Breast Cancer Awareness Month adapts fundraising, outreach

By Mackenzie Stephens, Contributing Writer

As October comes to a close, so does Breast Cancer Awareness Month. For many organizations, this month is dedicated to diminishing the negative effects breast cancer introduces into people’s lives by raising awareness, fundraising, researching, advocating and supporting patients and their families.

However, efforts to participate in Breast Cancer Awareness Month on campus looked very different this year in response to the limitations and restrictions COVID-19 imposed on cancer-related organizations.

The University’s American Cancer Society, or ACS, worked hard to continue performing its mission and to hold similar events to those it has in the past. Its fundraising typically took the form of “Pink Week,” where team-designed shirts are sold throughout a week at the beginning of October to raise money for cancer research, transportation for patients, stays at “Hope Lodges,” and much more. This year, the organization made the decision to add a pink breast cancer mask to its merchandise and opened up an online store.

Nicole Kaminski, senior in LAS, works as the vice president of event development at the ACS and expressed optimism about this change.

“Something that was really great about moving the Pink Week shirt and this year’s mask online was that it enabled a shipping and delivery option,” Kaminski said. “Having the shipping option allowed members of our team to share the online store with family and friends off campus and expanded our reach.”

Kaminski mentioned ACS’s goal was to continue raising awareness since the ACS knew fundraising would not be as successful as in previous years. It has been conducting this large-scale spread of awareness through Mission Moments, where information and resources regarding breast cancer can be found online with the handle @ACSuiuc. In addition to this, the organization holds Hope Talks where members of the breast cancer community speak about other groups that share the same mission or give people space to speak about their personal experiences with breast cancer.

“Every dollar raised has a tremendous impact, and that is something that has fueled me in doing this,” Kaminski said. “I’ve been a participant in Relay for Life since eighth grade. It’s a cause that is so important. Cancer touches everyone’s life.”

The goal of the Cancer Research Advocacy Group, or CRAG, at the University is to recruit cancer survivors as participants to bring their first-hand experience and perspectives into the projects they work on. The survivors who work for the group also speak and advocate for the cancer research being conducted at the University.

Zeynep Madak-Erdogan, co-founder of CRAG and associate professor in ACES, felt inspired to help start this group due to its missing presence in Champaign-Urbana and the patient interaction she gets to experience.

“You hear many more stories related to cancer, survivorship and treatment,” Madak-Erdogan said. “You see more of the human side of cancer.

“We are very well trained in biology; we know about the tumors, the cancer cells and the drugs, but at the end of the day, they all go into the patient. You have to develop the understanding that you are not treating the tumor, but you are actually treating a person.”

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, CRAG would send research advocates on field trips to other cancer centers to experience what other forms of advocacy look like. They held one-on-one meetings between researchers and advocates and encouraged advocates to give talks at cancer survivor meetings throughout the year.

These organizations and more offer opportunities to become more involved with the breast cancer awareness movement throughout the year. Participation in events, donations and pursuing leadership positions are all ways to support the breast cancer community.

“Just knowing that by attending weekly meetings and constantly having cancer on the forefront of your mind, you’re able to talk about it, make an impact and increase awareness,” Kaminsky said. “College is all about finding your impact, finding who you want to be and what you’re passionate about. Having a positive impact on society, that’s a passion of mine, and this is my outlet to do that.

“Cancer doesn’t sleep, so neither do we.”

She promotes this mindset as an encouragement to join the cause and find a way to become involved in organizations that have such a positive impact on the breast cancer community.

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