October and a common scar


In the past few years October has become a flash point about the differences that have arisen in the breast cancer advocacy arena. As I have looked back at my 26 years of survivorship, it makes me sad that we have come to a time when there are those who lament that breast cancer awarness month is here because it points to conflicts among those who have made breast cancer their life's work. They don't like the pink ribbon for one reason or another and are angered that they feel their disease has been usurped by some for marketing purposes. Maybe it was easier when we were all fighting for recognition of the disease. Then there was a sense that we were all connected by the common scar of breast cancer. In 1999 I joined thousands of others in Washington,D.C. in October to ask for a national strategy to end the breast cancer epidemic. It was the first time I had ever joined women from around the country to march for something that I felt so strongly about. We marched past the White House holding signs, some of which asked for research dollars, others telling personal stories of mothers or daughters lost to this disease. It was a first for the young movement. One young husband carried a sign with a photo of his wife that simply said, "Too Young To Die." We were Black, White, Brown, Asian, young, middle-aged, and elderly. It was clear that we represented every socioeconomic group and were decidedly bipartisan.We chanted together, cried together and got angry together. We were bound by a common experience. We were bound by a common scar, which seemed to thread endlessly through the crowd, linking us together.I remember thinking then that in only a few days October would end and breast cancer would no longer be daily news. No longer would the media surround the cause and publicize our stories. The spotlight would turn to other events, but the disease would go on, marching across the country, extending the pain that linked us.Today, women still die of breast cancer in the tens of thousands. But the small percentage point drops have been touted as significant. Yes, we have made small headway. But not nearly as much as we should. The difference is that while more women are being diagnosed with breast cancer, more women are surviving.I guess that makes the 39,920 women who are expected to die from breast cancer in 2012 less visible except to the ones who love them. I wish we could turn our focus back toward them during October.

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