Why Breast Cancer Awareness Month is About More than the Color Pink

Technology | Kathleen McEvoy| October 03, 2016

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In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, EBSCO Vice President of Communications Kathleen McEvoy shares an abridged version of a speech she gave to high school students in October 2012, when the head of the school wanted students to understand why October was more than just a month to wear pink.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We could tell you about how DynaMed Plus is used by guideline developers around the world or how our databases help researchers, but this month marks the fifth anniversary of the start of a more personal story at EBSCO. Our Vice President of Communications, Kathleen McEvoy, was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2011. She has agreed to share an abridged version of a speech she gave to high school students at Saint Joseph’s Prep in Brighton, Massachusetts in October 2012, when their head of school wanted students to understand why October was more than just a month to wear pink.

There is something a bit ironic about me speaking about Breast Cancer Awareness Month, first, because I started my treatment in October 2011, which prompted my sister to declare that I was taking Breast Cancer Awareness Month a bit too seriously. It is also ironic because the theme I chose for my treatment was, “I don’t look good in pink, but I still want to be cured. “ Seriously, there is a logo. We communications professionals take these things seriously.

I believe the pink product placement that comes around each October has gone a bit too far. I don’t think anyone really needs a pink vacuum cleaner and, I can’t stress this enough, I don’t need anyone to drink a pink energy drink for me. I am good. However, the color has become synonymous with breast cancer and serves as a reminder that there are treatments and new discoveries through research and that reminder encourages us to reach out to friends and family who have been diagnosed and donate or raise money for the cause.

For me, it is a reminder that attitude is everything. I know you can all probably agree that for some reason, the negative voices in our heads seem to shout the loudest. When you are diagnosed with cancer, the voice you hear loudest is screaming, “I am going to die.” That can be debilitating.

I am a big collector of quotes. I get caught up in the words of others. One quote I love is, “the only thing you can control in any situation is how you react to it.” Truer words were never spoken than when you are weighing the odds (medically and emotionally) between being a cancer victim or a cancer survivor.

My sister gave me a necklace, a silver heart on a string. You make a wish and when the string breaks, the wish comes true. Now I know that it has more to do with the tensile strength of the string and degradation over time, but what it did do was to continually remind me of that wish—causing me to shift my priorities, change plans and come up with ways to make my wish come true—I want to survive this.

I heard Herm Edwards, a former football coach, say “a goal without a plan is a dream.” That makes sense to me and reminds me of another quote, “You have to do what you have to do to do what you want to do.” What did I want to do? I wanted to survive cancer. What did I have to do to survive? I had to commit to 18 months of treatment—16 weeks of weekly chemotherapy, surgery, three more months of another chemotherapy regimen, six weeks of radiation and nine more months of infusion treatments. That doesn’t include the biopsies, MRIs, echocardiograms and other tests sprinkled throughout the process.

When I started to tell people about my cancer, there were so many different reactions. It was amazing how many people had stories of survival. Some people I barely knew reached out while some people I have known for years stayed away. Some people took the news well, while others burst into tears. These varied reactions were a good reminder that people handle things differently and not to judge but to accept people for who they are.

When I told the president of my company, he asked what most people asked, “What can I do to help?” I told him, “Wear more hats and no kid gloves.” I didn’t want to be the only one wearing a hat and I wanted to decide how much I could do at work and didn’t want to be written me off because I had cancer. I worked throughout my initial treatment, creating new routines when things got tough and taking breaks when I needed to. I take it as a point of pride that there are many people I work with who never knew I was being treated for cancer. Of course, those are people who didn’t see me in person. The hat wasn’t fooling anyone and you can’t draw in eyelashes!

I have long thought that it is the little things in life—the routines and the schedules—that sustain us. I call it a “glimpse of gravity” (my own quote), when you can clearly see the things that hold you up. I wanted to maintain the routines that made me who I am. I was determined not to let my cancer treatment get me down. I made it part of my day but still planned for the day as a whole; not just the parts impacted by my cancer and my treatment.

I didn’t do this alone. My family and friends came together to help. People came with me to chemotherapy. My husband turned my infusion room into his office and my EBSCO team eventually learned from the clarity of my emails when the pre-meds had started. They were patient as my emails became a little less coherent knowing I’d stop soon enough. Friends rallied others to provide my family with dinner two night a week. Friends came in from out of town to help when my husband had to travel. Text messages and Facebook posts were always great to see. My children had to face their fears. They were both teenagers at the time and I learned a lot about them. Mostly I learned not to push them to talk but to be there, to include them and to let them know that I was going to be alright.

How did I know I was going to be alright? Knowledge, and another quote. My friend’s mother Cookie died in 1996 of complications from breast cancer. Shortly before she died she declared, “Knowledge is the only thing you take with you.” Powerful words but empowering as well. When I was diagnosed, I set out to learn all that I could about my type of cancer and my treatment options (It helps to have access to a lot of information). I asked questions and appreciated how upfront the medical professionals were.

I still talk to my oncology nurse who has been with me since my first day of treatment, October 27, 2011. A few weeks in, I was tolerating the first type of chemo well and she was telling me what to expect as the chemo built up in my system. As she laid out some pretty unappealing scenarios she added, “You’ll be fine. You have a good support system and you have a good attitude and if there is one thing that can make a difference in your outcome, it is your attitude.” A new quote for my collection.

Whether it is an inspiring quote, a silver heart on a string or even pink bracelet, the reminders to stay strong, those relationships you build, the routines you create or cling to, those better voices in your head mean you can survive anything that comes your way. And I don’t think that is limited to surviving cancer.

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Kathleen McEvoy
Vice President of Communications, EBSCO

Kathleen McEvoy is the Vice President of Communications at EBSCO Information Services. Kathleen has worked at EBSCO Information Services for 14 years after a career as a broadcast journalist. Kathleen is the Board Secretary of ALA’s United for Libraries Division.

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