I’ve been meaning to share this with you for a couple of weeks, but soon after we told the kids about my diagnosis my son came up to me and said: “Dad, its lucky you were diagnosed in breast cancer awareness month.” For those reading this outside the US, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month here, and there is pink everywhere.
My first reaction was just a grin, and I couldn’t help saying something to the effect that lucky might be overstating it a bit. But I got his message – he was declaring solidarity and support. The kids both are wearing pink bracelets from time to time. It cheers me up, silly as that may be. I wear my pink bracelet, offset by a beautiful blue one that my 9 year old daughter made for me on her sowing machine – yes, she has awesome talent (Here is the pink is surrounded by blue – hah!)
But since last Monday’s #bcsm discussion I have been mulling the whole pinkitude thing, and my kids’ reaction is part of what I am thinking about. The most stunning thing is that they were aware it was breast cancer awareness month. Now given their Mom’s journey you might say that they were sensitized, but it’s not a daily discussion, or even monthly. I give much credit to the ubiquity of pink at this time of the year. At my son’s baseball game – he is 10 – the opposing team was waring pink hats, and some players on both teams had pink socks or pink wrist bands on.
Awareness at that age is pretty amazing. I can’t say that I was aware of cancer when I was 10, or of many global problems, with the possible exception of world hunger because of the pictures of starving kids on TV and in magazines. So I have to score a huge plus on the side of pink for making this part of the consciousness of elementary school kids. They will grow up with even less stigma – and we already have by far the lowest in the world – and the awareness that it is a problem that needs solving.
The other thing I am thinking about is how things are in other countries, which are surfing further back on the pink wave? I have been privileged to be involved in MD Anderson’s Global Academic Program for the past two years – a group that builds and supports international collaborations on behalf of our faculty and trainees, and so I have been lucky to travel to many countries and cancer centers and see first hand how things are. We have been seeding joint research with our partners, and I want to mention just one project here: a BRCA analysis of women at high risk of breast cancer in Jordan with our partners at the King Hussein Cancer Center. Here is the project abstract (http://www.mdanderson.org/education-and-research/education-and-training/schools-and-programs/global-academic-programs/2011-sinf-grant-recipients-gonzalez.html).
Take a particularly close look at the last paragraph – the goal of this study is not only to show that BRCA genes are involved, which is almost certainly the case, but also to allow KHCC to establish a genetic counseling service. This will help change the conversation in the country. Right now, it is a challenge because the conversation around cancer in general, and breast cancer in particular, is not yet where it needs to be to allow broad based screening, genetic counseling and effective prevention. Perhaps a little more pink?
Progress is being made – each culture does it in its own way of course, and at its own pace. When I visited Amman about a year ago, a KHCC prevention center was operating and screening was ramping up. But general awareness would boost such efforts, and allow all members of society better access. I think we have to acknowledge that cancer awareness is a cultural export, and one that we can be proud of. Again, a plus in the column of pink.
I don’t deny the downside. The transition from awareness to complacency is often swift. The feeling that one can accessorize oneself out of the problem is near at hand. But I would say we need to tweak the pink message, not eliminate the pink (as if we could…). In my opinion the only answer to cancer is prevention and research. If the pink is tied to prevention and research, and this is explicit, then it is good. With pink we can celebrate that we are fighting the problem, that we are raising funds for prevention and research which will help people today and tomorrow.