Column: October be-wareness month


Madison Ling, Managing Editor

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Although popular, this idea is a conundrum because the world we live in is imperfect. In fact, Disease is one of the most prevalent blemishes on its skin and is often overlooked because it’s too grotesque for the mind to process, let alone to offer compassion. So, in the spirit of October being about all things spooky, let’s peek behind the sheet and consider what we can do to follow Gandhi’s advice in honor of this month’s honored health afflictions, Down syndrome and breast cancer.

Down syndrome
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Down syndrome is a chromosomal abnormality that 1 in every 700 infants are born with each year. It’s commonly coined “Trisomy 21” because of the third, extra package of genetic material that individuals possess rather than the typical pair. This genetic anomaly causes the baby’s body and brain to develop differently, resulting in a variety of physical and intellectual challenges that will affect the individual for the duration of their life. Some of the difficulties that they will endure include congenital heart defects, sight and hearing complications and a spectrum of learning challenges. Due to the varied issues they face physiologically and psychologically, these individuals rely on state sponsored early intervention programs that provide speech, physical and occupational therapy.
There’s still a lot uncertainty in regard to the etiology and causation behind the genetics that influence Down syndrome, but groups like the following provide research, advocacy and more to continuously improve their prognoses: Down syndrome Research Foundation (DSRF), Global Down syndrome Foundation, the National Association for Down syndrome and the National Down syndrome Society (NDSS).

Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is another diagnosis that can alter the lives of people that are afflicted, and that impact can also extend to their loved ones. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), breast cancer is the second most common form of malignancy in women and second highest for mortality next to lung cancer. There are many factors that influence development of this particular disease and they include being carrier for the BRCA 1 & 2 gene from previous females in the family, long term exposure to estrogen due to early menstruation and late menopause and also if or when the person in question was pregnant since estrogen levels drop during gestation.
Depending on a person’s risk factors, there are certain precautions that can be taken, including use of Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators (SERM) to introduce the hormone to safe tissues while avoiding others, ovarian ablation where estrogen production is reduced or halted by medication, radiation or surgical methods. In some instances, women may elect for a bilateral mastectomy to remove the breasts before cancer is present. This method is successful in prevention but can cause psychological distress before elective reconstruction. Some organizations that support breast cancer survivors and research include: the American Cancer Society (ACS), the National Breast Cancer Foundation and the Cancer Financial Assistance Coalition.
While some of the ribbons that designate awareness are easier to identify, others may not be as distinguishable. Although this may be the case that does not make them any less important or in need of assistance from us all. For this reason and to honor the wise advice of Gandhi, I encourage everyone reading to visit the aforementioned resources and consider donating, look inside your heart and soul and be the change if not for yourself then for others who truly need it.