It is breast cancer awareness month, and everywhere pink ribbons abound. I have donned one on my white coat. Why is breast cancer awareness month such a very, very good thing? Here are four reasons.
#1 - Breast Cancer Awareness Month Fosters AWARENESS.
Perhaps just 20 years ago, the diagnosis of cancer was whispered about; now people are aware that cancer happens and that is not necessarily a death sentence. This has lifted some of the weight that cancer patients and cancer survivors used to feel about being so "different" from others. The fact that women have a lifetime risk of breast cancer of 1 in 8 is well known. The breast cancer advocates were the first of the cancer advocates to rally behind their cause and promote awareness. This has helped patients enormously.
#2 - Breast Cancer Awareness Fosters ACTION
Getting the word out has led to women understanding they can take control of their lives. We have effective screening modalities for breast cancer, and their utilization has been increased through the work of advocates. We still have room to go - particularly in underserved populations - but with the knowledge provided through advocacy comes strength, and action. Even my seven-year-old daughter knows she can take action - by eating better, exercising, and hopefully preventing breast cancer.
#3 - Breast Cancer Awareness Funds Breast Cancer RESEARCH
As I have written before the National Cancer Institute has been vastly underfunded for years, not even keeping up with the pace of inflation. Yet more research is needed on breast cancer - the money raised through the action of advocates, through awareness, and through the numerous breast cancer foundations have made a huge difference. This money goes for helping patients directly, supporting them through their cancer diagnosis and treatment, but also to funding research which will help patients in the long run.
#4 Breast Cancer Awareness Ensures ACCESS TO CARE
In the town I used to practice in, none of the Ob/Gyn's would treat Medicare patients; the cost of seeing them in the office was so much higher than what Medicare paid. I don't know if this was solved (I doubt it) but we are at a similar crossroads with Medicare and our breast cancer patients. We are going to need advocates to ensure that patients with breast cancer are in a healthcare system that allows them to get state-of- the-art care.
We cannot count on the politicians alone to see the gaps in patient care, funding research, or caring for underserved populations - they need education and they need to understand the issues patients are facing, and they often need prodding from concerned citizens. And for that we need advocates.