Just last month, 300 pound NFL linemen took to the gridiron to do battle while sporting hints of pink in their uniforms. Throughout “Pinktober,” products like cosmetics and cleaners, lotions and laxatives supported breast cancer awareness. While some have criticized what they see as an over commercialization noting that breast cancer awareness month itself was even started by a pharmaceutical company, the positive impact on women’s health has been dramatic as early diagnosis of breast cancer has led to significant improvements in five year survival rates for those diagnosed.
Like many national movements, this tsunami-like wave of awareness began as a small ripple. The notion of using a colored ribbon as a social cause symbol began in the 1970’s when the song “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” inspired Penny Laingen, wife of an Iran hostage, to use a yellow ribbon to show support for her husband and the other hostages. The initial color for breast cancer awareness was actually peach and created by Charlotte Hayley, a breast cancer survivor who handed out the ribbons in a grassroots effort. Then in 1991, cosmetics mogul Evelyn Lauder, as a guest editor for SELF magazine, wanted to work with Hayley and have the ribbons at cosmetic counters; Hayley declined thinking this was too commercial, so lawyers for SELF recommended changing the color. In the fall of 1991, volunteers for Susan G. Komen gave out pink ribbons at a race in New York City and the rest is history.
As we salute Susan G. Komen and all the breast cancer advocacy groups for the outstanding awareness results, we recognize the dramatic need for improved awareness of colon cancer screening. On the day you read this, approximately 100 Americans will die from colorectal cancer; the tragedy is that 90 to 95 of those lives could have been saved with timely screening. While the screening rate was improving for more than a decade, we have hit an impasse and the rate has not changed over the last two years. Still, fully a third of at-risk adults have not been screened and the rate is even worse among African Americans at less than half. This is why we started our Screen This Too! campaign where we remind everyone about the importance of colon cancer screening (even during Pinktober), but we can still do more to spread awareness.
Since 2000, March has been the month that the colon cancer community rallies around. Just as the Pink Tsunami began as a small movement, our Blue Tsunami has to start with a ground swell of grassroots support. Here are just two ideas of things you can do now to start the wave:
- March 4, 2016 is Dress in Blue Day. Reach out to your family and friends now on Facebook and suggest they talk to their employer about supporting this national effort. Find ways to make it fun for employees, such as a luncheon for everyone wearing blue that day or maybe a day to wear denim to the office.
- Put on a fun event to raise awareness and funds for the Colon Cancer Alliance. For example, host a dinner party and guests can donate what they would have paid for dinner at a restaurant.
What ideas do you have to help build the wave? Speak Up and Speak Out and share your ideas at in a comment. When Charlotte Hayley handed out ribbons at a supermarket, who would have thought that it would one day lead to every NFL team supporting breast cancer awareness— maybe one day hockey teams will have blue sticks in March thanks to your idea for colon cancer awareness; more importantly, if your idea gets people screened, you will be saving lives.
Speak Up, Speak Out is an advocacy series where we bring you the information you need to know every third Tuesday of the month. Don’t forget, the Colon Cancer Alliance serves as a source of information about colon health. If you have additional questions about colon cancer screening or are in need of support, please contact our free Helpline at (877) 422-2030.