Breast Cancer Awareness Month gives students chance to fight back

Breast Cancer Awareness Month gives students chance to fight back

“If I die, it’s not a big deal.” 

This is what Debbie Richardson, a West Virginia woman fighting breast cancer, told Tory Cross, president of Illini 4000, during the registered student organization’s Bike America in 2012. 

Richardson was a part of Illini 4000’s Portraits Project, a collection of profiles on Americans affected by cancer that members of the RSO collect and write as they travel across the nation on bikes. Illini 4000 is a nonprofit organization, which uses an annual cross-country bike trip to raise awareness about cancer as well as help fund cancer research and patient support.

“During the whole experience I never felt like gloom and doom. At one point I did think, ‘Well, why me? What did I do?’ But it’s nothing that you’ve done. It’s just something that happens,” Richardson told Cross, a senior in LAS. “But I do think your attitude, your outlook on things has a tremendous effect on your recovery. I think it’s so easy to feel bad for yourself, but you have to look beyond that. I really don’t think God is finished with me yet. I still think there are things he has in mind for me that he wants me to do. I don’t feel that my life is over.”  

Although students may see the beginning of October as a time for welcoming fall, October can be a time for celebrating life, finding hope and perseverance through Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

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    According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women aside from skin cancers, and about 1 in 8 women in the U.S. will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime.

    The chance that breast cancer will be responsible for a woman’s death is approximately 3 percent, and at this time there are more than 2.8 million breast cancer survivors in the United States.

    According to the American Cancer Society’s 2014 estimates for U.S. breast cancer cases, approximately 232,670 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women and about 62,570 new cases of carcinoma in situ (CIS) will be diagnosed, which is a noninvasive, early form of breast cancer. About 40,000 women will die from breast cancer.

    Due to these statistics, Cross said it is important for students on campus to be interested and involved in Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

    “Breast cancer has one of the highest rates of cancers, and it affects so many people,” Cross said. “Fortunately, it’s a cancer that everyone seems to know about it, which is a good reason to get involved. Breast Cancer Awareness Month is a great opportunity for anyone impacted by cancer in any way to help fight this disease.”

    Cross said her family has been personally affected by breast cancer, which influenced her decision to be involved in and be president of Illini 4000.

    “For me, breast cancer has always been a part of my life,” she said. “My mom was 11 years old when her mom died from it, and recently my mom’s stepmom also passed away from it. It has had a huge impact on my life.”

    Cross said Illini 4000 is hoping to hold an event sometime during the middle of October for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but was unable to give much detail. As Cross said, nothing has been set in stone.  

    Although Illini 4000 is still planning its future event, there are other activities for students to get involved in to spread awareness.

    Colleges Against Cancer, an RSO on campus that is a subset of the American Cancer Society, will be doing its annual “Pink Week” and selling T-shirts and other merchandise to spread awareness for breast cancer. The RSO will be set up outside of the Illini Union from Oct. 6 to 10 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

    Amelia Sloan, representative for American Cancer Society, said being a member of Colleges Against Cancer can provide students with opportunities to fight breast cancer through the month of October as well as year-round.

    “Breast Cancer Awareness Month is one of, if not the most successful cancer awareness months in the county. I think that the nation as a whole does a good job presenting it and advocating for breast cancer research,” she said. “Colleges Against Cancer spends their entire year advocating for the early detection and prevention of cancer, cancer education, cancer awareness and cancer research that will ultimately find a cure for the disease.”

    Sloan also said Colleges Against Cancer is working on a surprise with Illini Pride for the Illini football game against Purdue on Saturday.

    Colleges Against Cancer will be volunteering at the seventh annual “Making Strides Against Breast Cancer,” a noncompetitive 5K on Oct. 18 at 9 a.m. at Meadowbrook Park in Urbana.

    “Making Strides Against Breast Cancer is a celebration,” said Katie Champion, senior representative for American Cancer Society. “People are revved up and excited to join with other community advocates and support the people in our lives that have had a breast cancer diagnosis.”  

    Champion said people bring things such as pink mohawks, pink hair, pink face paint, pink pompoms, pink clothing, pink boxing gloves and more during the walk to show support for breast cancer awareness.

    According to Champion, sponsors and teams participating in the “Making Strides Against Breast Cancer” walk have already raised $36,000, which is $8,000 more than was raised last year.

    “Every ‘Making Strides Against Breast Cancer’ event is an incredible and inspiring opportunity to unite as a community to honor breast cancer survivors, raise awareness about what we can do to reduce our breast cancer risk, and raise money to help the American Cancer Society fight the disease with breast cancer research, information and services and access to mammograms for women who need them,” Champion said.   

    Although these events will be taking place throughout the month of October, Cross said there are other ways for students to be involved in Breast Cancer Awareness Month on their own.

    “If you have an idea that you want to put out there, students can reach out to RSOs, the Women’s Resource Center, volunteer for the American Cancer Society or find other groups that are involved in the fight,” she said.

    As Breast Cancer Awareness Month carries on through October, Cross said it is important to know that there are always people dealing with this battle.

    “Everyone’s experience with cancer is so different, but it’s important to know no matter what phase you are going through and dealing with it, other people are going through it too,” Cross said. 

    “Breast Cancer Awareness Month gives a space to mourn and experience what others are going through. Don’t be afraid to take time to mourn but also don’t forget that there’s hope.”

    Christine can be reached at [email protected].