Seeing red over pink, pink, pink of October

The stink of pink has taken over October. That Pepto-Bismol color is everywhere I turn. Not even the fountains are safe. I’m all about women’s issues, and breast-cancer awareness is a recurring topic in my column. But the color becomes blinding when big corporations slap pink on any and every thing to hustle their products.

Not everyone has pure intentions like Avon, one of the largest private contributors to community-based nonprofit breast-cancer programs. For some products, very little money goes to the cure. Or the company has already given a flat donation and still slaps pink on products to play on the consumer’s conscience. The key is doing your research before you throw down your dollars.

We all have to think before we pink. Be sure you are supporting this cause and not some corporation’s bottom line. There’s even a watchdog project for breast-cancer awareness: It’s a call to action to put some thought into how we can really make a difference.

This past year, having had a close friend battle cancer, I know that it can’t be cured with a pink ribbon. She didn’t even want to wear the hat when we walked in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in August. I understand the importance of sending a message and how symbolic that baby pink color has become, but as my friend put it, “I don’t need a color to remind me I had cancer.”

What we need is action. A change of mind and behavior. Despite decades of painting the cause pink, about one in eight American women will develop invasive breast cancer in their lifetimes. According to Komen, 226,870 new cases of invasive breast cancer were expected this year.

Christine Poole thought she might be one of them. Her mother, diagnosed 10 years ago, is celebrating five years cancer-free. One of Christine’s close friends has been doing battle with it for 20 years. With such a direct connection to the disease, she knows all about it. Still, she couldn’t remember the last time she had a checkup.

She’s a mother of four boys—8, 6 and a set of 3-year-old twins. She works two jobs, one as a veterinarian assistant and another running her own home-organization business. Her husband works full time. They do all they can to stay ahead of these hard financial times.

“I know it sounds horrible, but I just don’t have time to take care of myself,” she says. “I’m a mom. I know when I’m sick. That’s what I thought.”

At the encouragement of her loved ones, she called her doctor and made an appointment. It had been three years since her last visit. Her doctor felt two lumps in Christine’s right breast. She said they were probably harmless cysts, and a mammogram wouldn’t be necessary for the 32-year-old.

But Christine’s mother had had a similar experience. Her breast cancer was dismissed as cysts early on. By the time doctors caught it, she was at stage 1. She didn’t want that experience for her daughter.

A friend of Christine’s, a survivor, connected her to the University of Kansas Breast Cancer Prevention Center. Her family history qualified her as high risk. They wanted to see her as soon as possible.

A few weeks ago she had a mammogram and sonogram. They were cysts after all. Christine was diagnosed with fibrocystic breast disease. Still, her oncologist said it was a good thing that she had taken her health care into her own hands and sought the second opinion.

With her family history, her cysts and her breasts have to be monitored. She is now a part of the program at KU. She has learned how to properly check her breasts for abnormalities. In April, she will return for another mammogram and fine-needle aspiration to check for cancer. It has been a wake-up call.

“As women, we tend to put ourselves last. We put family, home, work, pets, anything first,” Christine says. “Life is crazy-busy and financially hard, but you have to take care of yourself.”

She says too often women think problems like cancer don’t happen to the young. She and her cousins, all under 40, participate in the race. But that’s not enough. This year, Christine is making a point to talk to them about making health care a priority.

“Mammograms and breast cancer aren’t just something that happens to women over 40. I am 32. I know a 21-year-old who was recently diagnosed,” she says. “We have to understand the importance of knowing our history, self-check exams and keeping up with doctors visits. You can’t be too busy. I was so concerned with working to provide for my children. But what’s the point if I am not here to be with them?”

Exactly. Pink or no pink, women have to be vigilant in this fight against breast cancer.  Jenee Osterheldt | The Kansas City Star


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