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Think Pink, But Don't Forget the Other Colors

pink-ribbonToday marks the start of breast cancer awareness month. Over the next month we’ll see a flood of media information reminding women to have mammograms. We will also be asked to participate in a variety of events, donate money for breast cancer research, and spread the word about the disease. As a now 12-year survivor of breast cancer, I can only say that this is a very good thing.

I was “lucky” enough to be diagnosed with breast cancer at a time when early diagnosis was possible, when there were many treatment options available, and when women and men were willing to talk openly about the disease and offer help and support to breast cancer survivors. This is a good thing. It wasn’t always the case.

There was a time, not so long ago, when people talked about breast cancer — in fact all kinds of cancers — in hushed voices, almost as if the woman with breast cancer had done something wrong. This was a time when breast cancer was found very late, when the prognosis was very poor, and when the treatment options, if any, were limited. Because of the efforts of countless brave breast cancer survivors and their families and friends, as well as many dedicated medical professionals, we live in a very different world today. A world where we actually have a month devoted to breast cancer awareness.

You can be assured that I will wear pink proudly, and frequently this month. You can also be assured that I will remind my friends to get their yearly mammograms. We can all do our part. If you’re under 40 (or under 50, depending on the recommended standard for mammograms in your country), please ask your mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and older friends if they’ve had their yearly mammogram. If you’re over the recommended age and haven’t had your yearly mammogram, please consider making an appointment soon.

But as much as the situation has changed for breast cancer, it hasn’t changed quite as much for some of the other cancers that we women can also get. Did you know that September was ovarian cancer awareness month? I couldn’t forget, because one of my friends conducted a personal campaign on Facebook to remind and inform all of her friends on a daily basis about the disease. She changed her FB avatar to a teal ribbon (the color for ovarian cancer awareness) and each day put up a fact, story, or quiz about ovarian cancer.

Just how far we’ve come with the treatment of breast cancer and breast cancer survivors, and how far we have to go with survivors of other cancers, personally hit home when I was diagnosed with colon cancer a few years ago. At one point I talked to a counselor and said how disappointed I was that many of my friends, family, and colleagues were far less willing to talk to me about colon cancer than they’d been to talk about breast cancer. I was also disappointed to learn that there weren’t any colon cancer support groups in my community. The counselor said that many women who are survivors of other cancers come to have “breast cancer envy.” She said it sounds like a very odd term, but what they’re longing for is the support and information that has come to be so readily available to breast cancer survivors.

So, rejoice at how far we’ve come with breast cancer, be aware that we have a long way to go. But also, please don’t forget all of the other cancers that we can also fall victim to. For me, I’ll be back here in March reminding you about colon cancer awareness month.

LinnieGayl, 12 year breast cancer survivor, 2 1/2 year colon cancer survivor

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