With Breast Cancer Awareness month behind us, leaving our clothes and football less pink for another year, perhaps it’s a good time to reflect on what it means to don the pink ribbon. Marathons, fundraisers and pink accessories aside it’s essential to keep in mind that to be “aware” means being informed.
The California Cancer Registry and the American Cancer Society estimate that 85 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in Humboldt County alone. While the rate of breast cancer diagnosis is similar to the rest of the state, the death rate in Humboldt from breast cancer is higher than other counties in California with 25 estimated to die from the illness by the end of the year.
The Humboldt Community Breast Health Project is a grassroots organization that aims to help those who are facing cancer diagnosis or are concerned about the possibility of breast or gynecological cancer by providing information and support specific to each client’s needs.
HCBHP actively helps those concerned about breast cancer whether it be community outreach through potlucks or fundraisers, financial assistance to those who need treatment or providing a support group composed of survivors.
These volunteers are essential to the organization says Gale-Zoellick explains.
“There’s nothing like having someone who’s traveled the cancer journey before you telling you ‘I’ve done it you can do it too’,” she says.
Rose Gale-Zoellick, executive director of HCBHP, says it’s unclear why the death rate for breast cancer is so high in Humboldt County but they plan on submitting a grant to the California Breast Cancer Research Program early next year and coordinating with the California Center for Rural Policy (based in HSU) to look at who these women are and what can be done to reverse the near thirty-percent mortality rate.
One of the biggest concerns women have about breast cancer prevention is when to start getting mammograms. Though doctors and clinics suggest varying ages to start (between 40 to 50 years old) the truth is that women as early as their 20s, however uncommon, can have been diagnosed with breast cancer. Gale-Zoellick encourages women to get a mammogram at any point that suspicion or symptoms such as lumps arise.
Early detection of breast cancer exponentially increases chances of survival exponentially especially if discovered before it spreads to the lymph nodes.
Breast cancer can affect both women and men (approximately 1 in every 100 diagnoses is male) from any type of community. While the United States is fortunate to have so many national organizations dedicated to research it is vital that rural areas have groups such as the HCBHP that keep up to date information to effectively provide support to the local community. In a way it is in remote communities that information is most crucial as specialists qualified to perform breast cancer operations can be found more often than not closer to metropolitan areas.
So, while buying pink ribbons, wristbands and sports gear provide much needed funding to national efforts in raising awareness, it’s important to remember that accessibility is still a major issue when it comes to health services even for breast cancer. For organizations like the Humboldt Community Breast Health Project it’s the right donations and dedicated volunteers that allow them to provide support and information to people often hundreds of miles away from the closest gynecologic oncologist.