Curious how you can make a difference for the breast cancer community during Breast Cancer Awareness Month (October 1–31 annually), but not sure where to start?
Here’s a rundown of seven key ways you can make an impact by doing more than just wearing pink.
1. Donate or raise money
Donations are the number one way to help people diagnosed with breast cancer. Donating money to breast cancer foundations helps fund research hours that can lead to better diagnostic tools, medication approval, treatment testing, and hopefully – someday – a cure. Women undergoing treatment for all breast cancer, but specifically metastatic (stage 4, terminal) breast cancer need funding urgently to get more research hours to hopefully find a way to eradicate the disease.
Here are a few major foundations and associations you can donate to:
- Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF)
- Making Strides Against Breast Cancer (American Cancer Society)
- National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc.
- Know Your Lemons Foundation
- The Susan G. Komen Foundation
And a local hospital as well:
You might not have money to donate to others, and that’s okay. But you may have time, which is a valuable asset as well. Some of the foundations above also have volunteer opportunities for events like breast cancer awareness walks. You can also volunteer at the cancer center at your local hospital.
Here are a few volunteer opportunities you can join:
- October 16, 2021: Making Strides Against Breast Cancer (Chicago)
- Set up and clean up
- Greeters and cheerers
- Survivors tent
- Kids activity area
Ongoing or annual opportunities:
- Know Your Lemons “Lemonista” teaching opportunity
- Susan G. Komen 3-day “Walk for a Cure” volunteers
- Young Survival Coalition
3. Share resources (financial, spiritual, groups, etc.)
While it seems like there are tons of resources and “awareness” out there, unless you’re impacted by a diagnosis or by a family member or friend undergoing treatment, you probably know a lot less about breast cancer than you think.
Breast cancer is not pretty and pink. It’s not “the good cancer,” as people often say. While most breast cancers are treatable and often curable, studies show that women diagnosed at a younger age often suffer higher chances of death, later stage diagnoses, and more aggressive forms of cancer than those diagnosed later in life.
With this information in mind, even if you’re personally unable to donate money or time, sharing resources and knowledge is free. Here are a few sites and their uses for breast cancer (and other cancer) fighters and their support systems:
- Imerman Angels, cancer peer mentorship
- Meal Train, community food giving/gift support
- Camp Good Days, vacation opportunities for those undergoing treatment
4. Create wellness packages for breast cancer patients
People undergoing care for breast cancer don’t always have the same treatment plan. A woman undergoing treatment for cancer may endure any combination of the following:
- Radiation therapy
- Breast surgery: lumpectomy, mastectomy, double mastectomy
- Targeted therapy treatment
Because treatment plans for breast cancer can vary – and not all people have the same side effects – you can make wellness packages for specific treatment stages or regimens.
For example, if someone undergoing chemotherapy is having trouble eating, but manages to keep soft foods down, a care package consisting of jellos, puddings, instant potato packets, microwavable rice, and stovetop mac-n-cheese might be a good option. Similarly, if someone is scheduled to have a mastectomy, check what stores offer mastectomy bras and buy a gift card for them to help them toward the purchase of a new bra.
5. Amplify voices of breast cancer thrivers/survivors
Along with sharing resources, amplifying voices of women affected by breast cancer is another helpful way to do more. Three groups of people who often get overlooked in discussions surrounding breast cancer are adolescent and young adult (AYA) patients, metastatic breast cancer (MBC) patients, and men with breast cancer.
AYA breast cancer patients
As with most cancers, age is a risk factor for breast cancer. The median age of diagnosis in the United States is 63, which leads most coverage of breast cancer to focus on mothers and grandmothers, not youthful, energetic 20 and 30-something-year-olds. You’ll see TV ads about breast cancer, featuring women in their 40s/50s with teenage or adult children walking besides them at an awareness walk.
But you never see ads in the media about the 21-year-old woman in her junior year of college, getting diagnosed like her mom did a few years earlier. Or the 27-year-old woman climbing the corporate ladder, working her way toward buying a home when she gets diagnosed out of the blue. Or the 32-year-old new mother who thought the lump in her breast was related to her breastfeeding her new baby.
You never hear stories about young women getting breast cancer. But AYA cancer patients are trying to change that narrative.
