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Pink October is important for raising breast awareness and encouraging men and women to regularly check their breasts for any changes and abnormalities. During this month many activities are organised to try to achieve this aim. Schools and work places organise ‘Pink October day’ where teachers, students and employees are encouraged to wear pink to raise breast cancer awareness. Stories and posts are regularly seen on social media and experts are invited on talk shows to discuss this subject and emphasise the importance of regular check-ups. There are walks, runs and bike rides being organised around Malta and Gozo to raise funds for NGO’s and cancer research. This drive towards more awareness and information is vital because it helps highlight the importance of being checked by a medical specialist and having the necessary breast treatment if there is an issue. This also enables early detection of breast cancer which can influence the effectiveness of treatment.

Unfortunately, for individuals and families who have faced breast cancer, Pink October can be a difficult time. It can bring back memories of the anxiety experienced while waiting for results to come out, regular appointments at hospital and difficult treatment regimens that were endured. For these families, the pink ribbon can be a symbol of hope but also of suffering, loss and hardship.

Cancer diagnosis changes everything. At one point life is normal, then suddenly priorities change, plans are altered or cancelled. This news brings uncertainty, both for the persons facing the disease and those who love them. It also ushers in a barrage of medical investigations to determine the type of breast cancer, whether it has spread to the lymph glands or other organs in the body, and other related issues. The results of these tests will help the multidisciplinary team involved in the patient’s care devise a treatment plan and a way forward. Usually this is followed by breast surgery and several weeks of oncological treatment.

For some families, Pink October is more poignant. If there is cancer recurrence or metastasis, these families live from test to test, from treatment to treatment. There is always another chemo drug, another tumour marker, another PET scan. Treatment causes numerous side effects including fatigue, nausea and hair loss. There are the highs of good results and the lows of bad ones. These experiences are not easy to forget.

Let us be sensitive to the needs of these families during this month. Let us understand that a breast cancer diagnosis brings about huge changes in an individual’s life, in their relationships with themselves and with others. Cancer and its treatment affects body image and quality of life, and can cause anxiety and fear not only in those facing this disease but also in their family and friends. Wearing pink during the month of October might be a simple was to let these individuals know that they are not alone. Moreover, it shows our support for breast cancer awareness, health education and cancer research. Hopefully one day no family will face this disease again…

Anna Catania is a counsellor with Willingness. She has had a special interest in working with clients facing intimacy and sexual difficulties and runs a service for families going through cancer and chronic illness. She can be contacted on anna@willingness.com.mt or call us on 79291817.