Opinion

Beyond Pink Ribbons: Fighting Flu During Breast Cancer Awareness Month

What do pink ribbons and flu shots have in common? Laura Harbour Scott.

In March, wife, mother, public health advocate, and all around amazing woman Laura Harbour Scott passed away from metastatic breast cancer. She was 38. She left behind her husband – and my long-time dear colleague – Jeremy Scott, and their two incredible daughters, Lauren (10) and Claire (8).

The month of October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month – and everywhere you turn things have “turned pink.” A colleague of mine refers to it as “Pinktober” – and not in a positive way, because she questions what all of the pink mean really means, especially to a family like the Scotts.

Too many people wear a pink ribbon or a wristband – without taking action to make a real difference. Awareness only means something if it can affect change – if it prompts a woman to get a necessary mammogram, if it triggers a physician to ask about family history of breast cancer, if it spurs insurance companies to make treatments more accessible and affordable, and if it encourages citizens to call for greater public and private investment to find better methods to uncover and prevent the underlying cause.

It seems fitting to me that Breast Cancer Awareness Month falls during flu vaccination season as both of these issues were near and dear to the Scott family, and are important for women and families across the country. Laura balanced family and friends with incredibly meaningful work as the Co-Founder and Executive Director for Families Fighting Flu – a national organization committed to reducing the number of childhood hospitalizations and deaths caused by the flu each year by increasing vaccination rates and awareness of flu complications.

Laura brought comfort to the hundreds of families in her organization who tragically lost a child to flu; she provided kindness, love, and support to others – strangers she met by phone and email – even as she was battling cancer, in-and-out of the hospital, and coming to terms with her own mortality. In her work, she was selfless, dedicated, tenacious, and creative. Laura also was beautiful, kind, warm, and good-humored. She had an amazing smile, a quick wit, and sharp intellect. There are thousands of children who are alive today – I believe – because of the work of Laura and her organization. Incredibly talented and accomplished, Laura was down-to-earth and humble, and considered her family her greatest pride and joy.

This October, I can easily imagine Laura urging all parents to have their children vaccinated for flu and to get immunized themselves. Each year, in the United States, an estimated 20,000 children under the age of 5 are hospitalized due to the flu and approximately 100 children die from the flu and its complications. So, for those of you seeking to make a difference here are a few things – in Laura’s memory – that you can do:

  • If you have children, get them immunized – for the flu.
  • If you have friends, neighbors, family members, etc. with children – make sure they know the risks of the flu and encourage them to get immunized, too.
  • If you don’t have children or yours are grown, but you interact with children through work, community activities, or family gatherings, please get your flu shot.
  • Urge greater investment in treatments, prevention/risk reduction, and other supportive care for women with breast cancer, especially metastatic.
  • If you have dense breasts or know a woman who does, make sure she speaks to her health care provider about additional breast cancer screening.

As I write this column, my heart is heavy – I still cannot believe Laura is gone. She touched so many lives during her all-too-short one – she probably never realized how many people she helped and how many people loved and appreciated her – personally and professionally. Her loss has been felt deeply – not only by her family and friends, in her community, within our “work family,” but across the country.

Laura was an inspiration – not only in how she battled cancer but how she fought tirelessly to ensure that no other families experience the senseless loss of a child to the flu. To honor Laura and a life well-lived, we need to take up the mantle and deliver her message of flu immunization and help turn all that pink into policies, programs, and funding that will ensure that, someday, no more women will be lost to metastatic breast cancer.

 

Ilisa Halpern Paul is President of the District Policy Group at Drinker Biddle & Reath. The views are the author’s own. District Policy Group is a bipartisan, boutique government relations practice that works with companies and organizations to achieve their federal public policy goals.

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