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October Is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

A column by Claudian Kauffman about breast cancer in Indian country.

While watching Monday Night Football this week one couldn’t help but notice the bright pink shoes, gloves, towels and ribbons being sported by the players, officials, and coaches. October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and all across the country, professional athletes, celebrities, teachers, politicians and everyday citizens are adding pink, the pink ribbon of breast cancer, to their uniforms, work clothes and everyday attire.

At the Seminole Casino Coconut Creek, they are promoting a “Pink It Up” campaign in which guests may purchase a pink wrist band or T-shirt or make a direct $1 donation with all proceeds going to local non-profit charitable organizations that help to address and raise awareness of breast cancer.

You will see pink on labels of nearly every grocery store as major grocery chains join in the pink rally. There are walks, runs, and relays, and there are luncheons, dinners, auctions, and galas, all to support breast cancer awareness, prevention, screening, treatment and research to find a cure.

Seeing some very large football players wear pink, I thought to myself “I wonder what my tribal council would look like if they all wore pink for breast cancer awareness?” For me, it would be so much more significant to know that our tribal communities were truly united in solidarity to promote breast cancer awareness with purpose and with meaningful and measurable results.

Breast cancer is a reality in Indian country. In the April 2012 Journal of Cancer Education, it was noted that despite national decreases in breast cancer incidence and mortality rates, the declines do not appear among American Indian/Alaskan Native women. Health disparities among our population are evident. We have lower screening rates. Our cancers are detected at a later stage, and with greater mortality. Why?

This is a call to all Native people. We are the ones who have stated for generations, that women are the backbone of our people; that women are the center of our lodges; that women are sacred; and that a nation is defeated only when its women are gone. Let us all join in our fight against breast cancer. Together, we can turn the tide on this, the leading killer of Native women.

I would like to encourage everyone to join me in this effort. Talk to your tribal leaders. Organize a breast cancer awareness campaign locally. Promote health and wellness by providing ongoing breast cancer education, offering mammograms throughout our communities, and supporting those already diagnosed with immediate access to care by health care providers that specialize in this area.

Sure, wear pink, start your own walk, relay, and run to promote breast cancer awareness and treatment. Speak to your communities, to your tribal council members, to your sisters, daughters, mothers, and grandmothers, and share the importance of breast cancer education. Join me and demonstrate our strength and bring breast cancer to the forefront of our discussions, let our leaders tackle this with passion and let us all do our part to fight breast cancer and support those in need.

One out of every eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. I am one of those who received that diagnosis. But it is a fight that can be won. I joined my sister as a breast cancer survivor. I learned there is an entire breast cancer sisterhood out there. So many Native women came to me and offered words of encouragement, prayers, suggestions, and shared their own personal stories. I never knew how much breast cancer has affected our community. I never knew how strong I could be during my fight, and I never knew how strong our community can be when one of us needs help and support.

Look around you. See the women and girls in your life and consider the odds. What can we do to turn this tide?

Susan G. Komen for the Cure

Claudia Kauffman, Nez Perce, is a former Washington state senator.