In some ways, I'm glad that Emily Helck's story has gone viral via Mashable. Because, you know, it's October, and sometimes the whole breast cancer awareness thing needs a human face on it instead of just pink slapped all over everything.
Unfortunately, Emily's story isn't the first. And it won't be the last. Before her came Kerry Mansfield's Chronicle of a Mastectomy, which is one of the most gut-punching photo essays I've seen. And there was Adriene Hughes' (the name is just a coincidence; I found her today when I was hunting links for Jen Merendino and Kerry Mansfield's stories) documentation of her 2004 battle with breast cancer. And the most painful one: Angelo Merendino's documentation of his wife's fight -- and death. Angelo is a real-life Cam for me. I hate that there are countless Cams out there.
Because the pink on everything isn't doing everything.
There are still women, like the Adrienne in my book, who are diagnosed pre-menopause, and there are a lot of young women out there who don't think they need to do breast self-exams and be vigilant. My mother had pre-menopausal breast cancer. I have a friend who is fighting now, who is my age, and has been fighting for years. And I lost a college friend who left behind young children when she died in her early 30s.
Breast cancer rates are on the rise in black women. Yes. On the rise. Going up. An increasing number of black women will be counted among the deaths this year, simply because awareness and screening are not as prevalent among Cultures Other Than White. The pink campaign is not targeting African-American women. Or Latinas. And we need to change that.
Men get breast cancer, too. And in that sea of pink, are you seeing any outreach toward educating men about signs, symptoms, and screening? I'm not either.
And lastly, for every Angelina Jolie, who could not only afford the genetic screening (which is thousands of dollars and not covered by many insurance companies) but also prophylactic mastectomy, there are those of us who still don't have insurance. I'm lucky in that my community has a program for low-income, uninsured women to get screened. More resources can be found online.
Breast cancer is very real to me, and very personal. It's probably why I used it as the subject for my novel. But I'm even more passionate about things like getting health insurance for everyone, something that shouldn't be on the table in the current ridiculousness going on in Washington. And in getting "awareness" to the point where everyone is aware, not only white women. And a future in which my October no longer turns pink.