidarity in this vicious fight. Think pink for breast cancer awareness. The following is a brief poem read at a dedication of a healing garden for a young woman taken from her husband and children by breast cancer. It’s called “Meredith.”

“A butterfly lights beside us like a sunbeam, and for a brief moment, its glory and beauty belong to our world. But then it flies away again, and though we wish it could have stayed, we feel so lucky to have seen it.”

  • Nancy Katz has a degree in creative writing and is the author of the book, "Notes from the Beach." She has written the column Around Town for the Cape Gazette for twenty years. Her style is satirical and deals with all aspects of living in a resort area on Delmarva.

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