​In the United States, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Sports teams don pink cleats and shoes, people participate in fundraising walks to raise money for breast cancer research, and some companies use the month to sell “pink products”.

Although the overwhelming majority of female breast cancer cases are found in women over 40 years old, the American Cancer Society estimated that in 2017, women under 40 represented almost 5% of new breast cancer cases. This percentage may seem small and minor compared the total of women with breast cancer over 40, but it still represents more than 11,000 women in the United States. With little awareness being drawn to breast cancer risk for women under 40, what is being done to help these women?

Patient getting positioned for a mammogram. U.S. Navy Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Yasmine T. Muhammad
Patient getting positioned for a mammogram. U.S. Navy Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Yasmine T. Muhammad

In Atlanta, non-profit organizations like Young Survival Coalition and Painted Pink provide information for preventative care and offer support to young breast cancer survivors and those currently fighting breast cancer.

​Young Survival Coalition (YSC) was founded in 1998 by three young women with breast cancer. They experienced, firsthand, the lack of resources available to women under the age of 40 facing breast cancer and were motivated by this inequity to create a support system so that young women facing breast cancer would have better access to preventative care and other resources. The organization provides a “Face 2 Face network” service to young women affected by breast cancer. In these networks, young women can meet each other and bond through in-person support groups. There are currently 4 “Face 2 Face networks” in metro-Atlanta that young women can join. Along with this, YSC provides online discussion boards that are intended to be “supportive networks and safe spaces for members to discuss anything and everything in their hearts and minds”. The YSC private Facebook group creates a safe space where young women diagnosed with breast cancer chat with “other survivors, ask questions, share articles and make connections”.

Advertisement for the national YSC Summit which will be held next year in Austin, Texas.
Advertisement for the national YSC Summit which will be held next year in Austin, Texas. Photo courtesy of youngsurvival.org

In addition to these services, YSC hosts annual regional and national conferences in different cities across the United States for women to come together, expand their networks, and learn about more resources available to them. If you are a young woman interested in breast cancer prevention, YSC’s website offers a “Breast Cancer 101” section where they provide information about the stages of cancer and diagnosis, among other educational resources.

If you are interested in volunteering with YSC, you can learn more here.

Another Atlanta-based organization doing impactful work for millennials diagnosed with breast cancer is Painted Pink. Ann-Marie Appiah founded the organization in 2014 after having a breast cancer scare. At the age of 23, she noticed two painful lumps in her breast and went to her gynecologist to have them checked. After being told not to worry about the lumps, Appiah was forced to advocate for her own health by requesting further examination. The lumps were determined to be benign, but to avoid them growing more, Appiah underwent two separate lumpectomy surgeries to remove them. The same year she had her first lumpectomy surgery, Appiah’s aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer and after going through the trials of being a previvor (a survivor of a predisposition to cancer but who hasn’t had the disease), Appiah decided to share her story.

Painted Pink hosted their 5th annual bruncheon the first weekend of October
Painted Pink hosted their 5th annual bruncheon the first weekend of October. Photo courtesy of @paintedpink4bc

In 2014, she hosted a brunch for friends and family where she shared her experience as a previvor, and two breast cancer survivors spoke about their battle with cancer. Since then, Painted Pink has grown and, along with still hosting an annual bruncheon to “honor millennial breast cancer survivors as they share their purposefully pink journey”, now provide care kits for newly diagnosed young breast cancer warriors at Piedmont Hospital, Grady Health, Northside Hospital, and Emory Hospital. This December, the organization will be donating bags with hypoallergenic products that can help soothe patients as they go through chemotherapy. The bags will include products like hand sanitizer, a mastectomy pillow, head scarfs, and unscented lotion. These bags will specifically go to young black female “breast cancer warriors.”

The organization also caters some of its services based on feedback they have received from young women they have helped.  After learning that chemotherapy can affect a person’s appetite and gustatory (taste) function[1], Painted Pink partnered with chefs to find meals that can be healthy for patients and will be including a food journal, so patients can track what they are eating. And when a stage 4 “breast cancer warrior” was pregnant, the organization was inspired to create a “Baby Shower Her Campaign” where people could donate baby shower gifts to the mother-to-be. Appiah declared, “We still check in on her. She is what being a warrior is about.”

Painted Pink takes pride in supporting millennials battling breast cancer and advising young people to take preventative measures such as eating healthy, informing themselves about side effects of hair and makeup products, and informing men that they too can be at risk for breast cancer and of their responsibility to be allies for the women in their lives. Appiah noted that although herself and the board of directors are not health professionals or breast cancer survivors, they see themselves as a “driving force for these survivors”. That dedication is what empowers Painted Pink to keep searching for resources in hopes of educating millennials about breast cancer and helping current “breast cancer warriors” throughout their journey.

For Ann-Marie Appiah, Painted Pink represents a step in the right direction.

“Take a moment and research [men and women],” she said. “We don’t want you to live in fear.”

If you are interested in volunteering with Painted Pink, they will be hosting a volunteer event the second week of December to put together care packages. They will announce the sign up to volunteer on their website or you can donate money.

Resources:

1. Steinbach, S., Hummel, T., Böhner, C., Berktold, S., Hundt, W., Kriner, M., . . . Harbeck, N. (2009). Qualitative and Quantitative Assessment of Taste and Smell Changes in Patients Undergoing Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer or Gynecologic Malignancies.Journal of Clinical Oncology, 27(11), 1899-1905. doi:10.1200/jco.2008.19.2690

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