In 1970, my grandmother and great-grandmother passed away from breast cancer six days apart. They were close and went through the unthinkable together, but through it all, they surprisingly never said the words “breast cancer” out loud. They simply didn’t discuss the details of their diseases with each other—it was taboo and therefore left unspoken.
I often think about how sad it was that a mother-daughter pair never actually knew how sick the other one was. I also think about how surprised—and moved—they would be to learn that I have devoted my life’s work to engaging a dialogue on breast and ovarian cancer. Through Bright Pink, I work with young women to encourage prevention and early detection.
While no one would think of opening up like this decades ago, today I proudly share my story. How have we overcome that hurdle? I have had the benefit of being a part of a generation motivated to elevate the female voice and of seeing strong female leaders advocate for what matters to them. Women like my own mother, who advocated for her health when she felt a lump 24 years ago and saved her own life. Or women who changed history, like Rosa Parks and Gloria Steinem.
And now, we’ve achieved another milestone for women—a female president entering the realm of possibility. Had my grandmother and great-grandmother seen other women speaking up and taking action, I wonder if their outcomes could have been different.
While we’ve clearly come a long way, I feel we must reset the bar on our expectations for the future. We must start allowing ourselves to dream of what’s next, even if it doesn’t have a precedent. I’m proud to watch my two stepdaughters enter womanhood, knowing that they live in a day and age where a female president is fathomable—and that, to them, it is much stranger to think a woman couldn’t be president than to think she could. This possibility fills me with endless hope.
And it is this spirit of possibility that serves as motivation for my work at Bright Pink day in day out. We’re seeking societal change—a shift in mentality around health to ensure we aren’t waiting until someone is diagnosed to care. That requires believing in the power of prevention and that a bright future is within our reach—one in which every young woman has the opportunity to advocate for their own health.
Moments like this reinforce the power of suspending disbelief and embracing possibility. May this be just one of many milestones to go down in the history books that elevate women to greater heights.
Lindsay Avner is the founder & CEO of Bright Pink, a breast and ovarian health organization reaching millions of young women each year.
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