October 3, 2013

Maine Voices: Think beyond the pink to raise breast cancer awareness

The loss of children’s health advocate Amanda Rowe is a reminder of the disease’s community impact.

BANGOR — This is what I knew about the Susan G. Komen breast cancer foundation when I first applied in May for my job as community and public relations specialist: They ran races. The Race for the Cure was a well-known event that raised money for breast cancer education, diagnosis, treatment and research.

about the author

Phyllis C. Cohn is the community and public relations specialist for the Maine Affiliate of Susan G. Komen in Bangor.

And it was about the “pink.” Pink ribbons, pink spatulas, pink shoelaces, pink – well, practically pink anything. And until I became part of the organization, I never really thought beyond the pink.

I started reading about breast cancer, about prevention, about diagnosis. I tried memorizing (mostly unsuccessfully) important statistics. I reached out to survivors to learn about their journeys, recognizing that it is through their stories that others will find the inspiration and the fortitude to endure their own breast cancer experience. I was doing due diligence to make sure that I could bring the right type of attention to this important organization and the work that they do to end breast cancer.

But it wasn’t until about five weeks into my new job, when I found myself at a memorial service for Amanda Rowe, that the magnitude of this issue really hit me.

Sitting in Portland’s Cathedral Church of St. Luke on July 24, I found myself surrounded by at least 600 people who came out on one of the hottest days of the year to honor the life of a woman who died at age 58 after a long battle with breast cancer.

Devoted and loving mother and wife. Yes. Caring sister. Absolutely. Dear friend. Of course.

We know that when we lose someone we love, it affects our families and friends in a personal way. But what we often forget, as I was reminded of in that church on that day, was that the loss of one person can often have an impact on our communities and others who come into the universe of our lives. Through our work, or our volunteering, or our hobbies, or simply through the simple acts of kindness that so many of us exhibit every day.

How many people do we touch without knowing it? And what happens when we are no longer there?

I met Amanda only a few times, but it was clear that this was a woman who will not be easily forgotten. A tireless advocate in more areas than I have room to list, Amanda’s impact on people all over the state – one that I would guess she often was not even aware of – was obvious to me on that day as I sat in a sweltering church with hundreds of others, who took time out of their own lives and gathered together to show their respect to one woman.

I think it was only then that I truly became an advocate to end breast cancer. What is the more global impact that the loss of women and men (yes, men can get breast cancer, too) have on the world that surrounds them?

Though October is officially designated as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I would argue that every day should be the day we think about what we can do for ourselves, our families, our friends, our colleagues, to bring awareness to prevention and the need to end this disease.

I’m not going to cite all those statistics that cause our eyes to glaze over when we read them, but I will say this: Early diagnosis is key.

Making proactive decisions, after researching and talking with your doctor about what is right for you, is key.

Asking the right questions and advocating for yourself with your insurance company is key.

Being open with your friends and family about what you need is key.

Empower yourself with information so that you can be in charge, as much as you can. (More information about breast cancer is available at www.komenmaine.org.)

Amanda Rowe did all the right things, but unfortunately, like so many others, she still succumbed in the end. And though the number of deaths from breast cancer has dropped by one-third since 1990, it is not enough.

When we think of how many others have been and will be lost to this disease, and the impression that even one person can make on the world around him or herself, we need to make the commitment to never stop until we find a cure. The loss of only one person to breast cancer is still one loss too many.

— Special to the Press Herald

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