• Hanifah Jones

Why We Should All Think Pink

They go by many names: Boobs, breasts, titties, tatas and more.

Whatever you like to call them, they’ve been a hot topic since the beginning of time. Whether it’s controversial rules banning breastfeeding in public or the #FreeTheNipple movement, breasts have always been a point of discussion. Unfortunately, they also represent a major health issue: breast cancer.

Every October, we recognize Breast Cancer Awareness Month as an opportunity to educate and raise funds for cancer research.

While Breast Cancer Month is initiated by the color pink (ribbons, skylines, sneakers, Starbucks menu items, you name it). But what does it mean to “Think Pink?”

For some, it is a reminder to get screened and raise awareness. For others, it’s a painful reminder of the many lives lost to this dreadful illness.

After finding out my family history with breast cancer, I wanted to educate myself on the illness and learn more about warning signs.

Here’s what I found:

Let’s start off with the root of it all: what is cancer?

Cancer occurs when mutations damage a cell’s DNA. This damage can occur in any of the body’s organs including the stomach, kidneys, brain, etc. It can be caused by a variety of genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors. While cancer often begins in one part of the body, it can travel to other organs during a process called metastasis.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), breast cancer is the most common cancer found in women across the world. It is the second most common cancer found in American women, after skin cancer. As of July 2020, about 3.8 million women in the U.S. have been diagnosed.

Breast cancer is not a new phenomenon, there are documents of breast cancer that can be traced back to 3,000 B.C. However, women around the world are becoming more open about their breast cancer journeys.

In 2007, Good Morning America host Robin Roberts announced that she was diagnosed with breast cancer and documented her mastectomy journey. Her candidness about her diagnosis created a new wave of awareness and transparency for Black women struggling with cancer. Other Black celebrities who openly battled breast cancer include Diahann Carol, Nina Simone, Hattie McDaniels and Wanda Sykes. Iconic author, Audre Lorde also wrote a power memoir about her experience with the illness titled, The Cancer Journals.

We can’t talk about breast cancer in the Black community without acknowledging the health disparities that impact us as patients. According to the CDC, Black women are more likely to die from breast cancer than their white counterparts. Black women are also more likely to be diagnosed at a younger age and more likely to be diagnosed with advanced forms of cancer. It is impossible to deny the infrastructure of racism in healthcare. A study reports that Black Americans are more likely to be uninsured. (Side note: I was going to go on a lengthy rant about racism in the health insurance industry, but that is a story for another day).

Believe it or not, breast cancer can also affect men. The National Breast Cancer Foundation estimates that about 2,620 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. Matthew Knowles (father to Beyoncé and Solange) battled breast cancer, as did the legendary actor Richard Roundtree.

Knowing the signs:

While family history and hereditary genetic mutations like BRCA can have an impact on your odds of being diagnosed, it is reported that 85% of diagnosed women have no prior family history. It is incredibly important that you pay close attention to your body and look out for warning signs.

Lumps are common symptoms but you should also keep an eye out for redness, irritation, leaking discharge and changes in the texture of your breast tissue.

While it is recommended that you visit a doctor for a yearly breast exam, I know that everyone might not have access to doctors due to inequalities in healthcare coverage. If you are unable to visit a doctor, you can do a self-exam right at home! The image below contains a guide to performing a self-breast exam.

While it is a good practice to keep up with these exams, mammograms are one of the most accurate ways to get screened. A mammogram is essentially an x-ray of your breasts. Most health professionals recommend getting your first mammogram around your 40th birthday.

The one thing I want to make sure I get across is that you should always pay attention to your body. Don’t be afraid to get naked and study yourself in the mirror. Every so often I do a full-body scan where I intentionally inspect every inch of my body and look for anything out of the ordinary. You should try your best to be aware of any changes, whether it’s a lump, an abnormal texture, a growing mole or irritation. Try to keep up with your yearly check-ups and if you don’t have access to health insurance, look for free clinics in your neighborhood.

In recent years, the “Think Pink” movement has come under fire for glorifying the experience of survivors for capitalistic gain. Big-name charities like Susan G. Komen have been criticized for only donating a small number of their proceeds to actual cancer research, serving as a reminder to research organizations before sending money.

Remember that breast cancer is more than throwing a pink ribbon around and coming up with a cute slogan. For those battling the illness, it is a gruesome fight that involves pain and suffering. Research shows that 1 in 8 women in the U.S. will develop breast cancer during their lifetimes.

No matter who you are, it is very likely that you know someone who has been impacted by breast cancer. As we celebrate the 3.3 million breast cancer survivors in the country, we must also send love to those who lost dear ones due to this illness. Our health should always be our priority.

Sending you all lots of love,