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The Dirty Secret of Breast Cancer Awareness Month

“Who will raise my three kids? They’re only 6, 4, and 18-months.”

I stood speechless. I didn’t have an answer. I also knew she wasn’t looking for one.

The 34-year-old mom looked like she walked out of a LuLaRoe catalog complete with bright lemon scarf and adorbs tan booties. If I hadn’t spent so much time in the cancer ward myself, I would have thought her hair was real. Her sweet smile and perky personality hid an ocean of grief and pain.

From the outside, you never would have guessed we were engaged in the Unspeakable Conversation.

Those who enter the dungeon halls of this hideous disease soon develop cancer-dar—a super-ability to detect those for whom it feels safe to ask the darkest of questions, confess the deepest of doubts, give voice to the most horrible of outcomes.

Even now her question still haunts me.


She died seven months ago.

As to who will raise her precious children… that still remains undetermined.

I miss her.

For me, October remains one of the hardest months of the year.

All those pink ribbons remind me of the pain. The suffering. The orphaned kids. The widowers. The Unspeakable Conversations.

We hear messages of “medical breakthroughs” and “improvements in treatment”, but my friends are still dying.

For example, they say less women are having double mastectomies. Do you know why?

Because for some types of breast cancer, the outcome of survival is the same with a double mastectomy or lumpectomy. That means less invasive surgery (good), but same number of people are dying (bad).

In fact, there’s an uptick in the number of women diagnosed with breast cancer in their teens, 20s, and 30s. No one knows why. Lots of theories abound, but the scientific explanation remains unknown.

Six billion dollars, yes, $6,000,000,000.00 will be raised this year in the name of breast cancer.

But how much of that is going to research? Pennies on the dollar.

The largest pink crusading company only donates .16 of every dollar to research.

“Despite the fact that Komen trademarked the phrase ‘for the cure,’ only 16 percent of the $472 million raised in 2011, the most recent year for which financial reports are available, went toward research,” according to The New York Times.

Sixteen cents won’t buy a cure.

Sixteen cents hasn’t been buying a cure.

And I’m all for awareness. Women and men (yes, 1 out of 100 breast cancer diagnosis is male) need to be alert for anything suspicious regardless of age. Affordable testing should be available. Early detection is crucial.

But we need more than sixteen cents going to research. We need the whole dollar.

I have too many friends whose lives are on the line. Too many friends who are already gone.

Rather than buy something pink, where only pennies go to an organization, make a real donation to someone doing research.

Give your financial gifts directly to the researchers and look for local, grassroots opportunities to give.

In addition, we need to broaden the definition of what breast cancer awareness means. We need to move beyond a mammogram reminder to becoming educated on how to love and care for those who have been diagnosed and learn to walk beside them on their journeys.

The Dirty Secret of Breast Cancer Awareness Month

What if we spent the month of October becoming aware of what to say, what not to say, and how to be a true friend and encourager to those who have been diagnosed with cancer?

This would mean those we know and love would …

Feel less alone.
Live with more joy warriors beside them.
Make this journey with more hope and strength.

This would mean that we would become people who…

Give the gift of our presence for the long haul.
Walk in confidence as we listen, laugh, and love.
Meet practical needs through our responses.

I want to equip you with some practical resources to begin loving people well during breast cancer awareness month. Would you take a few minutes to read the following:

Recommended Resources:

Donate direct to researchers through:

  • and click on “Give Now” on top of the page. Write the name of the fund: Young Women’s Breast Cancer. This directly supports the Young Women’s Breast Cancer Translational Program, founded by Dr. Virginia Borges, which is committed to identifying the cause for increased risk of death for young woman with breast cancer.
  • Dana Farber. Direct your gift to support the breast cancer research fund.
  • Mayo Clinic. Direct your gift toward cancer research.

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