If you’re a football fan like I am, it’s been nearly impossible to miss the neon pink sweeping across the league this October. The color has reemerged everywhere, from penalty flags to jersey stitching, as part of the NFL’s annual campaign to raise awareness of breast cancer—a disease that affects more than 200,000 people and kills more than 40,000 people in the US each year.
Say what you will about the campaign itself (I’d argue that we could use way fewer pink cheerleader pom poms and way more money for cancer research). But at its core, it’s hard to ignore when a platform as powerful as the NFL draws millions of viewer eyeballs to an issue that’s not related to sports.
So, in a month when we’ve got football fans focusing on cancer awareness, a recent article about breast cancer in Uganda struck me as even more timely and poignant. The article shared the stories of women living with late-stage breast cancer, including a single mother named Mary, who at age 48 had been living with grape-sized breast tumors and intense pain for years. Although she knew something was wrong and a doctor recommended a mastectomy, fear and stigma against the disease set in, and she opted against medical treatment.
Today, she’s finally receiving chemotherapy, but she still has a long road to recovery. Many of her fellow Ugandans are not so lucky. As Dr. Fred Okuku, an oncologist at the Uganda Cancer Institute, said bluntly: “The story of breast cancer here is a miserable one. There is little information for the people who need to be helped…Many don’t have TV or radio. There is no word for cancer in most Ugandan languages. A woman finds a lump in her breast, and cancer doesn’t cross her mind.”
At ONE, we talk a lot about infectious diseases like AIDS and malaria, which are huge killers on the African continent, but we rarely talk about non-communicable diseases like cancer, which are slowly becoming top killers of Africans—particularly of women. As devastating as a breast cancer diagnosis is for anyone, regardless of where they live, the good news in the US and in much of the developing world is that the chances of it being detected early and treated are high—and therefore, the disease is only fatal about 20 percent of the time. Compare that with the chances of a woman in sub-Saharan Africa, where cancer usually goes undiagnosed until it has reached Stage 4 and can rarely then be cured.
An earlier diagnosis (or, as the NFL might say, a #CrucialCatch) could mean the difference between life and death for women like Mary in Uganda. But achieving that will require driving awareness—both of the disease itself and of treatment options—in new and innovative ways, particularly in places where there aren’t televised NFL games to help out. And it will undoubtedly require new resources, from donors and national governments alike, to provide better screening and treatment options for women.
So, if you’re a football fan who has just used your commercial break to read this, what’s my takeaway? Next Sunday, stick with your team’s true colors (personally, I’m a fan of black and gold) but don’t fumble away the opportunity to do some good from the comfort of your couch.
Read and learn more about the scourge of breast cancer in Africa. Share some of the shocking statistics with your friends and networks. And, if you’re able, consider donating to one of many incredible organizations tackling cancer on the ground in Africa. Together, we can move the ball forward in the fight against cancer—wherever it exists around the world.