In October everything turns Pink for Breast Cancer Awareness month. You can't fail to notice the abundance of pink pin badges on sale everywhere; or the fun runs and dress down days that take place at so many schools, colleges and work places; or the widespread media coverage. But where did it all begin? And why is Breast Cancer Awareness month so important?
October's Breast Cancer Awareness Month started in the early 1990s in the USA when Evelyn Lauder introduced the idea. Evelyn worked with her friend Alexandra Penney, the former editor-in-chief of Self magazine and together they launched a special issue to highlight breast awareness and devised the concept of the pink ribbon.
The campaign started small, with Lauder and her husband, Leonard, largely financing the little pink bows given to women at department store makeup counters to remind them about breast examinations. They proved immensely popular and the campaign gathered momentum.
Evelyn Lauder was a true inspiration; she had personal experience of breast cancer and was determined to address a crucial lack of funding in breast cancer research at the time. She led the pink power movement that lit up iconic buildings in pink across the world and got people everywhere taking about breast cancer.
Since then October has been awash with pink ribbons, now a global symbol for breast cancer awareness.
After I met with Evelyn Lauder back in 1993, Breast Cancer Care was the first breast cancer charity in the UK to get involved in Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Through this initiative, it has helped bring breast cancer to the forefront of people's minds and to the top of the health agenda in this country.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month is celebrated with pink events like our Pink Fridays campaign and glamorous fundraising events like our fashion shows. But with 50,000 people diagnosed each year, there are very serious messages behind the campaign.
Two years ago, Andrea Hull, 43, from Enfield, was watching This Morning on ITV. The programme ran a feature on breast cancer and urged women to check themselves regularly and be aware of any abnormal changes. A few weeks earlier Andrea had noticed a swelling in her left breast. Thinking it was hormonal and would probably right itself, she ignored the abnormality. The advice given on This Morning sparked her to speak to her GP and within weeks Andrea was diagnosed with breast cancer.
At Breast Cancer Care each October and throughout the year we reach out to thousands of women, like Andrea, to encourage them to be breast aware and to know the signs and symptoms of breast cancer. We know being aware really can save lives. We also aim to increase awareness that Breast Cancer Care is here to support every single person going through a diagnosis. Our belief is really very simple; anyone diagnosed with breast cancer should have access to the highest standards of information, care and support. And no one should have to face breast cancer alone.
As the only breast cancer charity providing specialist support UK wide, the strength of Breast Cancer Care lies in the way we combine our understanding of people's experience of breast cancer with the clinical expertise of our team of specialist nurses. We care because we have been there, and we know how to help.
This Breast Cancer Awareness Month we expect to answer around 15,000 calls to our free confidential helpline, to help callers disentangle the information and initial shock of a diagnosis. We will also see an increased volume of breast health enquires to our Ask the Nurse email service.
Over that month, we expect to have over 160,000 visitors to our website and online forums. In the small hours when sleep is elusive and your concerns are casting long shadows, the forums can be reassuring, or a safe place to let off steam for people, including Andrea and her family members.
We will celebrate the 10th anniversary of our HeadStrong service and Younger Women's forums. Around 80% of breast cancers occur in people aged over 50, so younger women are much less likely to meet others in a similar situation, which can make the experience extremely isolating. The Younger Women's Forums offer a safe and supportive environment to connect with others in a similar situation - which we know can be very empowering and uplifting.
Also, for the third year in a row, we will mark International Secondary Breast Cancer Awareness Day on October 13th. We mark it not just for those individuals who are living with secondary breast cancer which is incurable, but also to ensure that their voices are heard, their experiences are counted and their needs are beginning to be addressed. For theirs is an isolation and a turning point we can only begin to imagine.
These are just some of the many reasons why Breast Cancer Awareness Month is such an important activity to get involved in and why we relentlessly campaign each and every October and throughout the year. But since Breast Cancer Awareness Month began in 1993, the message has remained the same: be breast aware and know the signs and symptoms of breast cancer. It's a simple formula; we know that early detection can lead to simpler and more effective treatment.
To find out how to be breast aware, and how you can make a difference to the lives of people affected by breast cancer this October, visit www.breastcancercare.org.uk
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