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In 1993, The Estee Lauder Companies founded The Breast Cancer Research Foundation and established the pink ribbon as its symbol. - NSTP/Luqman Hakim Zubir

IT’S Pinktober, everybody! Pink October stands in sharp contrast with what we normally associate this 10th month of the year with.

The black month culminates in the ghoulish evening of Halloween, all in good fun.

Then again, October is pink, and light, and celebratory, and feminine, but connected to the very serious issue of breast cancer. Confused yet? Good, read on then.

In Malaysia, we don’t have four seasons. Yet, thanks to hotel lobbies and shopping malls ornaments galore, we follow the progression of nature through all its colourful changes anyway.

Autumn is a particularly beautiful season. Fallen leaves in flamboyant red and yellow hues, chestnuts on the ground or roasting on an open fire, potpourri of dried berries, tasty pumpkins in green and orange splendour, the list is endless.

In a less natural context, we pair October with the black and orange colours of Halloween decorations, the black and white contrast of scary skeleton costumes, black and red combinations of wicked witch outfits.

Pink, however, is not a shade we would normally link to the year slowly drawing to a close.

Yet, pink might well be the most important colour associated with October.

Pink October or Pinktober follows on the heels of Hazetember (I thought of that one first, and I’ll claim it, too).

Breast cancer awareness month is celebrated worldwide in October simply because National Breast Cancer Awareness Month was founded in October of 1985 as a partnership between the American Cancer Society and the pharmaceutical division of Imperial Chemical Industries, a producer of several anti-breast cancer drugs in the US.

Powerful collaborations ensued and more foundations and activities saw the light of day.

In 1993, The Estee Lauder Companies founded The Breast Cancer Research Foundation and established the pink ribbon as its symbol.

The Susan G. Komen Foundation, incorporated since 1982, had already handed out pink ribbons to participants in its New York City race for breast cancer survivors in 1991.

In 2010, Delta Airlines painted one of their Boeings pink and every year since, landmark buildings including the White House, 10 Downing Street, the Eiffel Tower as well as our Twin Towers shine in pink to mark the worthy occasion.

Breast cancer awareness is important not only because it is the leading type of cancer in women, accounting for 25 per cent of all cases worldwide.

The disease is one of the oldest known in history, as evidence of it was discovered on an Egyptian mummy dating back 4,200 years.

Breast cancer only became an issue in the last two centuries, however. Since before then, most women had died by the age where they were likely to develop that type of illness.

Over time, physicians have believed the causes to be as varied as too much black bile, divine punishment, and too much or too little sexual activity.

In the 19th century, the Scottish surgeon John Rodman even believed that fear of cancer caused cancer.

Laden with such stigma, the need for an open, unbiased conversation on the topic, early detection and treatment is obvious.

Especially since it befalls women over 100 times more often than men.

Yes, we need to talk about breast cancer. The awareness movement, flanked by the jolly pink ribbon, is not without critics, however.

Its uplifting message of hope for recovery is also seen by many as a trivialisation of the issue, and an emphasis on treatment instead of prevention.

Also, it brands patients as so-called she-heroes, who have to be in a positive and fighting spirit at all times. An overwhelmed lady with emotions of fear or anger towards her situation is simply not on. She will, in some instances, be excluded from support groups, as her negative feelings might be contagious. And there’s the stigma again.

In the meantime, all of us who want to contribute and help local efforts of education on the subject, screening campaigns, treatment facilities and more, will have a very busy month of Pinktober.

A quick online search shows that we can participate in numerous Pinktober Marathon runs, Pink Bazaars with related activities in a multitude of shopping malls and hospitals across the country, Pink Afternoon-Tea parties in many major hotels in the Klang Valley and even end it all with a charity fundraiser pink pub crawl in KL.

The writer is a long-term expatriate, a restless traveller, an observer of the human condition and unapologetically insubordinate

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