How Did October Become Pink?


While artist renderings have shown the signs of breast cancer in women for centuries, it has only been in the last century that there has been an emphasis on making breast cancer information public knowledge.

One of the first giant steps to promoting breast cancer awareness, treatment and support came in 1952. That was when the American Cancer Society founded the Reach to Recovery Program, which operated on the premise that survivors could give support to women newly operated on for breast cancer.

In 1952, mammograms were in their infancy, still being tested as possible screening tools. Women usually discovered their own cancers, or their doctors did during routine physicals. Their tumors were larger than mammograms can identify today. Lumpectomy was not an option; it was not, as yet, available as an alternative to a mastectomy.

Therese Lasser was the first volunteer of the Reach to Recovery Program in the United States. She overcame the reservations of the medical community, winning their approval to visit with women recovering, in the hospital, from a mastectomy or a bilateral mastectomy. 

Therese and other survivors, who participated in the Reach to Recovery Program, dressed to impress. They made it a point to look healthy and attractive. They brought the gift of hope that only a survivor can give.Their purpose was to reassure the women they met with, in the hospitals, that they still could be attractive, active women.

The Reach to Recovery Program was then and continues to be an enormous success, even though it has changed from a hospital based program to a telephone support program. As a telephone  program, it can reach far more women and men diagnosed with breast cancer.

A woman or man, diagnosed with breast cancer, has only to call their local office of the American Cancer Society and ask to be part of the program.

Volunteers, who are survivors, with a length of time since their own cancer experiences, are trained by ACS staff on how to speak with women and men in treatment who need support.

In 1985, the American Cancer Society partnered with the maker of a number of anti-breast cancer drugs to found National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM) as a means of publicly promoting mammography as the best way of detecting breast cancer.

Then came the pink ribbon and the beginnings of the commercialization of breast cancer awareness month. The Susan B. Komen Foundation first handed out pink ribbons to those running in a race for breast cancer survivors in NYC.

In 1993, the pink ribbon became the symbol for breast cancer awareness when the Breast Cancer Research Foundation was founded by Alexandra Penny, editor of Self magazine and Evelyn Lauder, a breast cancer survivor and the Senior VP of Estee Lauder Companies. Thanks to Estee Lauder Company, pink ribbons appeared in stores all over NYC, making the pink ribbon a well-recognized and permanent symbol for breast cancer awareness.

Over the years, nonprofit organizations and philanthropic  entities have sponsored events for public participation for two primary purposes: First, to raise awareness about breast cancer including: who gets breast cancer, the need for early detection through annual screenings; best practices treatments; latest research findings, support services and community resources for women and men diagnosed with breast cancer. Second, to raise funds to support ongoing research for the cure of cancer affecting the breast, and for new and innovative treatments until a cure is a reality; to provide financial support for treatment, support services and resources for those newly diagnosed, and those whose cancer is metastatic.

While we want to support breast cancer causes, we need to be educated consumers. Know how the money you donate will be spent. When you are considering a product that advertises contributing a percentage of your purchase to breast cancer, ask them to be specific. Find out how much money will be contributed, who will receive the funds, and how will the funds be used.

Be especially careful when getting calls for donations during breast cancer awareness month. Unfortunately, some charities are using professional fund raisers that are getting a larger percentage of the income from monies raised than the charities.

When October is over, the ribbons will go away, but breast cancer will continue to affect 240,000+ women and 2,000 men each year. Until there is a cure, getting the word out to women and men about their risks for breast cancer and encouraging them to get screened is what will save lives.

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