Is this country’s leading cause of disability a bastard step-child of a disease?
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The country turns pink. Even the NFL goes pink. I sort of find it stupid and funny to watch those big, burly guys running down the field with pink towels flying in the wind.
And I love pink. It’s my favorite color. But in October, I can’t stand it.
I get a little frustrated that there is so much attention paid to breast cancer and so little attention toward other illnesses that are primarily women’s diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and a host of other autoimmune diseases.
And we don’t see the country turning blue in May for Arthritis Awareness Month. But we see America turning pink en masse in October.
And I wonder why this continues, and seems to gets bigger every year.
I’m not trying to sound bitter because less attention is paid to my illnesses. It’s just that breast cancer could share the wealth.
And it’s not all the products, because how much of that actually contributes to research remains to be seen. But breast cancer should share the wealth.
On the other hand, we don’t need a month to define us. But a month that actually meant something might put a face to a name.
We are the faces of arthritis. And the majority of us are women, and are under the age of 60.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, over 300,000 children under the age of 17 have juvenile arthritis. And arthritis is the leading cause of disability in the United States. And yet, we are the bastard step-child.
We don’t get the notoriety. And maybe that’s because arthritis isn’t sexy. In fact, for those of us that have arthritis, it often feels like the opposite of sexy.
But arthritis is significantly impacting the lives of those who have it, and the only one fighting for us is us. Maybe our family and friends are jumping on the bandwagon because they see what we go through, but by and large we don’t have unaffected people joining us in the effort to raise awareness.
Many of us, including myself, are mistaken that arthritis is a disease of old age – osteoarthritis is age related but rheumatoid arthritis is not – until, in the prime of our lives, we are diagnosed with it.
Women know how to do self-breast exams and go to the gynecologist yearly, in which a breast exam is often performed by a medical professional. Women of a certain age get mammograms. But most of us don’t know the signs and symptoms of arthritis until we are sitting in a doctor’s office, in constant and terrible pain, hearing a diagnosis we were never expecting.
Maybe it’s the fact that it seems like everyone knows someone who has had breast cancer. But I bet everyone knows someone who has arthritis. They might just not know it. Because most of us suffer in silence.
The cadre of those I’ve met who also have arthritis are some of the strongest people I know. And we are infinitely better for having the community that we do online. But that community should extend beyond us and grow.
So what does it mean to raise awareness? Some of us are unable to do the walks that the Arthritis Foundation holds each year, whether due to severity of illness, geography, or some other reason.
So awareness means being vocal about your illness, whether you blog about it, participate in online or offline activities related to arthritis or autoimmune diseases, or correct someone when you hear them saying something about arthritis that is incorrect, for example.
There’s a lot we can do, and must do, to raise awareness about rheumatoid arthritis, as well as other types of arthritis. We cannot remain silent and let one disease get all of the press. We need to stand strong, together, as a community, and we need to make our voices heard.
So while I appreciate the efforts of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it’s time to move on. And there are women who have or have had breast cancer who agree that it’s become too much, too commercial, and takes away from the actual goal of finding a cure. It seems that people are jumping on the bandwagon for the bandwagon’s sake. And that doesn’t really raise awareness. It reinforces the status quo that this is the one illness everybody should be concerned about.
Unfortunately, the history of Breast Cancer Awareness Month goes back more than 25 years. So who am I to wave the white flag and surrender it?
I think if we go by the ethic of doing the most good, we are failing to do that if we continue to allow Breast Cancer Awareness Month to dominate.
To be clear, I don’t think that Breast Cancer Awareness Month and other awareness months have to be mutually exclusive, but they are right now. October is carved out solely for breast cancer, and by the time we get to May, nobody cares anymore or wants to be bothered with “just another awareness month”.
So our goal as a community should be to make every month arthritis awareness month. It doesn’t have to be flashy. The world doesn’t have to turn blue. But we should always be trying to raise awareness about our illness, and maybe then, people will realize that breast cancer isn’t the only disease that impacts just about everyone.
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