Sunday, October 5, 2003

October's the pinkest month - for a good reason

We are now a week into the pinkest month of the year. It's Breast Cancer Awareness Month, when everywhere you look there will be pink scarves, pink ribbons, pink candles and some pink hats over ruthlessly abbreviated hair.

Maybe you are thinking you are already about as aware as you want to be.

That's understandable.

Perhaps you have lost someone to breast cancer and you would like to think about her life instead of her death. Maybe you are battling it yourself and you'd rather talk about anything - the weather, shoes, goetta, anything - besides breast cancer. Maybe you wonder why this disease gets so much attention.

All understandable.

What is not as easy to understand are people like Tracie Metzger, whom I saw last Thursday wearing a bright pink maternity top. Her third child is on the way, first baby since she was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago. Tracie was 31 when she found a lump during her morning shower. "But I'm too young," she thought. Briefly. Then she plunged into battle. Surgery. Chemotherapy.

She could have decided she'd had enough hard knocks in life. She could have decided when she got the all-clear that she never wanted to hear the word "cancer" again.

That would be understandable.

Instead, she decided to help other women. She is one of the founders of the Pink Ribbon Girls. "When you're a young woman with children, it's just an entirely different world and an entirely different experience." They've raised awareness and plenty of money. I ran into Tracie at an event occasioned by a simple question from Eileen Barrett, who was not excused from breast cancer even though her family has fought it with remarkable vigor - and money.

She wondered why all Tri-state breast cancer centers couldn't come together as a single, more powerful resource. And they did.

"All personal agendas and egos have been left at the door," said Dr. Susan Weinberg, a diagnostic radiologist at Bethesda North, who was joined Thursday by colleagues from Christ, Good Samaritan, Jewish, Mercy Health Partners, St. Elizabeth, St. Luke and University hospitals to talk about everything from lumpectomies to genetics to hormone replacement. Afterwards, the 400 participants listened to the most famous fund-raiser of all, Nancy Brinker.

"Susan, my big sister, the homecoming queen, my best friend" died at the age of 36. "Suzy looked at me one day, right toward the end, and asked me to do something to help other women. And I promised I would."

From that promise came the Susan G. Komen Foundation, which has raised $600 million. In 20 years, the Komen Race for the Cure has grown from one race with 800 participants in Dallas to more than 100 cities, including Cincinnati. Since 1997, more than $2 million has been raised here.

Even so, somebody during this month surely will be asking you for more. Because every three minutes in the U.S. another woman is diagnosed with breast cancer and 40,000 will die of it this year, an army is out there. A pink brigade. Some of them have lost a mother, a sister, a wife, a daughter to breast cancer. Some have battled breast cancer themselves. Others are afraid they will get it. They can be very persistent.

Which is understandable.

E-mail or phone 768-8393.

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