If I remember correctly, I learned the word “cancer” before the word “menstruation”. I was in second or third grade when a schoolmate was diagnosed with leukemia. She started missing classes before skipping an entire term altogether. Upon returning she’d lost so much weight and had a headscarf wrapping her hairless head. Mom sat me down and somehow managed to introduce the complex concepts of cancer and chemotherapy, before producing a stern don’t-you-dare-teasing-her-for-being-bald-we-should-be-grateful-she’s-even-alive reminder.
I was still far from understanding cancer when the leukemia relapsed and fatally claimed her. My understanding improved later not only as I grew up reading more about it but also because, sadly, it has not stopped consuming and claiming people around me. Exactly two years ago I learned within an hour that two friends were diagnosed with cancers and only the one with early stage of breast cancer is still with us today, while the one with later stage of ovarian cancer lost her battle last year.
Breast and ovarian cancers are top leading illnesses killing women worldwide after stroke and heart diseases. Yet it’s sad to observe how so-called metropolitan women around me are either unaware of these statistics or neglecting the simple medical procedures to check themselves up. The same metropolitan women who simultaneously are well-updated on the latest fashion, business, culinary, skincare, parenting or politics fed through their cool gadgets. The excuses run gamut from “Oh, the procedure is uncomfortable” to “I’m too scared if they’ll find something”.
Yes, the medical procedures may be a tad bit uncomfortable, but those minutes are worth enduring if you just think about the long years of good health to spend with your loved ones later. Especially for breast exam, which its simple method of self-check can be performed while taking shower and is far less uncomfortable than facial peeling or Brazilian wax many women voluntarily undergo for aesthetics. Better not knowing so as not to worry yourself or family? Really? Wouldn’t you or family be much better off when an anomaly was discovered early and treated with better odds, instead of at later stages when the fighting chance were dismal or none?
The logic is very simple, ladies. While your life is inarguably yours, besides to watch your kids growing up it carries a lot of potentials perhaps beyond your present imagination, that you owe it at least to your precious self to preserve it. And preservation starts by knowing what to manage, not by playing blind. It’s very possible that the exams will find nothing anyway, yet something is found you’ll have the chance to immediately deal with it with a bigger chance to beat it.
If you haven’t been checked medically, no better time than now for breast exam. Long spoken in hushed tones like a taboo, breast cancer started to be discussed openly in the US by 1950s, gained traction by the successful campaign of AIDS awareness in the 1980s, then institutionalized by American Cancer Society and a pharmaceutical company producing breast cancer drugs in 1985 as the Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The pink ribbon came in 1991 when Susan G Komen Foundation distributed simple pink ribbons to participants of a New York City race for breast cancer survivors, and brought onto the global stage two years later when Evelyn Lauder founded The Breast Cancer Foundation and started featuring the pink ribbon on counters of her husband family’s famous cosmetics brand Estée Lauder.
So far the world has caught up with the pink ribbon movement. Every October in major cities worldwide including Indonesia you can find medical and social activities to raise awareness for breast cancer. Bali has hosted a walk or two while this coming Sunday Jakarta will throw a race (check www.jakartagoespink.com), and I’m quite pleased that more communities beyond activists have supported the movement.
I’m aware about the criticism against the pink ribbon as a superficial ‘feel-good’ movement, and the fact that it has been hijacked by few brands that are linked to cancer-inducing chemicals or lie about donating their sales proceeds to the cause. While I reserve some well-worded expletives for people who steal from the research funds of a fatal disease and won’t blink if they’re thrown to a deserted dungeon, I still think the pink ribbon is useful to raise awareness in emerging countries like Indonesia, where its women are busier getting manicures than mammograms, or raise funds in developed countries, where its women are statistically more susceptible to the disease.
I even think that more ‘feel-good’ communities should adopt the cause. Look, how many of us have laughed at the cliché of beauty pageant contestants wishing for world peace? These pageants attract millions of loyal followers, men and women alike, who whenever tune in are in jolly mood that make them more perceptive towards messages. On a smaller scale Yayasan Jantung Indonesia has done it by hosting a show during Jakarta Fashion Week that’s not only one of the most coveted events in town but also raises funds through on-site auction. Instead of flip-flopping from one trendy cause to another, it will be more effective if Miss Universe, Miss World, or Miss Indonesia officially champions awareness for women-specific cancers. These are our diseases, girls– we should become a better ambassador for them.
Not a beauty queen? Hate pink? Start small and simple. Get yourself checked– then get your friends to check. Today. Pretty pinky please.