A quick survey of the nine people in the newsroom Tuesday afternoon:
Mother. Two aunts. Wife. Grandma. Dear friend. Personal experience.
Nine people; seven connections to breast cancer, the second leading cause of death in American women.
Today we publish our supplement on breast cancer awareness; as one editor whose spouse is currently in treatment put it, “we are fully aware this year.”
Yes, we are aware.
We have stood next to the hospital beds of people we love. We have endured radiation, chemotherapy and surgery ourselves.
We’re aware of the impact, the terror, the bravery, the disease can inspire.
We’re aware of the national statistics that tell us one in 8 (12.4 percent) American women will be diagnosed with breast cancer.
As community journalists, we’re also aware of its widespread local hold.
Dr. Leah Carlson, a breast imaging radiologist with Grand Traverse Radiologists, said the number of breast cancer cases overall is much higher in Grand Traverse County.
Between 150 and 160 people per 100,000 in the area are diagnosed with some form of breast cancer.
In 2018, this was 20 percent higher than the statewide average, according to the National Cancer Institute.
We also learned that Grand Traverse County has the third-highest breast cancer rate in Michigan for women younger than 50 years.
Women like first-grade teacher Erin Banton (see supplement) who let us interview her countless times, whose story ended up in People magazine, who inspired us endlessly with her love, her care, her advocacy. Her March 2 death scarred many of our hearts.
She is grieved by the community, but we are also aware of the many quiet deaths and the private sufferings of others. We’re not always aware when they happen, but we feel their collective loss.
Our breast cancer numbers bring with them many questions — too many still unanswered.
Science is slow work, we understand.
But in 2018 a single researcher was putting together a database to study the Grand Traverse County numbers in her own time.
For those of us who are laypeople that doesn’t seem fast enough.
Awareness of the disease — of the risk factors, of the prevalence, of how it affects families and how we can help — is the beginning.
It is the spark that catches the tinder; it is the bellows that fans the flames.
Awareness inspires the action.
Action and change require contact pressure.
We are aware, and ready for what comes next.