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Turning the world pink

Each October, Little Rock turns rosy as businesses and people begin showing their support for the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. I love to see the transformation and look forward to picking out the different ways people choose to support breast cancer research.

This year I was honored to be in the room with our company's breast cancer survivors as they prepared for the race. One lady was celebrating 10 years of being cancer free, and her entire family came out in support. The survivors all received a special gift that contained small tokens to symbolize their journey — a small bear to hug, a ray of sunshine, chocolate kisses... It didn't matter how many years it had been, there were tears — some of joy and some of pain.

As I watched these brave women, I thought about the journey all of us have travelled in fighting breast cancer. As a child, I remember a family friend's diagnosis. The word "cancer" was whispered, and the word "breast" wasn't even said. It was assumed to be a death sentence. Detection back then was too little too late.

Then, in 1982, Nancy Brinker rocked our worlds by creating Susan G. Komen for the Cure in honor of her sister. Breast cancer went from being a secret to being a widely discussed topic, and the marketing for Komen has turned the month of October into a sea of pink. According to Komen, in the last 29 years:
  • Nearly 75 percent of women 40 years old or older now receive regular mammograms, the single most effective tool for detecting breast cancer early (compared to 30 percent in 1982).
  • The five-year survival rate for breast cancer, when caught before it spreads beyond the breast, is now 98 percent (compared to 74 percent in 1982).
  • The federal government now devotes more than $900 million each year to breast cancer research, treatment and prevention (compared to $30 million in 1982).
  • America's 2.3 million breast cancers survivors are the largest group of cancer survivors in the United States, and are a living testament to the power of society and science to save lives.

Just this week I learned of two more friends — one a mom like me and the other an older family member — who are newly diagnosed and starting their battle. The younger woman openly shared her diagnosis on Facebook and was immediately swept up in well wishes and prayers and tips from survivors. The family member was a bit lower key but still facing it with a positive outlook and her usual sense of humor. There were no whispers — only love and support. That's the power of pink.

As we look back on the Race for the Cure and forward to Thanksgiving, I thank Komen for allowing women to see the world in pink; not through rose-colored glasses but through the realization that "breast cancer" should not be whispered but shouted until it is no longer a part of our vocabulary.

Jennifer is the mom of two teenage girls, and a strong supporter of breast cancer research.

November 2011