Most of the world goes Pink this October in solidarity with breast cancer awareness month.
In arguably what has been one of the most successful health promotional initiatives of these past decades, Pink October is a month that brings together everyone in and outside the cancer landscape to be involved in creating more awareness around the various aspects of breast cancer.
Though having gained much traction amongst the general public here in recent years, Pink October has actually been around since 1985 and is almost in its fourth decade of existence.
Betty Ford, wife of former US President Gerald Ford, was diagnosed with breast cancer during his presidency, and as First Lady she rallied around the cause – getting individuals, communities and organisations involved in what was then called the National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October. The idea took hold, and gained popularity as well as support from different countries, bringing more awareness to the cause of breast cancer.
The Pink Ribbon, which today has become synonymous with the cause of breast cancer in general and Pink October in particular, was first introduced in 1992 as part of the campaign. The pink ribbon itself is attributable to two different parties, each with their own poignant story.
The use of ribbons for breast cancer was itself started by Charlotte Haley in the US, who first created peach-coloured ribbon loops in honour of her mother, sister and grandmother who had battled breast cancer. Haley distributed these ribbons with a fundraising message for the National Cancer Institute’s and the country’s prevention efforts in breast cancer.
Around the same time, Evelyn Lauder, who was Estee Lauder’s Senior Vice-President and also a breast cancer survivor, undertook to actively do something about raising awareness about breast cancer globally. Lauder popularised the idea of pink coloured ribbons, taking it first nationwide together with Self magazine in a campaign that went ‘viral’ globally. Today, the pink ribbon is synonymous with breast cancer awareness.
This Pink October 2023 is special for Malaysia in a particular sense. After carefully treading through October 2022 with relatively a smaller number of events as businesses crept back from the onslaught of Covid-19 and event organisers remained concerned of another ‘wave’ over the horizon, this year signals the full-blown return of the “noise” around Pink October.
This is very timely, as the cancer care landscape has taken a real serious beating due to Covid-19 globally, and particularly in Malaysia as well. Many colleagues including myself continue to see the negative impact Covid-19 has had on breast cancer.
Individuals were too concerned about Covid-19 to pay attention to symptoms that they may have already exhibited, and amongst some who did notice that there was something abnormal, the concern was about how safe hospitals were due to them treating Covid-19. This kept many people from going for screening or even to get diagnosed.
Equally as impactful on the breast cancer landscape was that the health system was bogged down with managing Covid-19, and this caused delays in providing care.
This is why Pink October may be a little more important this year. We need to restart the idea of being more aware and more “alert” around breast cancer, a disease that for the most part is detectable in early stages, with better outcomes for those who are diagnosed with it.
Creating the “noise” around Pink October will get more people talking about it but that alone is not nearly enough. National data shows us that less than half of the women in this country who are in the age range to get annual breast cancer screening have not even gone once in their entire lives!
Worse, even fewer have an idea of the signs and symptoms that are early warning signs of breast cancer; as well as the fact that women can undertake regular self-examinations which may help them pick up the disease early.
Take the opportunity this Pink October to be alerted to the fact that you need breast screening and go for it.
And if you can, make sure you can convince someone to go for screening if they are due for it – a mother, an aunt, a wife, a friend.
What would be even better is if you could give them that extra little “jolt” to get them to get screened; like making an appointment for them or even giving them a lift to get screened.
Take Pink October as a wake-up call this year and help do your bit for women across Malaysia. Besides increasing awareness about breast cancer amongst us, let’s also help save some lives together.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.