The WNBA's annual Breast Health Awareness Week began yesterday and will continue through September 23, highlighted by two televised games in San Antonio (Sept. 18) and Phoenix (Sept. 23) on ESPN2.
But the Indiana Fever got started early, holding their Breast Health Awareness Night this past Friday with the WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx in town. Although the Fever ultimately lost the game on a game-winning shot by Lynx point guard Lindsay Whalen to end their six-game winning streak, there were other types of victories that had personal experience for multiple players.
As described by Indiana Fever wing Katie Douglas in an article by James Oldham of the Indianapolis Star in advance of Breast Health Awareness Night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Friday night, it's an effort to, "...use basketball and the WNBA as a platform to help raise awareness, educate people and try to find a cure for cancer." But in addition to finding a cure for cancer, part of the goal is help others find hope through the power of shared experience.
While Douglas is among the WNBA's most prominent spokeswomen for for breast health awareness, other players like Fever guard Shavonte Zellous have also had experiences with the disease that make the events of the week personally significant.
"It was a tough time," Zellous said in a Thursday interview with Swish Appeal in reference to her cousin, Danielle Ziegler, dealing with the disease before surviving. "That's very bad news when you have somebody close in your family that happened to have that terrible disease that's harming a lot of people. But most of all we had to stay positive and had to believe in God that God was going to take care of it and put it out of her body."
As a student at Pitt who didn't know much about about the disease when her cousin was diagnosed, she sees the value of the Breast Health Awareness events as spreading the message about prevention so that others might be better prepared than her family was.
"As we play and this continues around the league it helps the young women - women that didn't even know nothing about it - it's a message to know the different steps to go out and get cured," Zellous said.
Another Fever player who was personally caught off guard by the disease was second-year guard Jeanette Pohlen whose mom was diagnosed with the disease when she was a junior in high school, as documented by SI's Ann Killion in 2010. With her mom counting herself among the survivors, Pohlen sees it not only as a time to inspire others but reflect on the situation as a whole.
"It's very touching and I know we've had other players that have dealt with it too so it's kind of just time to reflect on how important it is," said Pohlen in a separate interview with Swish Appeal. "I would just say it just brings awareness and that's the goal of the game. We wear all the pink stuff. We do the auction to raise money and really just try to bring an awareness to the subject and how important it is to get involved and really just kind of understand what people go through."
In addition to selling her game-worn pink jersey during the Fever's third annual Breast Health Awareness Live Auction, Zellous will also participate in the cause by having the winner of her jersey take center court with her to pump the fans up before a Fever playoff game this year. Fever coach Lin Dunn is offering to cook a meal for a lucky group of fans, which both players have heard nothing but good things about.
"I've heard she's an awesome cook," said Pohlen, a California native. "I know she's from the South and I know she loves to cook and loves to eat. So whoever gets that, they're in for a treat."
Although Douglas was front and center to address the crowd just prior to the game as one of the most prominent spokespeople for breast health awareness, this week is ultimately not about any one individual or any single activity. All the "pink stuff", as Pohlen described it, may not necessarily resonate with all fans for a variety of reasons, but beyond the symbolism there are concrete public health gains by making an event out of the quest for a cure to the disease and helping those currently fighting to join the ranks of the survivors.
It's about the opportunity to build awareness leveraging the powerful call of stories and hopefully finding common ground, no matter how small, among the multiple stories that can build a sense of community around the issue and hopefully help establish resilience among those who find themselves affected by cancer currently.
"No matter who it is or how close, as long as it's somebody who has a meaningful part in your life I think every story is very important no matter if it's directly related to you or a friend of a friend or anybody that you might know," said Pohlen. "It's just important to raise awareness."
For statistics related to breast cancer, check out the infographic below.