As many of my longtime readers know, October is a special month for me. It's both breast cancer awareness month and it's the month of my mom's birthday. Confused about why I'm grouping these two events together?
Let me explain.
13 years ago, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. She went through a lumpectomy and six months of grueling chemotherapy before going into complete remission. She has been cancer free since. October became not just the month that we could raise our voices about her disease and how others could help, but it became an appropriate way to celebrate her new lease on life. I loved October. It served as a symbol of hope and strength for our family.
Except for now, I hate October.
Don't get me wrong. I still love my mom's birthday and I still participate in raising awareness and funds for breast cancer/cancer research. It's what everyone else does that makes me hate this month. The pink washing. The Facebook statuses. All of the ridiculous things that people do in order to "raise awareness" for this disease. You can't go anywhere without the color of Pepto Bismol being shoved in your face in the name of finding a cure.
But here's the truth: none of that stuff raises awareness. None of it helps find a cure.
People know that breast cancer exists. They know that mammograms and self exams can help prevent it. Only that's not what breast cancer is all about. That's just scratching the surface of how we can (and should) be talking about this disease.
We need to change the mentality of "it won't happen to me." "I'm too young." Or, "I'm a man." Or, "no one in my family has it." We need to encourage those who say they don't have time to get checked or help those who need financial assistance in making it to the doctor or paying for that mammogram or getting tested for the BRCA gene mutation. We need to do a better job teaching women (and men) to do self exams. We need to educate the public on rare forms of breast cancer - types of breast cancer that have different signs and symptoms. Companies needs to stop hawking products, shelve their pink packaging, and dedicate that money, time, and energy directly to the non-profit organizations they partner with.
And we especially need to get off of Facebook and start taking meaningful action. As I wrote on my blog page last night, fake pregnancy announcements are disrespectful to the thousands of men and women left infertile each year because of cancer and/or cancer treatments, and Facebook statuses don't raise awareness or help the cause.
But the people behind those Facebook statuses can.
Each of us has the power to do something that can truly help. It could be a monetary donation to your favorite cancer charity (please don't forget your local organizations!). It could be volunteering to drive a patient to and from a chemo or radiation session. It could be learning how to do a self exam. Whatever direct action you choose to take this month, big or small, I can promise you this:
It will make a far bigger impact than sitting behind your computer and updating your Facebook status.