When someone mentions October, one generally thinks about Halloween, fall and, of course, Breast Cancer Awareness Month. However, for me, October has a special meaning.
My cousin Katie was born with Down syndrome, and every October my family and I participate in Down Syndrome Awareness Month. Nationwide, the National Down Syndrome Society hosts “Buddy Walks” to show support for the 400,000 Americans living with this disorder.
While 400,000 is just a portion of the more than 3 million Americans battling breast cancer, there is no excuse for the lack of recognition and support that the children, teens and adults who have Down syndrome receive.
At Francis Marion University (FMU), very few students realize that October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month. Why is there such a push to raise support for breast cancer research and treatment while the proponents of Down syndrome awareness are often limited to those directly affected by the disability?
I believe one reason is that Breast Cancer Awareness Month simply overshadows it. Breast cancer survivors and families deserve every ounce of support they can get from the population. However, the people who go through daily life with a disability that affects every part of their being deserve the same love and encouragement from their communities.
Another reason is that society views those living with cancer as “curable”. Whether an actual cure for cancer exists is irrelevant because those who have cancer have a strong chance of returning to “normal” society. They are still considered members of their community.
Our culture today has frequently written off those with Down syndrome and others living with physical and mental disabilities as “lesser” or “unequal” because many are incapable of functioning as a “normal” citizen. With that mindset, people are less motivated to support a cause believed to have minimal benefits to society as a whole.
Finally, the harsh reality of cancer comes into play: it is deadly. The difference between breast cancer and Down syndrome is that cancer has the potential to take the lives of the people battling it. Down syndrome is usually not responsible for killing those affected by it, but it does completely transform the life of the person diagnosed with Down syndrome as well as the lives of their families.
Today’s society is fearful of death and dying and is more inclined to show support for those fighting for their lives. As Down syndrome is not typically deadly, the average citizen is less likely to back those who live with the syndrome. The population believes that if someone was born with it and will die with it there is not much one can do to help.
While those battling cancer are fighting for their physical lives, those affected by Down syndrome are fighting for the chance to have their voices heard in a society that sees them as being defective. The children, teens and adults living with Down syndrome deserve the same level of support from their nation that is shown to cancer patients. October is about more than just “Think Pink”.