The history of breast cancer

Danielle Throneberry

We all know what month it is when we see the vibrant pink ribbons attached to backpacks, front pockets and pinned to just about any piece of attire on UTSA students campus-wide. UTSA’s very own Zeta Tau Alpha distributes the pink ribbons each year in October to raise awareness of the most common cancer affecting women. However, Breast Cancer Awareness Month is about more than swaddling oneself in entirely pink apparel at athletic events or modeling a pink ribbon all month.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month began as a collaborative project between The American Academy of Family Physicians, AstraZeneca Healthcare Foundation and various other sponsors in 1985. The goal in mind for this alliance was not only to raise public awareness of breast cancer, but to encourage all women to take command of their own bodies and breast health in various aspects such as educating themselves on the disease, scheduling regular visits with their doctor and keeping up with yearly mammograms.

According to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, in 2016 it is estimated that there will be 246,660 total new cases of breast cancer among U.S. women. Today several nonprofits and diverse organizations participate in the monthlong endeavor to promote breast cancer awareness. Not only is the month filled with fundraising walks, runs, concerts and other charity events dedicated to raising money for research, but there are also many forums, conferences and educational programs intended to disperse information about the disease. For example, San Antonio hosts its very own Breast Cancer Symposium in December and the Alamo Breast Cancer Foundation releases quarterly newsletters providing pertinent information related to breast health.

The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation was founded in 1982 by Nancy G. Brinker in memory of her sister Susan G. Komen who died from breast cancer. In 1983 the first Race for the Cure took place in Dallas, Texas. The 5K runs and walks raise a considerable amount of money and recognition for the breast cancer movement, commemorate survivors and honor those who have fallen to the deadly disease. In 1991 the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation presented each participant in the New York 5K with a pink ribbon.

Alexandra Penney, former editor-in-chief of Self magazine and Evelyn Lauder, former senior corporate vice president of Estée Lauder and breast cancer survivor, desired to create and garner even more support for the breast cancer movement by creating a one-of-a-kind emblem. However, it was not as easy as it sounds. Charlotte Haley, a 68-year-old woman who had lost family members to the disease, created peach-colored ribbons and distributed them in an attempt to inform legislators that breast cancer research should receive more funding.

Both Penney and Lauder attempted to work with Haley, but she refused the requests in order to avoid becoming too “commercial” with her personal movement. Instead, the highly determined duo, Penney and Lauder, received legal advice to co-create a differently-colored ribbon. That was the dawn of the pink ribbon that would eventually become an iconic symbol that is worn today by our classmates, professors, friends and family in solidarity to support the modern breast cancer awareness movement.

If you find yourself being handed a pink ribbon (or maybe five) or even encounter a bake sale fundraising for breast cancer research, please consider taking a moment to participate in the movement. Become an advocate. Boast the color pink proudly. Speak up and become engaged. Remember that it takes active supporters to end the fight against breast cancer.