October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month

I find that October has a lot going for it as a month.

Besides the tree leaves–purple, gold, and red– and  the weather–cool and crisp as a MacIntosh– just this past year, on October 1, a new nephew arrived in my life.

It all adds up to energy, energy for a good fight, and that’s what we need when it comes to breast cancer.

  • It may seem like everyone has come across someone who has or has had breast cancer.  Well, that’s no surprise. It is the single most common type of cancer among American women after skin cancer, and the second leading cause of cancer death after lung cancer.
  • However, in the UK it is the major factor impacting women and is the single most common cancer in the UK—period, and. . .
  • According to the World Health Organization, it is the most common cancer affecting women world-wide, where one in every 8 women has it.
  • This is hard to fathom, but, here in the US, one case of breast cancer is diagnosed every two minutes, and one woman will die of it every 13 minutes(We here in the US  do, indeed, have the highest rates of breast cancer–higher than anywhere else in the world.)
  • As of 2009, there were 2.5 million breast cancer survivors living in the United States. That is the largest group of all cancer survivors.
  • An estimated 232,340 new cases in women and 2,240 new cases in men of invasive breast cancer are expected to occur in the U. during 2013.
  • About 39,620 women and 410 men in the U.S. are expected to die from breast cancer in 2013.


So we come to National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM), which was first observed in the US in 1985. Originally its major goal was to encourage women to get their mammograms, but over the years the event has morphed and widened.   More organizations have wanted to play a role in it, and–despite its title–it has become an international event. Writes one group,

“Given the large number of organizations involved, and the huge sums of money raised, breast cancer awareness has grown into an industry in its own right; this campaign can almost be described as a year-long event. Today, Breast Cancer Awareness Month is as much about raising funds for breast cancer research and support, as it is about raising awareness.”

This is the pause-for-a-commercial moment, links to places where you can donate money for breast cancer (nowhere near as simple a job as it sounds, thank you, Nancy Brinker).  Instead, I’d like to link you to 3 excellent breast cancer blogs, stand-outs in a field notable not only for the sheer number of blogs dedicated to the topic, but for the quality of the writing.

1.  JOURNEYING BEYOND BREAST CANCER. Okay, you might say this one got a pass with me because the author regularly quotes Irish poetry, the topic of my junior thesis at college.  That definitely doesn’t hurt. But Marie Ennis-O’Conner has a lot more to offer than just that, as her multiple awards attest to. Diagnosed at 34, she had the full treatment–surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and brachytherapy–but noticed that it was only when the hysteria of the treatment was over that suddenly she felt adrift. She teaches us that when the medical team thinks your story is over, it is in fact just starting.

Although she found many blogs with advice for those who were newly diagnosed undergoing treatment, she found little out there  on “how to deal with the post-treatment limbo I found myself in.”

I love Marie’s blog for its variety–one day she posts on Angelina Jolie and her preventive mastectomy, another it’s breast cancer and exercise, many days it’s just a poem–or a phrase.  I leave you with this one:


2.  DANCING WITH CANCER: LIVING WITH METS, THE NEW NORMAL is another heavily-medaled blog.

Right under her title, inside the title box, Jill writes, “I FIRST GOT BREAST CANCER IN 1999 AT AGE 39.  IT CAME BACK IN 2002 AND HAS METASTASIZED (SPREAD) TO MY BONES, LIVER AND BRAIN.  MY LIFE IS ABOUT DANCING WITH CANCER”  Once more in her”About Me” section, she simply says of herself, “I dance with cancer. Oy!”

Yes, it’s tricky to miss that Jill is Jewish–in fact one of her last posts was on Rosh HaShana, the Jewish New Year, and one of the beautiful things about the piece–and why I enjoy Jill’s blog so much despite the pain and suffering behind it–is her gratitude for what she does have.  It’s all in the details–aside from feeling grateful that she has the energy to travel to a wedding, she enjoys the time with family and friends–and a special mention goes to the fact that she got to eat Graeter’s ice cream every day. And what’s her response to an MRI, ordered because the doctor is concerned about her difficulty reaching for words?

A piece of advice we could all follow:

“I say, let’s drink rose wine, eat ice cream, pick the blackberries and generally enjoy the rest of the summer.”


Diagnosed with invasive lobular breast cancer in July of 2006, Annemarie wound up undergoing 8 rounds of chemotherapy, about which she says,”  I never lost my hair.  I feel like a chemo fraud.  It’s all about the hair.”

What she does note, however, is that she has “ongoing cognitive issues.”

The blog, which she started in 2011, began as, as she put it, “a means of me unclogging my brain,” but it soon became “a vessel to the outside world,” and she uses it not just for personal expression but as a platform.

While many of her posts are personal and touching–and she keeps a list on the side of her blog of those who are “Gone but never forgotten,” she can research with the best of them. Check out her “Can We Handle the Truth? Let’s Review,” about the distressing lack of progress on the breast cancer treatment front. In fact, under her Twitter handle, @chemobrainfog, she writes, “No meaningful progress in 40 yrs is my call to action.”

She calls for better ways to match patients to clinical trials, criticizes companies who “turn. .. a product pink, put. . .a ribbon on it, then say. . .you are part of the cure. . .”  She isn’t fooled by today’s new treatments:  “that’s not meaningful change, that’s incremental improvements on the old stuff.”

And after she’s called out Big Pharm and the scientists and the doctors, she turns back to cover, with the most delicate touch, those who have lost their battle. She dedicates an entire post to them and their lives.


Dead and gone are the days when no one dared even say the word ‘breast’ and certainly no one talked about cancer, not just in “polite company,” but even amongst close friends and family.  The sharing community helps fend off isolation, provides comfort and resources, and promotes advocacy.

Such blogs are a vital part of breast cancer awareness.

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