Apple-picking. Pumpkin spice. All pink everything.
For many, the month of October brings endless piles of leaves, lazy football Sundays and an abundance of deliciously sweet Honeycrisp apples at the Broad Street Market. It also brings shades of pink to city storefronts, sports team uniforms and community events. Even the fountain at the Capitol complex gets in on the action—all aimed at raising awareness for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
But for Elaine Hough, October carries a powerful reminder of the greatest fight of her life. In August 2012, fewer than five months after a normal mammogram, Hough found a small lump in her right breast. A lumpectomy and further testing revealed that it had spread to a lymph node in her arm. At 45, Hough was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I was shocked and angry,” she recalled. “I thought I was going to die.”
What followed were months of chemotherapy, 33 radiation treatments and a long-term prescription drug regimen to mitigate the side effects and inhibit the production of estrogen in her body.
According to the National Cancer Institute, about 230,000 American women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year. That equates to 26 women per hour, making it the most common cancer in women. Despite these numbers, advancements in life-saving treatments, combined with a nationwide effort to promote breast health, have resulted in a steady increase in survival. If caught early, localized breast cancer five-year survival rates approach 98 percent. The takeaway: awareness—generated by all the pink—matters.
Hough acknowledges that pink everything is great. She noted, though, that there has to be something behind it.
“Self breast exams are the best thing,” she explained.
They saved her life.
Locally, the Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition is the largest organization promoting breast health through early detection—offering education and support to both newly diagnosed patients and long-term survivors. The group also happens to be the mastermind behind the pink fountain at the Capitol and the Breast Cancer Coalition Conference, held yearly at the Hilton Harrisburg.
Another non-profit—The Feel Your Boobies Foundation—also promotes early detection, but it focuses on reaching a younger audience. Founder and Harrisburg area resident Leigh Hurst is also a breast cancer survivor, but her battle began when she was only 33, seven years prior to the recommended age for diagnostic medical screening.
Born from a T-shirt intended to spark conversation among her peers, the Feel Your Boobies Foundation identified a gap in awareness—a gap Hurst had found herself in. Using an innovative approach to promote breast health, the foundation provides free exam kits and educational resources to colleges across the country.
This year, Feel Your Boobies is also hosting a series of “Bras Across Campus” events and the “Unexpected Boobies” social media campaign, from which page visitors can post images of everyday items that look like breasts.
“We are really creating a peer-to-peer conversation about breast cancer in a way that makes you chuckle,” Hurst said.
While breast health education is a large component of Pinktoberfest, other nonprofits focus on research and patient support efforts. For example, the American Cancer Society allocates more than half of its revenue to research and patient support, hosting events like the annual Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk at City Island.
The support for patients already in treatment is important, too. Hough experienced numerous physical and emotional side effects.
“I was extremely nauseous,” she said. “But the fatigue, that is indescribable.”
Hough also experienced hair loss, a common side effect of the chemotherapy.
“I was OK with losing my hair,” she said. “But losing my eyelashes and eyebrows was by far the worst. There was no covering that up.”
Organizations like Pink Hands of Hope provide emotional support and celebrate women’s breast cancer victories in a fashion show held in early October. It also partners with local salons and day spas, providing a day of pampering for women in treatment.
“Women don’t need breasts to be beautiful,” said Brian Gaughan, who co-founded the group with his wife Laurie, a breast cancer survivor. “But, if we can make them feel like a queen for a day, then we can lift their spirits, and that’s extremely important in their recovery.”
Financial support is also critical. Treatment costs can place a tremendous strain on a family.
“Breast cancer is extremely expensive,” said Hough.
In addition to long-term oral prescription drugs, Hough must also undergo yearly MRI screenings, bone scans and CAT scans, as well as a yearly mammogram. Pink Hands of Hope and another local nonprofit, Vickie’s Angel Foundation, offer financial help. Depending on insurance, Gaughan points out that a cancer diagnosis “has the potential to financially wipe a family out.”
Both Gaughan and Hurst emphasize the importance of supporting the fundraising efforts.
“We need the donations to continue if we want to help people in our community,” Gaughan said.
And Hurst noted that support doesn’t always have to be monetary.
“The littlest actions—sharing a post or participating in an event—matter to the success of the organization’s efforts and reach,” she said.
Hough encourages everyone to get involved because those in treatment need support. She credits her family and the relationships she formed with other women as a key reason for her ability to cope—and to survive—breast cancer. She recalled a conversation with another woman while she was in treatment.
“She helped me during a point when I didn’t think I could make it through,” she said. “She reassured me it would be OK. And it was.”
What, Where & When
As National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, October features many local events to continue the battle against the disease, including the following:
Feel Your Boobies Foundation’s “Bras Across Campus” Events
For more information, visit www.feelyourboobies.com.
Shippensburg University, Oct. 10
Central Penn College, Oct. 12
Elizabethtown College, Oct. 17
Penn State Harrisburg, Oct. 18
Lebanon Valley College, Oct. 20
York College, TBD
Pink Hands of Hope’s 3rd Annual “I’m Bald and Beautiful” Fashion Show
Oct. 1, 12 p.m.
201 E. Green St., Mechanicsburg
For more information and to purchase tickets, call 717-620-8264.
Vickie’s Angel Walk to benefit Vickie’s Angel Foundation
Oct. 8, beginning at 8 a.m.
New Cumberland Borough Park
Learn more and register at www.vickiesangelfoundation.org.
The American Cancer Society’s “Making Strides Against Breast Cancer” Walk
Saturday, Oct. 15, beginning at 8:30 a.m.
City Island, Harrisburg
For event details, volunteer opportunities and registration information, visit www.main.acsevents.org.
Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition Events
For details, tickets and registration for any of the events listed below, visit www.pabreastcancer.org.
Bowl Down Breast Cancer
Saturday, Oct. 1, 12:30 p.m. to 3 p.m.
ABC North Lanes
5303 Locust Lane, Harrisburg
Fastpitch for a Purpose
Saturday, Oct. 1 & Sunday, Oct. 2, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Crist Field Complex
495 Emig Road, York
Sunday, Oct. 9, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
PA Breast Cancer Coalition Conference
Monday, Oct. 10, 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Jazzing Up the Capitol
Tuesday, Oct. 18, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
501 N. 3rd St., Harrisburg
Pony Up for Pink Horse Show
Thursday, Oct. 20
PA Farm Show Complex, Harrisburg
Author: Jen Fertenbaugh