Sites like Twitter have become a wealth of free information on AYA breast cancer shared by thrivers, survivors, and medical professionals who are concerned with educating the under-40 crowd on how to do self breast exams and identify bodily changes.
Here are a few AYA breast cancer resources you can use for yourself and share with others:
- @TeamShan, Breast Cancer Awareness for Young Women National Charity President Lorna Larsen, RN
- @EK_Drake, Cancer researcher, PhD, and co-founder of the #AYACSM hashtag (standing for Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer Social Media)
- Candidly Cancer, A website dedicated to helping newly-diagnosed AYA women with breast cancer at all stages navigate the treatment process
Metastatic breast cancer patients
MBC patients are terminal, but the length of time someone can thrive while undergoing treatment for MBC can be months or years long. You may have seen TV commercials about metastatic breast cancer and the drugs people can take to work toward reducing the progression of the disease.
In most of these ads, the women presented are fun-loving, jovial, and rearing to go to live their lives to the fullest without any debilitating effects. But in reality, many women with metastatic breast cancer are exhausted, worn out, and want to be realistic about their diagnosis and strength while undergoing treatment.
While people may not understand the “lack of positivity” surrounding MBC, it’s important to highlight the straightforward, realistic, cut-and-dry outlook some MBC thrivers share on social media.
Here are a few MBC voices to amplify on Twitter:
- @LibbyMBC, a young mother fighting MBC and advocating for others fighting the disease
- @ehgkulow, an MBC thriver
- @SarahDWald, author and professor living with MBC
Male breast cancer patients
Although men have significantly lower risk of contracting breast cancer than women, one in every 100 breast cancer diagnoses are attributed to men, making up for 1% of all cases. Low, but not nonexistent. Men whose grandmothers, mothers, or other blood relatives have had a previous breast cancer diagnosis are more at risk than those without.
The risk factors for breast cancer in men are generally the same as with women, with risk factors including age, family history of the disease, genetic mutations, exposure to radiation, and certain conditions in the testicles.
One renowned voice advocating for male breast cancer patients is @malefitness, a Stage IIIb breast cancer and prostate cancer survivor.
6. Don’t fall for the “wearing pink = raising awareness” mindset
If you got 100 breast cancer survivors in a room together and asked what they feel about wearing pink in “support” of breast cancer, the response would be split. Some women love the bright, cheerful, girly vibe that surrounds breast cancer awareness. Others do not.
Because breast cancer isn’t glamorous and cute like ads and social media make it seem, many survivors rally against pinkwashing, which is a marketing tactic businesses use to encourage people to buy their products during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Companies may sell pink-hued clothing or accessories in “support” of breast cancer, but if they’re not also donating a percentage of proceeds to a breast cancer foundation, they’re just benefiting from pinkwashing at the expense of breast cancer patients.
You can still totally wear pink, but if you don’t already own pink clothing and want to purchase something new, try looking for brands that are partnered with a breast cancer foundation and are dedicating a portion of their proceeds to it.
7. Get tested and don’t ignore the signs
As indicated earlier, breast cancer is frequently touted as a “mom/grandma/auntie” disease that you don’t get until you’re in your late 40s or older – and it’s often waved off as something you can only get if you have a family history of the disease.
This is an outdated misconception, and there’s data to prove it. While only 5 percent of breast cancers diagnoses are attributed to women in their 20s and 30s, the disease is becoming more prevalent among the under-40 crowd. Because testing isn’t recommended for younger women, the disease is often missed or overlooked until it’s in a later stage, which can be more difficult to treat.
Most medical professionals won’t preemptively test women for breast cancer while in their 20s or 30s unless there’s family history or medical factors that indicate a person might be predisposed to the disease. Because of this, you need to be your own advocate and know the signs of breast cancer before it progresses.
You have a voice. Use it for good.
There you have it! It’s not impossible to help, and you have options. Whether financially able to donate money, physically able to donate time, or in a position to help inform others by sharing information online and in-person, we need your voices to amplify ours.
Breast cancer may not affect you directly now – and it may not ever. But chances are that you or someone you know – family, friend, or acquaintance – may be diagnosed with some form of cancer down the road. So speak up for those who are battling this disease now as if it were you or someone you love going through it. Your help truly does more than you know.