Whether you decide to get involved during Breast Cancer Awareness Month or not, remember that your well-being comes first.
About 9 years ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer in the middle of September, just as the world was heading into October and Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM).
I was 42 and hadn’t thought much about breast cancer, and suddenly, I found my newly diagnosed self with a fresh diagnosis in a world that seemed to explode with pink ribbons everywhere overnight. I’ll never forget buying a tub of hummus and seeing a pink ribbon printed on the packaging. I was confused and overwhelmed.
In the ensuing years, BCAM has churned up different and complicated feelings — ranging from anger and annoyance (why does this have to be in my face everywhere I go?) to appreciating BCAM as a time of solidarity to connect people who’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer or have loved ones that have received a breast cancer diagnosis.
For some years since my diagnosis, I’ve been deeply involved in advocacy by sharing my story with an art exhibit about my experience. But all scenarios are valid. You can opt out, or you can go hard with all-out advocacy. We don’t have to be anybody’s inspiration, warrior, or breast cancer poster person.
Here are some ideas for navigating BCAM that you can do (or not), depending on your desired level of participation for yourself, others, and those living with metastatic breast cancer (MBC).
Whether you decide to get involved during BCAM or not, your well-being comes first.
I realized early on that wearing the pink ribbon or sharing your story is a commitment to be ready for. People might comment or strike up a conversation in solidarity about their own diagnosis or a loved one’s diagnosis. People may also just be open to learning more about breast cancer.
Sometimes, these connections are incredible, and sometimes, they can catch you off guard (i.e., “My sister was younger than you when diagnosed and died from it.”) So, it’s good to be mindful of what you have space for.
Sharing your story is one of the best forms of advocacy. But sometimes, people think you’re the “Yoda” of all things breast cancer, and they may ask questions you can’t speak to since you’re wearing a ribbon or sharing your story.
Having some canned language ready is helpful based on your comfort level. It could look like, “I’m not an expert, and I can only speak from my own experiences,” or “I’m not well-versed on the particular breast cancer topic you’re asking about, but I can tell you a lot about some other breast cancer topics.”
Just in case you need to hear this, I’ve got you — permission granted! If you find BCAM triggers your breast cancer trauma and emotional health, you don’t have to do anything during BCAM month. It’s not your obligation. Do what you need to do to take care of yourself first.
One way to get involved during BCAM is to continue learning and sharing your knowledge.
Breast screening rates have declined in the past few years due to the significant impact of COVID-19 on the public’s health and people’s access to medical care. Have a simple conversation about getting back on track with regular screenings or getting that “weird breast thing that someone put off during COVID” looked at.
Breast Cancer Action (BCA) has been a helpful resource for learning about pinkwashing with its “Think Before You Pink” campaign. According to BCA, any company can add the pink ribbon to their product, regardless of how much money goes to breast cancer. Some companies actually put pink ribbons on products linked to cancer. BCA has clearly stated ideas and resources on how to get involved.
Trans people get breast cancer, too. Trans people often face their own unique challenges (from discrimination to feeling safe with healthcare professionals) in accessing medical care for screening and treatment.
In addition, many LGBTQIA+ people with cancer don’t feel welcome or understood in popular support groups. Transgender people with cancer especially feel excluded. Support does exist, though, across several organizations.
Remember to use inclusive language as well. As the Breast Cancer Now website states, “Be breast and chest aware.”
A great place to start is with the organization For the Breast of Us. Co-founder and CEO Marissa Thomas empowers People of Color affected by breast cancer to make the rest of their lives the best of their lives through sharing stories, education, advocacy, and community.
Learn more about racial disparities in breast cancer.
Does the thought of BCAM overwhelm you? Come hang out in the Bezzy BC community forums and express your feelings. It’s a safe space to connect with others who’ve received a breast cancer diagnosis.
As a Bezzy guide, I always say: “It’s your space. Take up some space. You’re not taking up too much space.” We also have live forum discussions 4 nights a week, making it even easier to interact with others who understand.
Many breast cancer organizations accept donations. If you’re comfortable, ask your loved ones if they’d like to donate.
METAvivor sponsors the type of breast cancer research that can save lives. They’ve awarded $23 million in research grants, contributing to the growing knowledge about MBC.
Bay Area Young Survivors is a nonprofit and all-volunteer-run inclusive breast cancer support group for those who’ve received a breast cancer diagnosis at 45 years old or younger. They provide online and in-person support platforms and quarterly grants for those needing “right now” assistance.
Here for the Girls is a nonprofit focused on improving the lives of women under 51 years old who’ve received diagnoses. They offer social and emotional support through services that provide personal connections and a shared experience among members.
The Burn podcast is breast cancer storytelling at its best. Each week, host April Stearns has a writer from Wildfire Magazine (a magazine centered on young premenopausal breast cancer narratives) read an essay they published in the magazine and then have some discussion. These episodes can help make sense of the trauma of a breast cancer diagnosis.
Our MBC Life podcast explores life with MBC from the perspective of the people living with this disease and experts who partner with people with MBC.
Don’t forget the stage 4 community. Check on your stage 4 friends.
BCAM often has a “celebratory” vibe for people with early stage survivorship. People with MBC might get lost in the background at times. Call, send a text, or DM, and ask how you can support them during BCAM and any day of the year.
You don’t have to participate in BCAM if you don’t want to. But if you do, several simple ways are available to continue learning, support some organizations dedicated to improving lives, and connect with others like you. And if you feel like getting involved in breast cancer advocacy this year, remember to prioritize self-care.
Originally written October 07, 2022
Medically reviewed on October 03, 2023
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