Beyond the Pink

Eliana (Annabelle) Elikan

The breast cancer awareness movement has been garnering continuous support for the past fifty years. Beginning with The Women’s Field Army in 1936, which consisted of a legion of volunteers who waged war on cancer and promoted early detection and prompt medical intervention, breast cancer is no longer  taboo. But breast cancer, no longer being an unspeakable disease, has transformed into the mundane; the inundation of pink ribbons, water bottles, and tote bags have made cancer a brand.

Breast cancer is omnipresent. We see the pink that characterizes it all the time, whether it be Dick’s Sporting Goods’ sports gear or Oriental Trading’s 456 breast cancer awareness items. Before I started interning at the Brem Foundation, this was the representation of breast cancer that was ingrained in me. Although I am an Ashkenazi Jew, and therefore my chances of having the BRCA gene are much higher than those from most other demographics, breast cancer has never been more than this ‘brand’ to me. But, in the past week alone, I’ve learned about the real war against breast cancer: the constant research, the statistics, the foundations and practices that dedicate innumerable amounts of time to the cause. In the past week, the image that I had of breast cancer as a trademark has disintegrated. It has been pulled apart and rebuilt multiple times, and is being reshaped and reconstructed with each survivor I have spoken with, each radiological image I have witnessed, and with each article I  have read.

Next year, I will spend a year studying in Israel before going to college. While reading news articles about breast cancer, I was pleased to find new, innovative technology being developed there. Researchers from Ben-Gurion University and Soroka Medical Center claim to use electronic nose and urine tests to detect early breast cancer. Other groundbreaking work to defeat breast cancer is being done throughout the world. The Institute of Cancer Research in London, for instance, has found that in women who have triple negative breast cancer with BRCA gene mutations, the toxin carboplatin reduces the size of tumors more successfully than the drug used currently, docetaxel. In addition, a teenager in Mexico has produced a bra capable of detecting breast cancer through thermal temperatures. In this sense, and for these people, the breast cancer movement is much more than an industrialized ‘brand’, it is a disease that threatens the lives of hundreds of thousands of women each year.

The reason breast cancer has become so widespread and ubiquitous is because the number one risk factor for breast cancer is simple: being a woman. Of course there are other risk factors; for instance, breast density. But, as a whole, women are fighting  the war against breast cancer together and with the same exigency; with the knowledge that three in four women with breast cancer have no family history. And the number one piece of information I have learned while interning for the Brem Foundation is the method to win this war and to defeat breast cancer—early detection. This is a new and more meaningful perspective than a simple catchphrase; this is a real war, in which  researchers, educators, doctors, and most importantly, women have gone to battle. The brand is no longer a pretty color, a fluttery ribbon, or a shiny pin, but a powerful symbol that holds the movement together in a tangible way.

We, as a country, just celebrated Mother’s Day. The best message for moms, future moms, and all women is that you find your own meaning behind the brand that has become breast cancer; get educated and get screened. My mother is 53, and she has never been screened. But now, she will.