stock pink balloons

The pink can be overpowering.

It can also save lives.

Every October, it looks like Pinkalicious jumped from the pages of the children’s book and painted the world pink. Pink sneakers, ties, hats, shirts, mugs, caps, totes, even pink ribbons on footballs.

Getting tired of it?

Not me.

I try to remember that some tired woman is finishing radiation right now or her fourth round of chemo. I think about all those children who are watching their moms grow weaker and worry she won’t be alive to celebrate their bar mitzvah or high school graduation or wedding day.

Yes, the shirts, memes and messages can border on crude, like, “Don’t let breast cancer steal second base” and “Don’t be a boob, save one instead” and “Save the tatas.”

Some hate all that girly pink stuff. Not me, not if all that pink reminds a woman to examine her breasts or get a mammogram and saves her life.

Yes, it’s irritating so many companies hijack the pink ribbon to sell everything from cars to candy. You have to ask, do they even donate money to breast cancer research or treatment?

Some people get offended breast cancer gets a whole month when deadly cancers like pancreatic and lung cancer don’t get as much press. I’ve lost friends and relatives to all forms of cancer, including brain, esophageal, colon, leukemia and lymphoma. Cancer sucks no matter where it shows up.

But breast cancer chose me, so I’m doing my best to fight for others. It also chose five of my cousins, who all took aggressive action and have all survived.

If you have breasts, you’re a candidate for breast cancer. It doesn’t discriminate. Every year in this country, breast cancer kills 40,000 people. It kills women old and young, black, white and brown, Jewish, gentile and Muslim, rich and poor and in-between.

Your best defense is a good offense:

1. Do a breast self-exam. It saved my life. I ran the pads of my fingers along my right breast and felt a lump. Turns out it was the size of a grape. Cancer cells had already left my breasts, so it was considered Stage 2. I did chemo and radiation, then had a double mastectomy. I’m still here, 21 years later.

2. Get a mammogram. Talk to your doctor about your family history and decide what age is best for a mammogram.

3. Know your breasts. Know what your “normal” feels like to you.

4. If you have a family history of breast cancer, get genetic testing. Only 5 to 15% of breast cancers are hereditary, but if you have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, the risk of getting breast cancer during your life can be as high as 87%. Ashkenazi Jews are much more likely to get breast cancer than the rest of the population.

5. Talk to your daughters, sisters, aunts and friends about early detection. Breast cancer kills you when it leaves the breast. If you catch it early, your chances of survival are much greater.

Someone once asked me, why do you keep writing about breast cancer? Am I supposed to stop just because I recovered?

We’ve all lost someone we love. I lost three aunts and numerous friends. My friend Gary lost his brother to it. Yes, men can get breast cancer. Real men don’t just wear pink, they get breast cancer.

My daughter got to turn 41 this year. She is now the age I was when I was diagnosed. Turning 41 is a “get to” because she has the BRCA1 gene. She had a preventive double mastectomy at 29.

Why so early?

Because breast cancer doesn’t care how old you are. Two of my cousins were diagnosed in their 30s. When I was going through radiation, so was a woman who was just 26.

I recently saw a breast cancer poster that read: “Support the fighters, admire the survivors, honor the taken, and never, ever give up hope.”

You support the fighters by being there, by calling, listening, crying and praying together. My best friends washed my hair, brought me food and even threw a chemo party and showered me with earrings and hats.

As for survivors, there are 2.8 million of us in the United States. Many of us get to live long lives after breast cancer. But we don’t need your admiration. We need your action.

We need you to protect yourself and those you love by spreading the word: The best defense against dying from breast cancer is early detection.


Read Regina Brett online at cjn.org/regina. Connect with her on Facebook at Facebook.com/ReginaBrettFans. 2019 Ohio SPJ Best Columnist.

Disclaimer

Letters, commentaries and opinions appearing in the Cleveland Jewish News do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Cleveland Jewish Publication Company, its board, officers or staff.

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