Editorial: Awareness is more than a color, more than a gimmick

FI-EditorialIf breast cancer hasn’t touched your life yet, it will. One of the unofficial mantras of breast cancer fighters and survivors is “Everyone knows someone.”

And while breast cancer awareness seems to have taken on the theme color of pink, understanding, preventing, and supporting those with it is more than sporting a pink t-shirt, a pink hat, or buying your favorite item in the shade of pink.

Whether it’s a mother, aunt, neighbor, friend, nephew (yes, men get breast cancer, too), co-worker, child, or teacher, chances are there are far fewer than six degrees of separation between every living American and breast cancer.

More than 230,000 Americans will learn they have breast cancer this year alone. More than 39,000 people will die from it. Literally millions (an estimated 2.6 million) of women are alive today who either have or had breast cancer. Even for those who have successfully battled this disease and are now living cancer-free (and the number doing so is increasing every day), the fear and the reality of it never really go away.

The numbers, like the disease itself, can seem overwhelming.

That’s one of the reasons why more than 25 years ago, October was designated as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

The goal was, and still is, to educate women about early breast cancer detection, diagnosis and treatment. But in some cases, the goal is lost in the sight of its means.

In addition to be reminded to focus on “pink,” we’re also seeing many different social media statuses or hashtags pop up to arguably “raise awareness.” Some of these ask our friends to put up inexplicable Facebook statuses announcing they are having a baby, or just a color — all vague or confusing enough to evoke a flurry of attention, and most of the time unexplained. Instead of breast cancer awareness, it becomes mostly inside joke awareness that is raised.

Then there are the sexualized campaigns. Whether it is to be amusing, creative or controversial to evoke attention, in the end, it simply distills breasts to what they are often reduced to by entertainment, magazines, television and cinema — items meant for ogling that can be used to determine a women’s level of sexual appeal.

This week, the hashtag #NoBraDay was trending in various modes of social media touted as a vehicle to increase breast cancer awareness. Women were encouraged by the popularity of the trend to both not wear a bra and take photos of themselves without bras. T-shirts and other events also “raise awareness” by imploring the viewer to “save second base.”

These types of campaigns are at best flippant and at worst insensitive.

Women who face breast cancer can suffer not only physically, but emotionally and psychologically, driven by the very societal attitudes these social media and sexualized slogans represent. Fighting for one’s life, in some cases, is debilitating enough. Facing the possible disfiguring surgical interventions simply add to this suffering. Women, and men, fighting for their lives, are more than likely not thinking about it as “second base.”

Raise awareness for early detection. Raise money for breast cancer research, for expenses those in dire need of medical care and treatment that their health insurance does not provide. Raise awareness for mammograms. Appeal to insurance companies to pay for those early detection practices, however extreme they need to be.

When coupled with new treatment options, mammography screenings and early detection can significantly improve a woman’s chances of survival.

But mammography screenings are effective only if women have them. Women must take control of their own breast health — educate themselves, do self-exams, and schedule regular mammograms. In fact, pick up the phone and schedule one today.

The wonderful thing about Breast Cancer Awareness Month is that it has spurred hundreds of thousands of people to action.

Show your support this month for the millions of women — and men, too — who have been touched by breast cancer.

Show it beyond wearing pink. Beyond your cutesy social media statuses and your witty and sometimes sexualized and often insensitive themes and hashtags.

Our bodies are more than bases.

 Show it in your actions, your donations, your support, your time, your prayers, if you so believe — and in your heart.

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