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    Think Pink

    Marnie Ashbridge, President of Oxford University Pink Week, speaks about the importance of starting conversations about breast cancer, finding a sense of community during difficult times, and what to expect at this year’s Pink Week.

    I could sit here and leave you in awe with cancer statistics and scare you half out of your mind with story upon story that would break your heart. Instead, I want to share with you stories about the incredible people I have met while working with Oxford Pink Week, who have taught me that the conversations that we shy away from are the ones most worth having. 

    Oxford Pink Week aims to raise awareness for breast cancer, and this year we are raising money for five incredible causes: Breast Cancer Now, Coppafeel, Walk the Walk, Sakoon Through Cancer and The Leanne Pero Foundation. This project came about in 2007 as a result of Guardian journalist Dina Rabinovitch’s mission to raise money for cancer research without the need to run a marathon. Her philosophy asks fundraisers to think outside the box when raising money for a cause — and now, more than ever before, adaptation and change have been necessary. Ordinarily, each year we arrange a Pink Ball sometime in February, which is where most of our proceeds come from. However, this year we made the tricky decision to move Pink Week to the middle of May and embrace it as a few weeks of awareness rather than one single night.

    Cancer is associated with great sadness, which can put a lot of people off from speaking about it. Nevertheless, organisations such as Coppafeel and Walk the Walk find light in something that is so often shrouded in darkness. With their quirky memes and colourful marketing strategy, Coppafeel are not saying that cancer is something to joke about. Instead, they know that this is the best way to get information out there to save people’s lives — which definitely is something to smile about. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview founder of Walk the Walk Nina Barough for the Pink Week podcast. Built on Nina’s dream to walk the London Marathon in a pink bra for breast cancer, Walk the Walk’s ‘moonwalks’ are now hosted across the world each year and have raised a whopping £131 million in total. We spoke about her organisation’s advocacy for a holistic approach to cancer, epitomised in their encouragement of individuals to get out walking and to live a healthy lifestyle. Her organisation has been involved in a recent social media campaign #onecancervoice, which is the collaboration of 46 cancer charities demanding the government to put cancer patients at the centre of pandemic recovery plans. According to an analysis by the Epic Health Research Network, screenings for breast cancer have dropped by 94% from January to April this year. In an article in The Lancet they stated that the “substantial increases in the number of avoidable cancer deaths in England are to be expected as a result of diagnostic delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK.”

    This is why I am writing today: to tell people that now more than ever it is essential that you check yourselves and tell your friends and family members too — and I’m not just talking to women here. Breast cancer is something that affects people of all genders and backgrounds. In another episode of the Pink Week podcast, I spoke with Giles Cooper, one of the 370-400 men in the UK each year to be diagnosed with breast cancer. Whilst this figure is significantly lower than in women, the percentage of those diagnosed who pass away is 20%, whereas in women it is 2.6%. When trying to raise awareness, Giles felt a strong backlash, and knows first-hand how challenging it is to face breast cancer as a man without the support of other men. Thankfully, progress is being made and he described to me the sensation of walking into a room for a men with breast cancer support group and no longer feeling alone.

    The two trustees of Sakoon Through Cancer, Iyna Butt and Samina Hussain, further attest to the importance of community in cancer networks, having created their organisation to aid other South Asian women like themselves who are affected by the taboo of cancer. Samina met Iyna in a waiting room and was struck by the sight of a young mother going through cancer all alone, so she wrote down her number, telling her to call if she ever needed advice or a chat. As a person who understood her struggle, Samima’s support network helped Iyna through her journey.

    The imagery associated with breast cancer often suggests that it affects only white cis women, but many of the charities being supported by Oxford Pink Week aim to dismantle this deadly misconception. Leanne Pero’s Foundation aims to empower BME people going through breast cancer in their ‘Black Women Rising’ campaign, which provides support groups and spreads information through their podcast and magazine. Leanne Pero, who set up this organisation, realised that the NHS lacked cancer support packages for BME cancer patients and felt that her community was being excluded from the UK’s mainstream media outlets and cancer charity campaigns. Misdiagnosis and a lack of mental health support have left many in the BME community to feel excluded and unhelpful myths and taboos surrounding cancer for some individuals in the BME community may have prevented them from speaking out about their ordeals. This has led to many members of the BME community lacking awareness about breast cancer, resulting in late-stage diagnoses and higher mortality rates than in their white counterparts. Connecting with one another and sharing experiences is an essential part of Leanne Pero’s objective. 

    Our key mission at Oxford Pink Week is to get people talking about breast cancer. It is often that when something makes us feel uncomfortable, like cancer, we want to look away. Our stiff upper lip kicks in and we find it best not to talk about it. When I tell people that we are raising awareness for Breast Cancer they are often confused. They tell me that pretty much everyone is already aware of what breast cancer is, it is the most common cancer to affect women, after all. However, this is not the point. People still need to check themselves each month and we need to start normalising conversations about cancer. I know it can be very upsetting, but we need to talk about it more and more. This way, those voices that often go unheard can finally be heard. Talking about it can save lives. So, what are we waiting for?

    Join us on the fortnight of 3rd and 4th Week of Trinity (10th – 24th of May) for a multitude of different events and activities ranging from a 10K walk, a debate night with Femsoc and a picnic in the park, to a boys versus girls lacrosse match, karaoke night at the Oxford Union and Pink Night Finale on the 23rd of May at Freud with live music and cocktails. We are also selling a variety of merchandise: t-shirts, earrings and facemasks. You can go to our website (https://oxpinkweek.wixsite.com/) to shop and to find out more about our Pink Week podcast mini-series. Follow us on Instagram or Facebook where our term card will be released.

    Image used with permission from Oxford Pink Week

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