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Breast Cancer Action Month: Paint It Pink

It’s October and I am definitely painting it pink. I am blessed to celebrate 8 years of survivor/thrivership on October 20. I am wearing my pink shoes and talking breast health everywhere I go: at Starbucks, in line at the grocery store, at the playground with my granddaughters, even in business meetings where I am the only woman in the room. 

But the truth is, I fight this fight every day, not just in October. Breast Cancer Awareness Month is a bit like Black History Month. We get the attention and recognition but guess what? Just like black people are black all year long, breast cancer warriors, survivors and thrivers deal with breast cancer every day. Breast cancer has no time parameters, does not adhere to medical standards of care and is purposed to kill. 

I’m a marketer by trade and in marketing discipline, generating awareness is a tactic. Let’s change the label to Breast Cancer Action Month. We need to change the behavior around how our world deals with breast cancer. Generating awareness is just one tactic toward that goal. My fight is for a world without breast cancer!

African American women are at high risk and are unnecessarily dying of breast cancer. Here are the very disturbing facts for us:

  • Though black women get breast cancer at a slightly lower incidence rate than white women, we are 42 percent more like to die from it. 
  • Black women younger than 35 get breast cancer at two times the rate of white women and die from breast cancer three times as often as white women.
  • Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among black women, and an estimated 33,840 new cases are expected to be diagnosed this year. 
  • In 2019, black women will make up 12.5 percent of all new breast cancer cases and 15.5 percent of all breast cancer deaths.
  • The overall five-year relative survival rate for breast cancer diagnosed is 81 percent for black women versus 91 percent for our white counterparts. 
  • Fifty-four percent of breast cancers in black women are diagnosed at a local stage, compared to 64 percent in white women.

Here is my ACTION CHECKLIST for Breast Cancer ACTION Month!

Breast cancer survivors and thrivers owe it to our sisters suffering with metastatic breast cancer to advocate on their behalf. We have been through the fire and can talk the necessary talk to represent their feelings, their struggles and their trials. I’m calling out all of my survivor sisters to do something to help our sisters. The smallest gesture will be appreciated. 

  • Call your representatives. Advocate for lowering drug prices, supporting funding for research and making health care affordable. Many chemotherapies are now sold through pharmacies and don’t require infusion in a hospital setting. These drugs are handled differently by health insurance plans and often require unaffordable co-pays. Cost should not be a barrier when dealing with health issues.
  • Early detection saves lives! Start conversations with everyone you encounter. Encourage them to check their breasts and know their normal, so when something is not normal, they will recognize it and take action.
  • Know your HERstory. While 92 percent of black women agree breast health is important, only 25 percent have recently discussed breast health with their family, friends, or colleagues. And, only 17 percent have taken steps to understand their risk for breast cancer. Host a brunch to talk to your matriarch, talk to your mothers, sisters, daughters, aunties. If you do have a history, get gene tested and learn about your options.
  • Know that 95 percent of breast cancer is not hereditary. Just because your mom didn’t have it, does not mean you are off the hook. Schedule your monthly self-exam on your calendar so it becomes a monthly routine.
  • Schedule your annual checkup today. When you do get your mammogram, go to a facility that has 3-D mammography equipment. 
  • Make sure you are an advocate for your own health. Trust your gut when you think something is wrong. If you don’t feel good about what a doctor is telling you, go see another one. Put yourself and your health first.
  • Add some pink to your wardrobe. Trust me, people will notice it and you can start a conversation about breast health. I wear pink shoes and warrior boots every day in October and talk about breast cancer to everyone who makes a comment about them.
  • Make a contribution to fund research. I’m donating to the Sisters Network Inc. 25th Anniversary Campaign. Even a contribution as little as $25 will be put to good use to help sisters in treatment, promote early detection and support research.
  • Pray for our breast cancer community. Pray for the researchers that have life-saving treatments in their hands. Pray for the FDA officials stifling the approval of life-saving therapies. Pray for the doctors that make decisions about our care and often dismiss young women simply because they are young. Pray for our sisters living with metastatic breast cancer. Pray for those who have lost loved ones. Pray for our sisters who are in the heat of the fire right now. Pray for thrivers, like me, who are fighting for our cause. Pray our scientists do more, work harder and faster for a cure. Pray for a world without breast cancer.

To my breast cancer survivor sisters, live your best life every day and continue to fight our pink fight. To my breast cancer warrior sisters, have faith and fight like girls. Join me in the commitment to Breast Cancer Action Month. Let’s do this together. And I would be remiss if I didn’t say, check the breasts that you love. I know you have a pair.

—Ricki Fairley


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