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Breast cancer, domestic violence take the spotlight in October 

I love the month of October.

During this time of year, the weather is just perfect -- not too warm and not too cold. Fall officially becomes visible with the changing of the leaves and the constant breeze. It's a wonderful feeling to leave the windows open so that "fresh" air can circulate throughout the house; it smells robust, crisp and on the cusp of winter ... but not quite. Kids are happily counting down to Halloween, changing their minds a million times about what costume to wear, but never changing the desire to get more treats than tricks.

While many of us are focused on the traditions associated with the month of October, there are a couple of other things that we should be thinking about with laser focus: breast cancer awareness and domestic violence awareness. Yes, October is Breast Cancer Awareness and Domestic Violence Awareness Month. It's interesting, and perhaps, ironic that two major issues that disproportionately affect women reside in the same month.

According to the National Breast Cancer Awareness Month Organization, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in the United States, aside from skin cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that 192,370 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed among women in the United States this year. And an estimated 40,170 women are expected to die from the disease in 2009. Today, there are about 2.5 million breast cancer survivors living in the United States.

Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women (after lung cancer). Although African-American women have a slightly lower incidence of breast cancer after age 40 than Caucasian women, they have a slightly higher rate of breast cancer before age 40. But, African-American women are more likely to die from breast cancer at every age. Breast cancer is much less common in males; by comparison, the disease is about 100 times more common among women. According to the ACS, an estimated 1,910 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed among men in the United States in 2009.

As you can see, breast cancer does not discriminate, so it is in everyone's best interest to get involved in helping to find a cure for this disease.

In addition to pumpkin carving and trick-or-treating, perhaps we should make breast cancer awareness a tradition. How about handing out pamphlets to your neighbors on breast cancer detection? What about having a "pink party" to celebrate the memory of those who succumbed to the disease and those who are survivors? How about making it your mission to personally remind 10 women 35 and over and 10 younger women who have a history of breast cancer in their families to schedule mammograms? Why not have a doctor talk to the men's group at your church, temple or mosque about breast cancer detection or how to support a spouse, relative, friend or colleague who has the disease?

There are so many ways to help make people aware of how pervasive this disease is in our communities and how we can work together to help eradicate it.

Along with breast cancer, domestic violence also needs to be eradicated. How many more high-profile or low-profile incidents of abuse do we need to witness or be made aware of before we start treating it as the epidemic it is?

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. An estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year; 85 percent of domestic violence victims are women. Historically, females have most often been victimized by someone they knew. Females who are 20-24 years of age are at the greatest risk of nonfatal intimate partner violence. Most cases of domestic violence are never reported to the police.

You know where this is heading. There are many ways to raise domestic violence awareness in our communities. Volunteer at a local battered woman's shelter. Organize a Halloween party or help make costumes for children living at the shelters with their mothers who have been displaced from their homes. Go door-to-door and hand out literature on domestic violence awareness on Halloween when people are likely to be home. This literature can be obtained from your local anti-domestic violence agency or organization (for example, the United Family Services or Domestic Violence Advocacy Council in Charlotte). Have a speaker (referred by the agency) come and talk to young people at the local Boys and Girls Club about domestic violence, how to avoid it and what to do if you experience it or know of someone else who is experiencing it.

There is so much that can be done to raise awareness of both issues in our communities. Make raising awareness about these issues an October tradition in your family, churches and friendships. With so much at stake, this month should mean more than the changing of the leaves and Halloween.

Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D. is managing editor of TheLoop21.com. She is an assistant professor of Communication and Media Studies at Goucher College and writes the blog Tune N (http://nsengaburton.wordpress.com), which examines popular culture through the lens of race, class, gender and sexuality.

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