As I’m sure you know, October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, which means a whole lot of stuff that isn’t usually pink is now pink (Nick and I actually burned a breast cancer ribbon-wrapped Duraflame log the other night—the flames were pink, I kid you not.) October is also peak season for football and the NFL has been pinked right along with our yogurt containers and fake, chemical-laced logs. The players wear pink cleats, the refs toss pink coins, the goal posts are wrapped in pink pads, and, of course, the cheerleaders shake pink pom poms. There is an ongoing debate over what impact the pinking of America truly has on the epidemic of breast cancer in this country but before you weigh in, read this email, sent to the New York Jets two days ago:
Name: Tina A
Subject: Community Relations
Message: Last year October I was watching a Jets game and noticed the pink the team was wearing. I didn’t know why and asked my husband. He said it was for breast cancer awareness. That night for the first time ever I gave myself a self breast exam. You guys saved my life! I am a 34 year old mother of 3 and I was diagnosed 2 weeks later with breast cancer.The outcome had I not seen that game and the players wearing pink would have more than likely been tragic because the cancer had already started to spread and was making its way toward my lymph nodes. I just wanted to say thank you, and to let you know that your efforts in creating breast cancer awareness work. I am living proof. It is a year later and I am here and cancer free. I underwent chemo and radiation and I am here thanks to you.
Tina A, Staten Island, NY
Tina, her husband and their three sons just months before the Jets helped her find her cancer.
How awesome is that? It gives me the chills. My sister and I are both moms and cancer survivors (lymphoma and leukemia, respectively) so it hit particularly close to home. Say what you will about the NFL but three kids in Staten Island still have their mom to tuck them in tonight because a bunch of dudes ran around in pink cleats. I spoke to Tina last night and she’s only a few months out of treatment but she’s feeling good. And she is eternally grateful to the NFL. She said she usually just waited until her annual gynecologist appointment to have her breasts examined, but after catching a glimpse of Gang Green in pink, she took matters into her own hands. Literally. (It wasn't that she was unaware of the pink = breast cancer awareness thing, it was that she hadn't seen the color on football players before and it was just the jolt she needed.) Within two weeks she started treatment at Sloan Kettering. Her children were 5, 4 and one. The chemo and radiation were grueling but she never missed a school drop off (her husband would drive and she’d stay in the car, often too tired to get out but still present for her kids). This weekend the whole family will be participating in The American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk to pay it forward. You rock, Tina!
True, the NFL has been under fire a lot lately—the bounty hunting, the ref sitch, the head injuries and lawsuits. There’s even a story circulating stating that only 5 percent of the pink merchandise sold for breast cancer awareness month goes to the American Cancer Society, their charity partner. That one is entirely false—all the profits either go to ACS or back into the awareness program; the NFL does not make a penny. And in the first three years of their awareness program, which they call “A Crucial Catch: Annual Screening Saves Lives,” the league has raised over 3 million for ACS. As someone who sits on the board of a cancer charity (LLS, baby!), I’m sure the ACS is not displeased with this contribution (and the NFL expects 2012 to be the most successful to date). In other words, the NFL does a lot of good things, too. And, as Tina’s letter shows, all that pink is not just about raising money (or trying to make the players look like nice guys—my least favorite argument out there), it’s about raising awareness. Reminding women to take care of themselves, to make doctor’s appointments, to follow up when something seems amiss, to know their bodies.
This is exactly what we’re doing at Parenting with our mom’s health pledge (sign it and share it today!) and our big momvivors spread in the October issue. I’ve heard from so many friends and readers who made doctor appointments after reading about the other moms in the piece who battled—and beat—cancer, moms who advocated for themselves and went to the doctor when they needed to. It feels great to have that kind of impact. And I know it must feel good for the Jets to see this letter (it inspired a near win against New England on Sunday!). Yes, there is still a lot to be done in the fight against breast cancer (and all cancers). Yes, we need more funding to do so. And yes we need to do more than just sell pink stuff in order to get women to really absorb crucial information about detection, treatment and ways to protect their health. But in the meantime, if football players wearing pink wristbands and cleats can save even one woman’s life isn’t it worth it? I say hell yes. And rather than roll my eyes at the pinksanity this weekend (The Bills are turning Niagara Falls pink for their game), I will think of the three little boys in Staten Island who get to keep their mom because of it. And I will smile. And hug my own kids a little tighter.