Lots of you will know but some of you may not, that the month of October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It’s acknowledged internationally, as the month for raising awareness about, and raising funds for, breast cancer.
Originally introduced in America in 1985 by the American Cancer Society and the pharmaceutical section of Imperial Chemical Industries to raise awareness about the importance of mammography screening, the month has grown and developed globally into a pink-fest of the biggest kind.
This year is the 25th Anniversary of the Pink Ribbon which was introduced by Evelyn Lauder, Vice President of Estee Lauder Companies, as a symbol of hope and unity and to coincide with the launch of their Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Along with the ribbon, there’s now an endless display of pink merchandise on offer in the lead up to and during the month of October.
But for people like me, who live with secondary breast cancer, it’s hard to cope with the pinkness of October because living with the incurable form of the disease doesn’t come with a pink hue. In fact, the shade of this type of breast cancer is as far away from pink as you can get. It can often be a really dark shade of grey.
However, like thousands of other people, over the years I’ve done a lot of fundraising in October. Selling pink ribbons and badges and organising and attending events, raises money to fund the vital work of breast cancer research and helps to support individuals on a practical level who’ve been diagnosed with the disease.
But, I think the word I’d use to best describe the pinkness of the month, is ‘imbalanced’ because, whilst I appreciate that hundreds of thousands of pounds will be raised during October for both research and support, what is lacking is an awareness and understanding that the month is a big smack in the face for secondary breast cancer patients. There is still no cure for the secondary form of breast cancer and it’ll be many years from now before it becomes a disease that can be controlled, like other chronic diseases. Breast cancer, like other cancers, is complex and it’s the very nature of its complexity that makes a cure elusive.
What can we do then to address this imbalance; to raise awareness and remember, that during October, amongst the pink, there are 35,000 people in the UK living with secondary breast cancer and 11,400 people who will die from the disease every year? Well, I’ll tell you and this is the least we can do: we can open our diaries, iPhones, calendars or whatever it is that we use to earmark important days and put a circle around October 13th.
I’d like you to join me in doing this because it’s a very important day; it’s National Secondary Breast Cancer Awareness Day and it’s a day where we can all remember and acknowledge those who have lost their lives to the disease and those who are living with breast cancer cells and tumours that have spread to other parts of their body. This can include their bones, lungs, liver and brain.
It’s also a day when we can remember those who are working in research centres around the world. These scientists are trying to unlock the mystery of this disease so that in the future, if your mother, daughter, sister, cousin, aunty or friend develops secondary breast cancer, then she can expect to live far longer than the measly 3-5 years that is currently the average survival following a diagnosis of secondary breast cancer. Some people live less than this, whilst some live considerably more.
Very soon, I’ll reach my ten-year milestone of life with secondary breast cancer. How I’ve survived this long and why, is something I ask myself every day but I do know the real answer; a combination of NHS funded drugs, my disease biology and a bit of statistical luck. (And, by the way, positivity has everything to do with being able to live a ‘normal’ life with cancer but very little to do with surviving cancer. If only it were that simple).
It’s a year that is very special for me, not least of which because this month I turn 50. During this year, I’ve already raised many glasses in celebration but I’ve raised as many in remembrance. Celebration, because I’m enjoying life and living and remembrance, as I’ve thought of my friends who are no longer here to celebrate special milestones because of this wretched disease.
So, if you can, in this month of October, remember the 13th and raise your glass too. Celebrate everything that is good in your life and at the same time, acknowledge and remember those for whom life might not be so pink at the moment.