Not too many years ago, a woman might be scheduled for a biopsy of possibly cancerous breast cancer tissue and later wake up to find her breast entirely removed. From 1882 until the 1970s, the “one-step” technique was the default procedure for breast cancer treatment.
Today, women have gained the autonomy to make choices about their medical care to a degree their grandmothers could have only dreamed about. Thanks to Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the pink ribbon has become a widely-known symbol and breast cancer is no longer a hush-hush disease. It is openly discussed.
Each October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month campaigns increase both awareness and funding for the disease, honoring those we have lost and empowering families who are currently affected. Money raised by breast-cancer-themed charity events funds research, prevention, diagnosis, treatment and ultimately the discovery of a cure.
How did Breast Cancer Awareness Month begin?
The breast cancer awareness movement built momentum on the heels of the second-wave feminist movement in the 1970s. In 1974, Rose Kushner was one of the first women to protest the Halsted radical mastectomy. According to this practice, if the initial biopsy confirmed the suspicion of cancer, a radical mastectomy was performed at the same time, removing all breast tissue, the underarm lymph nodes, and the pectoral muscles. Women were wheeled into the operating room for a diagnostic procedure, not knowing if they would wake up with one breast or two.
That same year, First Lady, Betty Ford shared the details of her own mastectomy. Her unprecedented openness about the procedure led millions of women to begin examining themselves for signs of breast cancer and scheduling breast cancer screenings with their doctors.
In 1985 the American Cancer Society and Imperial Chemical Industries Pharmaceuticals, now known as AstraZeneca, enlisted the help of Betty Ford to create the first organized breast cancer movement.
Self magazine introduced the pink ribbon in 1992. It was inspired by Charlotte Hayley’s handmade peach-colored ribbons, which Hayley made in her dining room to support the women in her family affected by breast cancer. When Self offered to partner with her, she declined. That is how the instantly recognizable symbol became pink, instead of orange.
How has Breast Cancer Awareness Month helped?
Increased awareness has encouraged women to talk openly about their struggles with the disease, learn how to perform self-breast checks, and schedule routine mammograms. Early detection is key. The five-year survival rate of those diagnosed with Stage I/II breast cancer averages 85 percent. If the cancer reaches Stage III/IV, that rate drops to 24 percent.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month has given women the courage to advocate for their own choices in medical treatment. It has also made it easier to find support groups, thereby lessening the emotional burden of facing a serious illness alone. The movement has done much to increase awareness, but there is still work to be done … and you can help.
How can I support Breast Cancer Awareness Month?
The best place to begin helping others with breast cancer awareness is to learn how to reduce your own risk, and then take the indicated steps yourself.
Increase your overall health by including habits like these:
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Limit your alcohol intake
- Choose foods that promote health
- Follow the guidelines for breast cancer screening
You can also support Breast Cancer Awareness Month by helping spread awareness in your own circles of influence. Speak with your loved ones or to those in your community, and encourage others to follow the recommended screening procedures according to their age and risk profile.
Warning: Before purchasing products claiming to support breast cancer, beware of “pinkwashing.” Not all products donning the pink ribbon are committed to the cause, so be sure to confirm whether or not your purchase will make a difference before you buy.
This October, choose to wear pink as a sign of support. You may also donate or otherwise assist breast cancer charities you like best. Some focus on breast cancer research, others stress prevention, and some provide financial aid to those who need help.
If you have personally been affected by breast cancer, sharing your story online is a great way to empower others. Ask Doctor Higgins’ office how you can get your breast cancer personal experience shared here. Until a cure is discovered, the fight isn’t over.
Janay Wright is a freelance writer with a background in the non-profit sector. She draws on her human experience to explore ideas related to everyday life, personal growth, and social justice. You can find more of her work at janaywright.medium.com.