It’s hard to miss the pink ribbons. They seem to be everywhere, reminding us that October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month. What started as an effort by a single family to raise funds for cancer research has grown into a national tradition. We can all celebrate the enormous progress and reflect on what remains to be done. And, we must also remember that each one of us can help — by reaching out to someone affected by the disease to express support, by working on behalf of all breast cancer patients, or by dedicating ourselves professionally to finding better treatments and ensuring that all women have access to screening and care.
October can also be a tough month for those whose lives have been affected by breast cancer. This includes not just the patients themselves, but also their families, friends, and caregivers. They are surrounded by symbols that serve as constant reminders of unpleasant or traumatic times. Patients have told me that they feel trapped by the flourish of pink ribbons and find it difficult to escape the outpouring of sympathy and being surrounded by stories of cancer. Each person eventually finds their own way through the distress of diagnosis. She or he learns to put some distance between cancer and the rest of their lives, not letting cancer intrude into times of normalcy and joy. In fact, it is this deep appreciation of normality, often accompanied by feelings of gratitude, that many patients describe as the silver lining of a cancer diagnosis.
This October, let’s focus on what each one of us can do. There are many different ways of showing our solidarity — by calling a friend living with breast cancer to express our interest and support, by reminding our loved ones to continue receiving annual screenings (or at least discuss this with their doctors), and by working to find better treatments and cures. It’s not about the ribbons, it’s about bringing us closer to a cure and also doing our absolute best to lessen the suffering of patients and families living with breast cancer today.