October is the month….

We have special occasions throughout the year. Some are holidays, and some are observances. For a few special causes, we have month-long awareness observances.

If you didn’t hear, October is the month to be aware of at least these things (in the U.S.):

  • Cyber security
  • Domestic Violence
  • Pork
  • Clergy Appreciation
  • Filipino American History
  • National Arts & Humanities
  • Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender History
  • Dwarfism
  • Fair Trade

That’s quite a list! (And it probably isn’t complete, either.)

Obviously, cyber security is important to me given my chosen profession and expertise (e.g., here). However, we should be aware of cyber security 365 days a year (and 366 every 4th year)! There are lots of resources online for cybersecurity, and you should seek them out and pay attention to good practices. One good starting point for the general public is the Stay Safe Online site.

It is also reasonable to appreciate pork, clergy, LBGT history, art, people of Filipino ancestry, and fair trade. I suppose that if you were to find a gay Filipino-American priest and offer to trade him a painting for some bacon, you’d cover all those bases at once. 🙂

Dwarfism should not be a matter of amusement or ostracization, certainly — Little People are indeed people, and should be treated with the respect and dignity afforded anyone else.

But of all those causes, two have serious and often tragic effects, leading to heartbreak, physical damage, and all-too-often, death.

Domestic violence is something not always observed by those around the victims. Usually (but not always) the victims are women and children who are subject to psychological and physical abuse. (Men can be subjected to violence too, by wives or domestic partners.)

Often, victims are made to believe that they are somehow unworthy and thus deserving of the abuse. The victims often are unable to trust others, and may be subject to more violence if they are caught trying to reach out to other people. And the violence often continues because the victims believe they have no other place to go — no options, and no resources. Victims of abuse — especially children — may not display obvious signs of trauma to an untrained observer. They may have injuries that are explained away as accidents, or because they are clumsy. Some abusers take great care to hide the marks and effects of their actions. But the psychological scars can run deep….and sometimes, the victims die; one estimate is that 3 women a day die in the U.S. as a result of domestic violence. Sadly, abused children may grow up to be abusers themselves unless something is done to stop the cycle.

This is an issue that is important, and one that should not be forgotten for 11 months once October ends. There are resources if you suspect someone is being subjected to domestic violence, including the website of the Domestic Violence Awareness Project. More importantly, if you suspect someone is being abused — or you are being abused — then call 911, or the hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224. No one deserves to be subjected to domestic violence.

The other really serious issue is breast cancer. This also disproportionately affects women, although it can also strike men. In the U.S., nearly 300,000 people will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year (1% of them men). Sadly, nearly 40,000 women will die from that cancer this year. During their lives, 1 out of every 8 women (about 12%) will develop breast cancer. The major risk factors are being female, and growing older — neither of which presents rational alternatives for avoidance.

Several of my friends, colleagues, and family members have been diagnosed with breast cancer — and you probably know some as well, although you may not realize everyone who you know who has had this diagnosis. One of my acquaintances developed it as a very young woman and died of it: it is not only a disease of older people. The rest have been survivors, so far, joining over 2.6 million others. Too often, however, treatment requires disfigurement or amputation. (Maybe it makes a bigger impact on guys to understand that a mastectomy is major amputation — it is not something trivial.) Recovery may involve physical therapy and sometimes long-term discomfort or pain. It is also an issue of psychological stress.

Earlier this week, a long-time, wonderful friend of mine underwent a double mastectomy. She had undergone an exam that revealed a suspicious spot. It was not benign. As someone with some family history, and with two young daughters she wanted to be with for as long as possible (and for whom she is a role model), she elected for “the whole monty” (as I recall her writing to me) after discussing it with her physician. I cannot imagine the decision, the fear, the uncertainty, and now the long recovery. But although she is someone special, the bravery and resolve to undergo this radical step is not unique to her — tens of thousands of women make the same decision each year, some forced into it to save their lives, and others as a precaution against further cancer.

As a dirty old man (formerly, a dirty young man :-), I have great fondness for women’s breasts (and the rest of them, actually). But as a son, brother, husband, father, and friend I am horrified at the fear, trauma, and losses brought about by breast cancer. This is another issue that should not be forgotten for 11 months once October ends. Women (and men) should learn how to do self-exams, and then perform them. If you find something unusual, don’t dismiss it as “probably nothing” or “I have no time now to get it checked.” Early diagnosis and treatment is especially critical to improve recovery and minimize any surgery. This is also an area where additional research should help devise new treatments and diagnostic procedures. Consider making a donation. Susan G. Koman For the Cure and the American Cancer Society are two places where you can find more information or donate.

Yes, October is the month for many things. November is not far off with its own observances, including lung and pancreatic cancer, Crohn’s disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and COPD. It is also National  Pomegranate month, and National Drum month.

But for now, focus on October, and on how you can make a difference in someone else’s life and future. And when you see someone wearing a purple ribbon (Domestic Violence Awareness) or a pink ribbon (Breast Cancer Awareness), you’ll know what they mean.

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