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Awareness Saves Lives

Posted by On November 13, 2012
Everywhere I looked last month, I saw pink: football players suiting up in pink cleats and sporting pink sweatbands, restaurants offering pink beverages on a special October menu, playoff-bound baseball players swinging pink bats, hotels with pink boards with inscriptions ‘surviving and thriving’. Why all this pink?  It was breast cancer awareness month and a diverse group of industries and people were supporting the good cause. It’s no surprise to see pink dominate U.S. events this October; breast cancer awareness efforts have been occurring for the better part of the past two decades. Wearing or purchasing pink products is one way we have banded together to support the brave women who battle the disease. I challenge you to find someone who has not been affected in one way or another by breast cancer, a disease that has been estimated to result in 1.4 million new cases and kill 458,000 women each year globally. With reminders of breast cancer all around, I couldn’t help but think of one woman I met recently whose lack of awareness may have cost her her life. I met DS, a young woman, while visiting the Mutendere Hospital in Zambia. She had an inoperable breast tumor and no amount of medication available at the facility could fully alleviate the pain she felt. She had stage 4 breast cancer which had spread to her liver, lungs and bones.The doctors and nurses at this hospital reported seeing similarly advanced cases for which nothing could be done to save their lives. Women in African countries do not receive the same onslaught of health communication campaigns about the benefits of early screening and treatment as their counterparts in the U.S. This leads to a general lack of awareness. When combined with the stigma associated with the disease and lack of treatment options, the result is a detrimental effect on women’s initiative and ability to seek care. In Zambia, one of the Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon founding members, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, has teamed up with not only the First Lady but also local practitioners to combat the disease. Susan G. Komen for the Cure has supported training of Zambian nurses in the administration of clinical breast examinations, a key step in building local capacity for breast cancer control. Similarly, the National Breast Cancer Foundation, a Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon partner is funding a critical National Health Promotions Manager position to support the work in Zambia. To make progress against such a prevalent disease, it will take sustained and concerted efforts from many different segments of society. The omnipresence of pink this past month signifies, to me, that we are moving in the right direction. Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon is committed to promoting awareness and education efforts every day, 12 months of the year.  Find out more here. This post was written by Doyin Oluwole, MD, FRCP, the founding Executive Director of Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon, based at the George W. Bush Institute.