Despite the rain, members of Zeta Tau Alpha joined President Julio Frenk and his wife Dr. Felicia Knaul to kick off a Breast Cancer Awareness Month by lighting the Cobb Fountain pink on the 10th anniversary of Knaul’s breast cancer diagnosis. Together, they spoke of the importance of not just education and awareness but of forming bonds in the face of diagnosis.
Knaul, director of the Institute for Advanced Study of the Americas, was diagnosed October 2007 during her first mammogram, at age 41. She said it was the last mammogram she did alone – Frenk was by her side every time after.
“It’s about early detection, it’s about awareness, which is what you fight to achieve and combining that with the science of treatment and access,” Knaul said.
One in eight women in the United States will develop invasive breast cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.
Every 30 minutes, she said, 30 women die of breast cancer. Three of them will be in the United States.
“The big message is resilience and believing in yourself, and those characteristics are what make you successful advocates for women’s cancers,” Knaul said. “But it’s also going to guarantee what you do in this work makes you incredible advocates for the rights of women, to reduce discrimination, to guarantee equity and to make sure we have a much healthier world for all in which we can live.”
Since her diagnosis, she’s written a book on her experience, “Beauty without the Breast,” in which she details her fight with cancer and the challenges faced by women around the world during early diagnosis and treatment. The epilogue of the book contains love letters Frenk wrote to her during her treatment.
Frenk spoke about the impact her diagnosis had on their perspective of health.
“I had spent my entire life looking at the health system, studying the health system,” Frenk said. “But I learned that it’s one thing to lead a health system and it’s another to live a health system.”
He said during the journey with Knaul, he learned more than he had in all his years of leading in health care.
Some of the sisters in ZTA have felt the effects of breast cancer as well.
Emmi Vélez, a junior studying journalism, shared her experience of discovering her mother had aggressive breast cancer her senior year of high school. Two weeks later, her aunt was diagnosed as well.
“You’ve all heard that one in eight women are diagnosed, but it affects way more than one in eight women,” Vélez said. “Three years ago, I didn’t think that would be me. Hopefully, we can bring that number down to zero in eight one day.”
When Vélez asked how many had been affected by breast cancer either directly or indirectly, almost everyone attending raised their hands.
Allison Villane, a senior studying health science and one of the directors of philanthropy for ZTA, said she found solace in being among her sisters. Her mother was diagnosed a week before her first Think Pink Week, another annual event held by ZTA in October.
“I had just found out that my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer and then I had to be reminded every single day that week that I was in Miami and she was in New Jersey,” Villane said.
Villane’s mother went through surgery and 36 treatments of radiation for six weeks.
“I felt really lucky to be around such an amazing group of sisters,” Villane said. “I had friends who understood exactly what I felt. I didn’t have to say anything, somebody was always there to tell me that everything was going to be okay.”
This year, ZTA also created a “Why I Think Pink” campaign, in which members of the university share why Breast Cancer Awareness Month is important to them. ZTA sisters will also be sharing personal reasons why breast cancer awareness is important to them each week on social media.
Knaul said that because of the work being done by organizations like ZTA, 322,000 women have been saved through fundraising, education and access to scientific treatment.
The fountain was lit after a ten second countdown, illuminated bright pink over Lake Osceola.
Jessica Schwartz, a junior in Frost, led the ceremony to a close with her rendition of “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten, which she sang “for all the fighters.”
ZTA’s Think Pink Week will be held Oct. 23-27, during which they will hand out pink ribbons in solidarity with those diagnosed with breast cancer. The sorority will donate all the proceeds from food trucks present throughout the week to breast cancer education awareness.