How a little pink ribbon changed the world

Guest blogger | 01 October 2015

Pink ribbons

Samia al Qadhi, Breast Cancer Care’s Chief Executive, explains how Breast Cancer Awareness Month came about, and how you can get involved this October.

Each October, practically everything turns pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It’s impossible not to notice the abundance of pink ribbons on sale and pinned to coats, wrapped around wrists, dangling from a necklace or printed on mugs and T-shirts.

The pink ribbon represents hope and the charitable generosity of people. Most importantly, the pink ribbon represents solidarity with those affected by breast cancer.  

But where did the pink ribbon come from? And why is it such an important part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month?

A big event with small beginnings

Breast Cancer Awareness Month began in the early 1990s in the USA, when Evelyn Lauder introduced the idea.

The businesswoman, socialite and philanthropist was a true inspiration; she also had personal experience of breast cancer and was determined to address a crucial lack of funding in breast cancer research at the time.  Evelyn worked with her friend Alexandra Penney, the former editor-in-chief of Self magazine and together they launched a special issue to highlight breast awareness and devised the concept of the pink ribbon.

The campaign started small, with Lauder largely financing the little pink bows given to women at department store make-up counters to remind them about breast examinations. They proved immensely popular and the campaign gathered momentum. Since then, October has been awash with pink ribbons, now representing a global symbol for breast cancer awareness.

Evelyn Lauder

Evelyn Lauder, who founded Breast Cancer Awareness Month in the US

Breast Cancer Awareness Month in the UK

After I met with Evelyn Lauder in 1994, Breast Cancer Care was the first breast cancer charity in the UK to get involved in Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This initiative has helped bring breast cancer to the forefront of people's minds and to the top of the health agenda in this country.

We celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness Month with pink events like The Big Pink and glamorous fundraising events like our fashion shows. But with 55,000 people diagnosed each year, there are very serious messages behind the campaign.

At Breast Cancer Care each October, and throughout the year, we want to be there for as many people as possible from day one, encouraging them to get to know what is normal for their bodies and to know the signs and symptoms of breast cancer. Being breast aware has the ability to save lives.

This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we expect to answer around 1,100 calls to our free confidential Support Line, to help callers process the complex information they receive and to cope with the initial shock of a diagnosis.

Two years ago, Nicky Sherwood, 42, was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was overwhelmed when she received the news and didn’t know where to turn. She rang our Support Line and spoke to one of our nurses, who provided a listening ear and offered guidance. Talking to someone who understood, and getting the information that she needed, helped her feel more in control. People like Nicky tell us that Breast Cancer Care’s services are a real lifeline.

Nicky looking at the camera

Nicky Sherwood called our Support Line after she was diagnosed in 2013

How you can get involved

This year we will debut our Breast Awareness Roadshow. Our breast awareness buses will be travelling across England and Scotland, heading to communities where awareness of breast cancer is low. We’ll be visiting local events, high-street locations, supermarkets and places of worship with the aim of reaching more people than ever with our vital breast health awareness information and support services.

We will also be marking International Secondary Breast Cancer Awareness Day on 13 October with our secondary breast cancer campaign. We’re campaigning for the people living with secondary breast cancer (which is incurable) to ensure that their voices are heard, their experiences are counted and their needs are beginning to be addressed. For theirs is an isolation and a turning point we can only begin to imagine.

Breast Cancer Care is here to support every single person affected by breast cancer. Our belief is very simple: everyone living with breast cancer should have access to the highest standards of information, care and support. And no one, whether directly or indirectly affected, should have to face breast cancer alone.

As the only breast cancer charity providing specialist support across the UK, the strength of Breast Cancer Care lies in the way we combine our understanding of people's experience of breast cancer with the clinical expertise of our team of specialist nurses. We understand the emotions, challenges and decisions you face every day. So, from the day you notice something’s not right to the day you begin to move forward, we’ll be here to help you through.

Think pink this October

These are just some of the many reasons why we don our pink ribbons every October for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and why we campaign relentlessly, not only each and every October but throughout the year.

Many things have changed since Breast Cancer Awareness Month began in 1994, but our message has remained the same: be breast aware and know the signs and symptoms of breast cancer. It's a simple formula; we know that early detection can lead to simpler and more effective treatment.

Find out more about how we can help, the signs and symptoms of breast cancer, and how you can get involved with Breast Cancer Awareness Month this October.