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Pinning on a Pink Ribbon

In 1991, the Susan G. Komen Foundation volunteers handed out pink ribbons to people participating in a New York City race that was held to raise money for breast cancer research. The pink ribbons were so popular that it became an enduring symbol for breast cancer. Furthermore, October has been declared National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, adding a pink hue to the beautiful change of colors in the fall.1

Pink can be seen everywhere in October – pink t-shirts, pink newspapers, pink caps, and of course, pink ribbons. The inundation of pink is intended to remind people that breast cancer everywhere, that is relentless and impacts hundreds of thousands of women, and even a few thousand men each year. But the pink is much more than a gimmick, it is an announcement. When people see the pink, it should remind them to:

  • Schedule a mammogram and/or clinical breast exam
  • Ask a loved one to schedule a mammogram and/or clinical breast exam
  • Participate in the efforts to eradicate breast cancer
  • Donate to research efforts
  • Support survivors

One out of every 8 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetimes.2 Very likely, you may know someone who has battled this disease or has been personally touched by it in some way. Breast cancer impacts mothers, wives, sisters, nieces, cousins, aunts and friends as well as those who love them.

Pink Unites Us

The pink ribbon is much more than a simple reminder. They give people an opportunity to show a common ground amongst us. They show how we can unite and share our support for the elimination of breast cancer while assisting those who are fighting for their lives and going through treatment.

If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, many resources for support are available to you. Begin with these resources:

  • Family
  • Friends
  • Doctors or nurses
  • Religious leaders
  • Support groups (online and local)
  • Internet-based educational websites

Any breast cancer survivor will tell you that having these various resources available is critical in your treatment. There are many different kinds of challenges you will face throughout the process, such as the following:

  • Coping with fear and anxiety
  • Side effects of treatment, especially hair loss
  • Learning how to live without one or both of your breasts
  • The possibility of infertility
  • Loss of role in family or society while healing
  • Trying to continue working while undergoing treatment
  • Living in fear of recurrence
  • Fear of death

Having such a variety of resources helps deal with each of these. These resources will then become a part of your new normal when you become a breast cancer survivor! Even when your medical treatment is finished, it does not necessarily mean that you are completely healed. Many women will struggle with sadness, fear, and anxiety after treatment. This is perfectly normal. Just remember that this is a process and each individual’s process is unique.

Transitioning from Cancer Patient to Cancer Survivor

While in treatment, it may be easier to manage the challenges that you are facing because you are surrounded by lots of people and medical experts that are tracking the progress of your cancer. Once your treatment is finished, you may feel like you have been thrown back into your life without a life-jacket. Suddenly, your life support system has been cut off by the abrupt change in your lifestyle.

This is not so. The support system you relied on during your treatment can become a support system that you rely on for life. The pink ribbon symbolizes everyone who is involved in breast cancer research, prevention, treatment, recovery and ongoing outreach to patients and survivors. When you walk out of your last treatment, you are walking into an enormous support group that you can rely on for your needs and maybe you can even help others face the challenges that you have, as a survivor!

As a survivor, you must move forward and begin living a full and happy life instead of letting your experiences consume you and steal your happiness.  Those available to help you do so are:

  • Family that supports your effort with good nutrition and exercise, to prevent cancer in the future
  • Friends to lend an ear when you just need to talk
  • Counselors and therapists who can offer advice and strategies to manage emotional stress
  • Medical professionals who provide follow-up evaluations and monitor for recurrence
  • Support groups where you will find others who have been through similar experiences

Support groups can be found locally, online, in chat rooms or forums, and even local and national conventions.3

If only one word could describe the pink ribbon, it would be “together.” We are all in this together.

Sometimes, You Must Come First

Each woman has a responsibility to take care of her own body, including adequate exercise, a healthy diet, rest and routine physical exams and cancer screening. A pink ribbon should not just remind you to schedule your mammogram. It should remind you to become proactive in preventing cancer or detecting cancer early by performing monthly self-exams. Women often take care of others before taking care of themselves. They place their roles as wives, mothers, partners and caretakers before their own needs. Sometimes, a woman must place her needs first, so she can continue to be active in the very important roles she serves.

Educating yourself about breast cancer prevention and early detection is important. There are many things you can do to help prevent breast cancer including eating a well-balanced diet, getting plenty of exercise, limiting alcohol intake, maintaining a normal body weight, performing regular self-examinations and following guidelines for mammogram and clinical breast examinations.

You may also join the group of people who wear pink to show their support for breast cancer awareness. The sea of pink in October is a testimony from people of all ages, genders, races and ethnicities that support the fight to eliminate breast cancer.

References

1National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (2011) Retrieved from AstraZeneca Healthcare Foundation at: www.nbcam.org/

2 Probability of Breast Cancer in American Women (2011) Retrieved from National Cancer Institute at: www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/detection/probability-breast-cancer

3 Cicala, Roger S. (2001) The Cancer Pain Sourcebook. Lincolnwood, Illinois: Contemporary Books.

This article was originally published on July 27,2012 and last revision and update of it was 9/2/2015.