Do I have your attention? That’s right, I said it. Breast cancer awareness is not the problem. In fact, the campaign for awareness is so successful that other campaigns are jealous. There is even concern that other major health issues (heart disease, for example) are trumped by the sheer pink exuberance of Breast Cancer Awareness. Everyone and everything goes pink for the month of October. This is good news for me. Half of my closet is pink, and I like it that way. I even bought a hot pink Otter Box for my new smartphone. It was October 1st, and nothing else but olive camo was on the shelves.
Breast cancer survivors are some of my very favorite people on earth. They tell their own stories better than any media campaign ever could. Their numbers alone (think Race for the Cure) speak volumes about the prevalence of the disease. We all know a survivor, or ten. Ask a woman if she knows about mammograms and her look will say it all. That’s why awareness isn’t the problem.
A study earlier this year confirmed what I’ve always suspected: women are intimately, intensely aware of breast cancer. We fear it. In this study of 1700 U.S. women, the participants knew that they should limit their alcohol intake. They knew that they should maintain a healthy weight. They knew that they shouldn’t smoke. They feared environmental exposures.
And yet, knowing didn’t change their behaviors. Awareness didn’t translate into action.
Let me be clear that no one asks to get breast cancer. A perfectly healthy, pure-air, yoga-loving, organic food-eating lifestyle is no guarantee against cancer. There is our genetic endowment to consider, which plays a crucial role in the development of many breast and ovarian cancers. Not to mention that no one lives in a bubble. Even the healthiest U.S. women test positive for a variety of environmental toxins. It’s not clear yet which toxins are the most harmful. Breast cancer is increased by the facts that modern women bear fewer children, start childbearing later, and breastfeed less often. And we live longer, leaving more time for cancer to strike.
So, what can we do to act? You already know about diet and exercise and screening mammograms, right?
Of course you do.
The truth is, there’s an important catalyst for turning awareness into action: MOTIVATION! Women are notorious nurturers. We care for everyone around us, leaving ourselves at the bottom of our to-do list, where we can postpone ourselves day after day. Have you ever thought, “I meant to get to the gym today, but…(insert conditions of the day).” Or maybe it was taking a walk, signing up for a class, or cooking a healthy meal that you meant to do but didn’t.
Women are great at supporting others, and we should capitalize on it. Here are three simple actions to consider:
1. Do it for somebody else
Know a friend who needs a mammogram? Tell her you need her support, and ask her to book an appointment in tandem with yours. She might just do it. I had a client who booked her pelvic exam and mammogram every year on her birthday. It was her way remembering that she was important. Until each one of us can recognize our worth as confidently as that woman, be a good friend, sister, partner, spouse, or mother.
2. Focus on the next generation, and the one after that
Breast awareness should start with young girls, not middle aged women. Teach your daughters and others about their breasts and what affects them. Alcohol is especially dangerous. In young girls whose breast tissue is not yet fully developed, alcohol is even more harmful. Did you know that the breasts are most vulnerable to damage until a woman completes her first full term pregnancy? Breast development is also extremely vulnerable in utero. Women should know that their choices during pregnancy affect their daughters’ future risk of breast cancer. Promote breastfeeding in any way, shape, or form that you can. If you have a close family history of breast cancer, strongly consider genetic counseling and testing for mutations that increase your risk and the risk of your children.
3. Demand change with your wallet
Safer foods, cosmetics, and household supplies are usually more expensive than typical products. But as demand for these products grows, improved safety should become the expectation and the norm. Price drops as more of these items become available from large retailers competing for our money. Hormone-disrupting chemicals are found in everything from sunscreens to pesticides, hand sanitizers to foaming bath products. Don’t wait for unequivocal proof that Chemical X caused Breast Cancer Y. Use common sense to decide on the exposures that you can control. Check www.breastcancer.org and www.ewg.com for updates on what is known about these products.
There’s a lot more to talk about when it comes to breast cancer. But my blog today isn’t about content. It’s about motivation to act. Simply wearing pink isn’t going to cut it anymore.