I have been thinking about writing this blog for a week already, ever since National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, in all of its pinkness, hit New York in full force. On day t minus 1, I got my pink ribbon from a representative camped out in front of the Apple Store. On October 1, I woke up to a local news reporter getting her mammogram on the air, in real time. A few days later, when we passed a fence in Central Park that was decorated with pink balloons, we debated whether they were for breast cancer or to mark off a child’s birthday party area. But, the push to write this blog came after watching a football game with my son on Sunday, when he became frustrated that the pink towels tucked into the players’ pants and their sneakers were conflicting with the pink penalty flags (the NFL since has reverted back to yellow for the color of their penalty flags).
I remember reading a poignant article in the New York Times magazine section earlier this year that touched on the pinkness, dubbed by author Peggy Orenstein as a component of the “feel good war on breast cancer” promoting awareness and screening. She argued, in part, that this should not be serving as a surrogate for the “real war” to eradicate breast cancer–one that involves making a difference for patients whose lives are most at risk, on the levels of treatments, cures, and saved lives.
My angle here is slightly different.
In 2011 there were about 240,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer diagnosed in women in the US. That’s 20,000 cases per month. I am wondering what the scores of women who were diagnosed over the summer, or in September, feel when they see all of the pink emerge in October. Do they think that the awareness campaigns may help other women (did it help them themselves)? Or do they feel overwhelmed by these ubiquitous reminders of their current states? Might they prefer that the outside world of shopping, TV, sports, the park etc. remains an escape from the reality of their current world that revolves around their diagnoses?
Don’t get me wrong, I am all for spreading awareness and literacy about genetic health, and I profess the “knowledge is power” mantra on a regular basis. However, this month definitely raised a red flag in my mind, and gave me pause for thought about my own actions. It’s one thing if I am talking the talk at an event centered on genetic health and its related issues. But, in other settings, and particularly ones that are far removed from work and the work week, I really need to be more sensitized to the possibility of being in the presence of affected individuals and families, who may just want to be.