October is dedicated to the pink color of breast cancer awareness. A variety of events around the world are organized every October, including walks and runs and the lighting of landmark buildings in pink.
During the month, many don the symbolic color of the killer disease of the female breast and numerous companies in the clothing and cosmetics industries manufacture special pink gifts, a part of whose profits go to fund breast cancer research. Even cities get into the act, "dressing up" in pink in order to remind women to be vigilant when it comes to their health and of the importance of breast self-examinations.
In Montreal, a new organization, Pink in the City, has adopted a different approach, opting to paint the month of May in pink with its major gala scheduled for May 2nd. It has only been in operation for a few years but has hosted various fundraising events in support of hospitals that do research in and are at the forefront of breast cancer treatment. Founded by the Vourtzoumis family, Pink in the City counts numerous volunteers from the Greek Community of Montreal that has warmly embraced it.
I first heard about breast cancer as a student in elementary school. The mother of a classmate had a small lump in her breast which they called "a cancer." He faced his mom's sickness with surprising stoicism as she declined to her death but we were deeply wounded by the suddenness of her departure. She was, after all, one of our mothers!
Afterwards, life would bring me much closer to breast cancer as the beloved sister of my mother would fall victim to the cursed disease. As a student in Athens, I vividly remember watching her undergo "cruel" therapies that were slowly destroying her body. I recall the smiling woman being decimated by the drugs she was ingesting, suffering painful radiation burns and fighting a losing battle against a rampant disease that was steadily spreading throughout her body.
Later, at the outset of my journalistic career, I would meet the most glamorous woman of my life. Niki was a stunning woman of classic Greek beauty, who, a few short weeks after our acquaintance, would confide that she was suffering from breast cancer. I was stunned, wanting to go and hide from the world and wishing I could wipe her from my life as I did not want to relive the traumatic experience of my aunt.
Niki, however, did not allow me to escape. She swept me up in her zeal for life and made me soon forget that her ample, beautiful breast was her curse. She refused to undergo chemotherapy as she resented losing her hair and she asked her doctors to cease all radiation treatments that were burning her skin.
She behaved like any carefree woman, falling in love, traveling, writing and dreaming. Until, one day, she left for her native Cyprus to never return.
In the meantime, more and more of my girlfriends were awakening to suddenly discover that they had breast cancer. Others through self examination, some through mammography or ultrasound and many by other means would become aware of the bitter secret of their nature. After the first cold shower, they would try to cope with the affliction in the best way possible with some experiencing the harshness of the complete removal of their breasts.
Today I am very familiar with this reality. I know that menopausal hormones can cause breast cancer and many of us are prone to the disease because of our genetic makeup. I have realized that mammograms and palpation are often not sufficient means of protecting us from the disease but I also know that, when detected in its early stages, breast cancer can be cured.
The campaign for breast cancer has saved many lives around the globe. At the same time, it has created armies of distraught women who fear they may fall victim to the disease, especially when there is an occurrence in their immediate family.
In a recent article in Vogue, I read that a healthy, young writer with a history of cancer in her family (mother and sister) underwent a preventive double mastectomy and subsequent artificial regeneration of her breasts. Recently, Angelina Jolie brought worldwide attention to this procedure by doing likewise. The irony, however, is that, even after this amputation, doctors cannot guarantee that breast cancer will not strike.
It is unfortunate and ironic that the unique symbol of femininity, a woman's breasts, can become her death trap! However, the research is there to prove that the disease can be beaten if it is discovered in its early stages. To this end, we must think pink all year around!