College dons pink with pride

While students struggle with midterms in October, they sometimes forget that this month is dedicated to another worldwide struggle — the fight against breast cancer.

During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, some Yale students and faculty commemorate this struggle by wearing pink ribbons to raise awareness of the disease and to encourage its victims. The student-run chapter of Colleges Against Cancer, along with Medical School faculty, will host a series of events in the coming weeks designed to foster discussion and activism about breast cancer.

Beginning on Oct. 16, CAC will launch its “Make Campus Pink” and “Wear Pink Day” campaigns, during which some of Yale’s buildings and students will sport the color associated with breast cancer, a disease one in eight women will develop in her lifetime.

CAC’s efforts to raise awareness will include screenings of “Sex and the City” episodes that highlight the character Samantha’s battle with breast cancer. Volunteer will man tables on Cross Campus with information on mammograms, early detection programs and opportunities for individual involvement in breast cancer issues.

CAC Board Member Carolyn Sussman ’07 said she is hoping for a large turnout at the group’s events.

“Events like Wear Pink Day should help students realize that breast cancer affects so many of us,” she said. “This exposure will get to the heart of students.”

Sussman said one aim of the festivities is to encourage those affected by breast cancer to share their burden with others.

“People usually deal individually with their breast cancer experiences instead of seeking support,” she said. “CAC hopes to bring students and community members that are affected together and create a support network among them.”

While students will spearhead an awareness campaign on campus, Yale researchers at the School of Medicine and the School of Epidemiology and Public Health are working to learn more about the disease. Ongoing research addresses the potential for alternative treatment methods and lifestyle changes to bring an end to the sometimes fatal disease.

Public health professor Melinda Irwin — who currently studies the effects of exercise on cancer-prone breast tissue — said she believes that even though women between the ages of 18 and 25 are a low-risk group, being informed about the dangers of breast cancer is vital for women of all ages.

Elizabeth Claus, associate professor of epidemiology and public health, said she supports CAC’s planned activities.

“CAC’s efforts are truly helping to raise awareness amongst staff, faculty members, the older relatives of students and the broader community,” Claus said.

Claus recently finished a study of all the cases of DCIS (ductal carcinoma in-situ) — an early, non-invasive form of breast cancer — in the state of Connecticut over a 3.5 year period. The overall goal of this study was to define which women with DCIS need aggressive treatment and which do not and to make customized treatments possible.

Sussman said in light of recently released statistics about declining breast cancer mortality rates, she is confident that early detection programs like those endorsed by CAC are effective. The American Breast Cancer Society reported that the breast cancer mortality rate decreased annually from 1990 to 2002.

“I am sure that this is mostly due to the enforcement of early detection programs,” Sussman said.

However, Sussman said she considers these efforts only a beginning.

“There is still a lot to do, and we hope to get as many students as possible involved,” she said.

Some students said they were doubtful of the group’s visibility on campus. Amila Golic ’10 said she was not aware of CAC’s existence.

“I don’t think CAC’s presence on campus is strong enough,” Golic said. “Even though I think that their goal and their work is most respectable, I just think that they should make sure to put even more effort into public exposure.”

Sussman said CAC members also approach men on campus to involve them in the fight against breast cancer, encouraging them to call the women in their lives — mothers, sisters, grandmothers, girlfriends — and remind them to do regular self-examinations and to schedule mammograms.

“The fight against breast cancer is not limited to women,” Sussman said. “It is an issue that affects us all, regardless of sex and age.”

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