This month, people across the country are wearing pink to show their support in the fight against breast cancer, the most common cancer in women, and inform the public of the importance of early detection. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 200,000 women in the United States were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, the most recent year that figures are available for.
Last year as part of the October Breast Cancer Awareness Month campaign, an art student at Green River Community College in Washington State created a life-sized statue of a breast cancer survivor. The statue was placed on display while the clay was still soft, and the artist asked the college community to contribute to the memorial by writing names of loved ones we knew who had either survived or had been lost to breast cancer.
I waited until the college was quiet before I went to add the names of survivors that I knew, and I was a little stunned when I saw the number of names that had already been written in the clay. The battle with breast cancer is personal and often waged privately, but I was still surprised to see the names of two of my colleagues among the list. Quietly, I added the names of my grandmother and a union sister I worked closely with who is still fighting her battle.
Early detection is the best weapon in the war against breast cancer, and organizations like Susan G. Komen for the Cure advocate for annual mammograms and other screening tests, while other groups, like The Breast Cancer Research Foundation warn that over-testing can lead to unnecessary treatment and fears.
Susan G. Komen for the Cure is one of the most trusted and widely known breast cancer organizations in the United States. The group is credited for organizing and promoting the annual three-day Walk for the Cure and other events designed to promote early detection of breast cancer. They were also the first organization to use the pink ribbon, which was later adopted by The Breast Cancer Research Foundation, to represent breast cancer. Susan G. Komen for the Cure currently provides support for victims of the disease as well as their families and friends – the “co-survivors of breast cancer.”
Often, family and friends of those diagnosed with breast cancer are uncertain about how to react. As Eric Brinker, one of the members of the board of directors for the organization explains, “I often spend my time travelling the country talking to groups about the unique issues of co-survivors. Most of us are men. Most of us are, let’s face it, a little clueless about things like providing emotional support. All of us dearly love the people going through breast cancer, and will do anything to see them through.”
Joe Lehn, accepting the 2011 Susan G. Komen for the Cure Co-Survivor of the Year award, said, “It is an honor to be receiving this award, although I truly feel that I didn’t do anything special to earn it except that I loved my beautiful wife, Gina.” Perhaps that is the best that any co-survivor can do – provide love and support. And remember, sometimes listening is more important than anything that could be said.