Kenzie was just 21 when her boyfriend found a lump in her breast. Before she turned 24, the cancer had returned. She won't wear a pink ribbon -- doesn't think there's anything pretty or pink about the disease.
Heather, a firefighter, wonders if the unusually high rates of breast cancer among her colleagues is linked to the toxic chemicals they're exposed to in burning buildings. She feels like a sitting duck.
Kristin, who lost her mom to breast cancer last year, thinks it's time we wake up to the fact that neither companies nor the government is making sure the products we use and the food we eat are free of toxic chemicals linked to breast cancer.
As I listened to these stories, submitted to the Breast Cancer Fund's Beyond the Pink storytelling project , I knew that our vision had become a reality. We had created a space for people to share their experiences with breast cancer, their frustrations with the limitations of "pink," and their hopes for a different future -- one where fewer people ever have to hear the words, "You have breast cancer."
Spending some time with these stories provides a sharp contrast to the glaringly upbeat pink-ribbon-a-thon that Breast Cancer Awareness Month has become. On TV talk shows, in supermarket and pharmacy aisles, even the on the NFL football fields, it's pink, pink, pink.
But here's pink's dirty little secret: All of this awareness-building has not led to fewer breast cancer diagnoses. On that count, the score card is grim. An alarming 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with the disease in her lifetime. That represents a 40 percent increase in just a generation. If the NFL teams on those pink-ribboned fields were losing that badly the fans would be booing and the owners would be swapping out coaches and players.
So what should our game plan be? How do we reduce the odds? By investing in prevention. We know that environmental factors like exposure to toxic chemicals play a role in causing breast cancer. So let's start by demanding that lawmakers and companies ensure the products we use every day don't contain toxic chemicals linked to cancer. Let's also insist that more research dollars go into finding out how to prevent breast cancer.
We owe it to Kenzie and Heather and Kristin. We owe it to ourselves, our kids and our grandkids.
Focusing on eliminating environmental causes of breast cancer should be a no-brainer. If we can stop cancer before it starts, why wouldn't we? Yet in a month where there's more said about breast cancer than perhaps during the rest of the year combined, prevention is all but absent from the public dialogue. Beyond the Pink is working to change that. These stories are urging us to think differently about breast cancer. These voices are demanding that we pay attention to prevention. In these stories and voices, I hear the future of the breast cancer movement.
Erin is one of those powerful voices. She heads a support group for young survivors and has watched 13 vibrant women die in the past year. Erin says pink has never really been her color. She says she certainly doesn't need any more awareness -- that she wants to see action to eradicate the disease before it starts. I'm with Erin. I'm with all of these brave women and men who are sharing their stories. I'm so beyond the pink.