Last fall I had the opportunity to orchestrate a Dig Pink event at my current school, Bowdoin College. Throughout the event I was moved by the number of people – faculty members, parents, and especially teammates – who reached out to me to share their personal connections to the cause.
The Dig Pink event broke social boundaries by both physically and emotionally bringing together the range of experiences and challenges tied to fighting cancer. I’ve found that the power of this event is giving hope to as many people as possible, especially when it takes place on a college campus. I hope that this event has impacted communities beyond the boundaries of Bowdoin College, as students from all over return home to their families with the knowledge that there is a wealth of resources and support for the breast cancer community.
I was able to learn more about the research and techniques connected to Side-Out’s efforts when I visited Caris Life Sciences in Arizona last summer. As I was being shown where individual tumor samples arrive to where physicians prescribe treatment recommendations during my tour, I felt even closer to the people we were supporting. I even had the opportunity to look into a microscope at cancerous cells from a specific patient.
During my visit, I was reminded of the final paper I wrote in my biology class last spring, which was about new tumor analysis techniques founded on the understanding that each cancerous growth has its own unique nature and optimal course of treatment. I was appreciative of the fact that my academic coursework had enhanced what I could learn about this cause.
Grasping cancer biology as an academic discipline, or even just finding ways to stay up to date on recent findings in the field, transforms “cancer” into something to be studied and overcome rather than just a sickness that threatens our loved ones. This experience made me realize how valuable it is to spread knowledge. When patients are more connected to their community of support and aware of their available treatment options, they become better equipped to advocate for themselves throughout the treatment process.
Combining the information I had learned on my visit with facts from the Side-Out and National Breast Cancer Coalition websites made me better equipped to share my knowledge. My teammates and I tabled in our student union to publicize our event, raise donations, and educate others. We spread awareness through the athletics department by reaching out to other varsity sports teams to recruit volunteers for the various forms of fundraising at our match; our main feature being the “pledge per dig” fundraiser which consisted of hanging a poster of the Bowdoin polar bear paw symbol for each one of our digs.
Our multiple forms of publicity – campus and social media awareness, emails sent out to family and friends by teammates to ask for donations, and more – acted as vehicles to reach out to students with loved ones affected by breast cancer and to spread an understanding that support is out there, that there is hope, and that people are working tirelessly to combat the disease.
Establishing our Dig Pink event has enhanced my college volleyball experience. My teammates, who are endlessly kind and thoughtful individuals, and my coach, whose leadership and unwavering confidence in her players consistently inspire our success both on and off the court, have been on board with Dig Pink since the beginning. I have felt so encouraged by their commitment to this cause. I like to think that Dig Pink has helped bring our team closer by adding a particularly meaningful aspect to our season.
The Dig Pink experience has made me believe in the power of taking action in a way that is visible and impactful. I am hoping to make Dig Pink in its fullest form an annual tradition for the Bowdoin volleyball program. Believing in this power of action has translated to other areas of my life as well: I am majoring in Environmental Studies and have continued to be active in fighting for better climate policy. I have been surprised over the past year how running Dig Pink has encouraged me to be outspoken in other fields I am passionate about.
My mom, an avid volleyball player herself (who still dominates on the court), introduced me to the game and is one of the big reasons I fell in love with it. In addition to being a force on the court, she is also a breast cancer survivor. I know all too well that others haven’t been as lucky. Just a few weeks after my mom had received the news that she was cancer-free years ago, a good friend of mine received the same news about her mom. We celebrated by eating ice cream. A couple of years later, this friend told me that her mom’s cancer had returned, and unfortunately less than a year later, her mom passed away. I wanted to create an event on campus that supports research which not only helps find an end to cancer but which also extends the time we have with those who aren’t lucky enough to call themselves survivors.
With this goal in mind, our team managed to raise over $3,500, which is more than double our initial fundraising target. Dig Pink makes people aware that support and ongoing research within the breast cancer community exist, and because of this, I like to think that Dig Pink events instill hope in mothers – and daughters – who will face difficult diagnoses in the future.
In volleyball, we talk about the uncontrollables: the crowd, the referee, the stakes of the match. We aim to not let these things affect our play, because all that we can control, as our Coach says, is our own attitude and effort. Focusing on what we can control is what has allowed for the success of our team. We have very limited control over who gets cancer, or when, or at what stage, but we do control what we do about it – from patiently supporting family members at home to bringing together a roaring crowd at a Dig Pink event.
(Featured Photo by Brian Beard)