As the month of October comes to a close, and the yellows of fall begin to replace the green leaves of summer, the ocean of pink accessories promoting breast cancer awareness begin to disappear from our daily lives. Now is the perfect time to reflect on what exactly “awareness” means to us and how we should carry it into the remaining eleven months of the calendar year. Remembering a loved one, feeling inspired to change a lifestyle habit, or simply telling yourself to update your mammogram, the pink ribbons are great reminders to take a particular action surrounding one particular type of cancer. It is highly likely that many of you have either had personal experience with breast cancer or know of a loved one affected by breast cancer specifically. It is even more likely, however, that you or a loved one has had experience with or has been affected by a different type of cancer – and those surely merit their own individual awareness as well.

The NFL sets a good example in this case. They expanded their “Crucial Catch” campaign last year to allow players and teams to choose different types of cancer to champion instead of mandating players wear pink in support of breast cancer alone. For the foreseeable future, any given Sunday in October you can now watch those athletes wear different color ribbons to support multiple types of cancer important to them. 

How many types of cancer are there you ask? Well, truth be told, every cell in your body has the potential to develop cancer. Your skin, blood, organs, and bones are all potential sites. According to the Center for Disease Control, the five most common cancers detected in females are breast, lung, colon, uterine, and thyroid. For males, that list includes prostate, lung, colorectal, bladder, and melanoma. I mention these not to scare you, but instead to help bring awareness to the wide spectrum of the disease as a whole, and perhaps to encourage you to control the variables that you can control. Improvements in diet, regular exercise, elimination of toxins (read: tobacco) and even stress reduction can all help prevent cancers.

Specifically, breast cancer awareness campaigns this month serve to further remove any stigma behind a deadly disease and promote conversations surrounding prevention, detection, and treatment. Is there another type of cancer you would like to personally promote awareness for? The American Cancer Society has a full cancer awareness calendar available at www.cancer.org. You can carry your enthusiasm into November for Pancreatic Cancer Awareness month for example, or even plan a fundraiser for Colorectal Cancer Awareness month next March.

As October comes to an end, I encourage you all to find your own meaning of the word “awareness.” At the very least, consider having an honest discussion with your health care provider about the prevention, detection, and treatment of not just cancer, but heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, and other things that concern you. In this way, those little pink ribbons do indeed end up saving lives.