October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and I’ve been inundated over the past week with pink. I don’t mind pink. I wear a lot of it. I have some pink-ribbon branded merchandise, and before the day is over tomorrow I’ll probably succumb to a pink email I got this week and buy (another) pink running skirt and some pink compression socks. I am signed up to run the 26.2 with Donna Breast Cancer Marathon in Jacksonville in February. I ate a Yoplait yogurt today with a pink lid. I googled “October breast cancer” a few minutes ago and got over 59.4 million results. The sister of a friend of mine was diagnosed with breast cancer at the beginning of this year. It’s been a difficult road for both of them – one that I don’t wish on anyone.
October is also Down Syndrome Awareness Month. If any professional sports teams have donned Ds awareness gear, no one has told me about it. I haven’t received any emails for specially-branded merchandise. I googled “October Down syndrome” and got 6.8 million results – more than I expected, but only a little more than one-tenth of the hits for breast cancer. Approximately half of all children born with Down syndrome have a congenital heart defect, and one in five have gastrointestinal complications. Individuals with Down syndrome have a greater incidence of epilepsy, leukemia, Alzheimer’s disease, and hypothyroidism. We are hoping for 100 people at our Buddy Walk.
In no way do I want to take away from the many breast cancer survivors or their families. It is a devastating and potentially fatal illness. As I plod through the 31 for 21 Blog Challenge this month, however, it’s deflating to me to see so much media attention placed on a single cause. I get it. It’s easier for most people to embrace a cause like breast cancer, because women know it could be them, and men know it could be their mom, sister, daughter, or aunt. I think it’s much harder for most people to connect with something like Down syndrome awareness. A person with Down syndrome isn’t perceived as being in crisis like a cancer patient. Most of us have short attention spans when it comes to causes – if it’s not an acute condition, it’s hard to focus on it for very long. Because Down syndrome is permanent, it doesn’t seem like there’s all that much to do, right? Wrong.
The other thing that bothers me a lot is something I keep coming back to in this blog – the fact that the population of individuals in this country who have Down syndrome is dwindling due to the widespread use of prenatal testing that so often prevents babies with Down syndrome from ever becoming “buddies.” If there were more people like Nathan, maybe events to promote awareness of Down syndrome would be more popular. Or (I can dream, right?) maybe they wouldn’t be needed at all, because everyone would see these special people as just another flavor of person – unique in the way that all of us are unique, rather than in a way that puts caregivers like me in the position of having to advocate for them at all times.
In a few days, my family will be participating in our first Buddy Walk. It’ll be one of the few days this year that I won’t be wearing any pink.