MONROE, CT — A small crowd gathered in front of the gazebo on the green outside Town Hall for Think Pink Monroe’s second annual Think Pink Palooza Thursday evening, a breast cancer awareness event live streamed on Facebook.
It was quite a contrast from last year’s event, which featured dancers, bands and a choir.
“Certainly, just due to the situation, we couldn’t have the same big crowd as we had here last year,” Matt Hirsch, a Think Pink Monroe Committee member, said of precautions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “But that doesn’t make it any less important.”
In fact, Hirsch said this year is even more important, because of a 25 percent decline in women having mammograms.
“Early detection equals an early cure. Everybody knows that,” said Hirsch, who lost his mother to breast cancer when he was 16.
According to the FDA, approximately 40 million mammograms are done in a typical year. If the 25 percent drop holds for a year, Hirsch said that equates to 10 million less mammograms of which 30,000 to 60,000 people would end of having a late diagnosis or no diagnosis at all.
“Don’t be one of those people. That’s why it’s so important,” Hirsch said.
David York, the chaplain for the Monroe Volunteer Fire Department, gave a blessing before the lineup of speakers took turns at the microphone in front of the gazebo, which was decked out in pink.
Speakers included First Selectman Ken Kellogg, Acting Superintendent of Schools Joseph Kobza, Think Pink Monroe founder and breast cancer survivor Bonnie Maur, and her son Jason, a Town Council member.
Though breast cancer is not as prevalent for men, to illustrate how men can still get it, Hirsch pointed out his friend, Robert Primorac, who was at the gathering. Primorac, a breast cancer survivor, had shared his personal story at the Think Pink Palooza last year.
“The number is lower, but the adage is the same: Early detection equals an early cure,” Hirsch said.
“We are living in unusual times, a pandemic of a magnitude we haven’t seen in generations,” Kellogg said. “We’ve become accustomed to hearing a lot of numbers, a lot of statistics. How many are infected with COVID? How many are hospitalized with COVID? Tragically, how many lost their lives to COVID?”
The first selectman noted how a pandemic is defined by a disease that is infectious, so cancer is not often referred to in the same light as a pandemic.
“But the numbers speak a different story,” Kellogg said. “This year an estimated 1.8 million cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States alone, about 300,000 of those involving breast cancer. Sadly, there are over 600,000 deaths overall in the U.S., and 40,000 of those from breast cancer.”
He said the good news is that survivor rates continue to improve, but that requires action.
Just as with COVID, Kellogg said everyone has to use the tools in their tool box for prevention, such as social distancing and wearing masks. For disease prevention, Kellogg said everyone must strive to live a healthy lifestyle and having regular screenings for cancer.
“If you have one of those family members, who would just rather ignore it or maybe they’re just going to skip that mammography, give them a gentle push,” Kellogg said, “because you just might be saving a life.”
Kobza said his life was touched by cancer, just as the lives of everyone at Thursday’s gathering has been. He shared the personal story of how his brother was diagnosed with a malignant tumor on his forehead at age 14, and how he and his wife both lost their fathers to cancer.
Professionally, Kobza said, “I am incredibly proud to be part of Monroe public schools. This community means the absolute world to me.”
Every October, especially when he was principal of Masuk High School, Kobza said he has seen just about every student club and sports team lead a campaign to raise awareness of breast cancer and to raise funds for the fight, as well as events at Jockey Hollow Middle School.
“This community comes together for a number of different causes and I’m proud that Monroe’s public schools come together every October for breast cancer awareness — and I know that will be the case this year,” Kobza said. “On a professional level, I’m here to pledge our support, from the Monroe public schools, to support this great campaign.”
Bonnie Maur, a longtime educator in town, overcame breast cancer, then had to have open heart surgery, because of scar tissue around her heart from the radiation treatments.
She marveled at how the people in the Monroe community come together in times of crisis, and thanked family and friends who rallied by her side after her diagnosis and during her recovery, including those who left meals at her door when she was too sick to cook for herself.
Maur shared her dream of a world that is cancer free. “This is my dream,” she said. “This can happen in our lifetime.”
Jason Maur led everyone in a moment of silence for those battling cancer and those we have lost to the disease.
To watch a video of this year’s Think Pink Palooza, visit the Think Pink Monroe Facebook page. Think Pink Monroe is planning events to raise breast cancer awareness throughout the month of October. Visit its Facebook page for updates. To make a donation to St. Vincent’s Swim Across the Sound with Think Pink Monroe as the designation, click here.