Students impacted by breast cancer reflect on meaning, importance of Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Lauren Grawburg has a pink ribbon on the back of her truck.
To her, it's a symbol of something much bigger than everyday advocacy. It's a reminder of her mother, Beth Ann Grawburg, who died of breast cancer in 2006, when Lauren was 13 years old.
Because cancer has affected so many people, she also believes the ribbon could mean something different to each person who sees it.
Though the Mount Pleasant senior believes the pink ribbon is a good, simple form of raising awareness for breast cancer, more could be done. She feels there isn't enough conversation on the impact the disease has on people.
“I’ll still advocate and tell my stories as much as I can but that doesn’t stop the fact that my mom’s not here anymore,” Grawburg said. “While advocating is nice, you have to shed some light on the reality of it, too.”
Each year one in eight women and one in 1,000 men are diagnosed with breast cancer. Grawburg is one of millions of Americans affected by the disease either directly or indirectly. Every October since 1985, when Breast Cancer Awareness Month was first established, people across the country have raised money and awareness for breast cancer — each with a different motive and reason.
Breast cancer awareness efforts often have a positive spin, Grawburg said, but what she and her family went through was anything but. Her life was affected by her mom’s diagnosis in every way possible.
"It's nothing I would wish on my worst enemy, nothing I would want anyone to go through," she said. "Advocacy is awesome, but there's still the negative side that comes along with it."
When Grawburg’s mother first went to see a doctor because of concerns about her health, the doctor told her not to worry. Two months later, she went back to see a doctor and was diagnosed with breast cancer.
It was a gloomy day when Grawburg’s family learned of her mom's diagnosis. Grawburg and her family sat on her parents’ bed together, following the realization, taking everything in. All they could think was, “Where do we go from here?”
Her mother's diagnosis was not something her family could simply move on from — it was an everyday source of uncertainty. Each day, they were faced with questions like, “will mom have to go to the hospital today?” or “is she going to have a good day or a bad day?”
After watching her mom go through chemotherapy and lose her hair, Grawburg thinks showing more of the reality of breast cancer could help people understand what they’re raising money for and how breast cancer has affected people.
To her, Breast Cancer Awareness Month is about prevention through action. Grawburg believes her mom’s illness could’ve been prevented if it was detected earlier.
“If you honestly think something’s wrong, you need to get it checked out. It could be life changing,” Grawburg said. “It’s being aware you know your body better than anyone else. You need to take care of it.”
Grawburg believes breast cancer isn’t talked about enough because people are embarrassed to seriously discuss women’s breasts. More should be done to help women understand the signs and symptoms, she said.
What's in a color?
Harbor Beach junior Madison Woody's grandmother died due to breast cancer at age 58 in 2011. Woody was 15 at the time. Her grandmother was like a second mother to her. To Woody, breast cancer awareness should involve hearing more real stories — understanding how breast cancer can affect people and knowing what to look out for.
She believes more should be done during Breast Cancer Awareness Month than wearing pink.
Woody’s grandmother didn’t like seeing pink everywhere — it constantly reminded her of her cancer. More of the painful side of breast cancer, the real toll breast cancer takes on the body, should be shown to help raise awareness, Woody said.
“(Pink) could make (breast cancer) look kind of soft,” she said. “I know there are a lot of slogans about being strong — I also know a lot of girls and even guys wear it without knowing much about it or what it means. (Cancer) is a brutal, brutal thing.
“I can’t stress how it went from talking to her one day, then just completely downhill the next. It hits you like a brick wall.”
Woody said her grandmother was everything she wants to be in life. During this month, and with every other month of the year, she wants people to know about her grandmother's battle and story.
“When I think of her, I think of strength,” Woody said. “Whenever I feel down or defeated, I realize she went through so much and you wouldn’t have even been able to tell she was struggling. The thought of her helps me persevere every day.”
For Irons senior Moriah Miltgen, whose aunt is in remission after her third battle with breast cancer, wearing the color pink or a pink ribbon during October is a way to show support to people affected by breast cancer.
Awareness efforts help her feel like she’s not alone.
“I know I’m quieter about (the subject of breast cancer) because thinking about it brings back memories when (my aunt) told us she had breast cancer for a second time,” Miltgen said. “It helps knowing I’m not the only one out there trying to make a difference about it. We’re stronger in numbers.”
Because of her desire to make a difference, Miltgen is the director of growth for CMU’s chapter of Colleges Against Cancer.
She believes it’s beneficial to have a month dedicated to breast cancer awareness as people are more cognizant of the disease during an awareness month than they are at other parts of the year. It's harder to not think about breast cancer when it's a large focus in October.
“I definitely think it’s great to have a month dedicated to it but I think every month, every week, every day should be spent advocating for awareness of all different kinds of cancers," Miltgen said.
During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Colleges Against Cancer members table on campus to increase awareness by sharing information through games and trivia. They also set up a table to raise awareness during other cancer awareness months, such as lung cancer awareness month in November.
Raising awareness for breast cancer in October also brings attention to other forms of cancer, said Rochester junior Caitlyn Uebbing.
Her grandmother died from breast cancer when Uebbing was a baby. Last year, her mom was diagnosed with colon cancer. Now, she said, her family makes sure to always get check-ups and look for signs of cancer.
According to breastcancer.org, a nonprofit organization dedicated to breast cancer awareness and advocacy, chances of getting breast cancer increase when immediate family has been diagnosed with the disease.
To Uebbing, cancer awareness means raising money, getting the word out about how cancer has affected people, knowing the signs and symptoms and also making an effort to not take life for granted.
“I think with all awareness months, it’s about constantly bringing the information back to people’s attention,” Uebbing said. “With everything going on in the world, we kind of put these issues aside. When they’re brought forward again, people will take notice and take charge."