It’s October and for many around the world the month ushers in an important event: The focus on breast cancer awareness.

It is a time when pink adorns people’s Facebook status symbols and when the National Football League’s (NFL) players and officials and supporters don pink sneakers, pink shoe laces and wrist bands and pink towels and T-shirts. Where companies like Coco-Cola and Wendy’s and countless others promote the message that we can fight breast cancer.

The NFL is so committed to bringing the fight against breast cancer to the forefront that they have teamed up with the American Cancer Society again this year to support “A Crucial Catch” to encourage early breast screening, especially for women from minority communities.

Why is the issue of breast cancer so important? First, it’s because of Ericka and Robin and the many, many others who I, and no doubt you, have known who have died from the horrible – and often preventable – disease. October is a time when I remember with greater fervency the friends that I have lost to breast cancer.

And while fighting breast cancer is an issue we should all be concerned about, it strikes a serious cord with black women. Or, at least, it should.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), while white women had a higher rate of being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012, the latest statistics available, black women had a higher rate of dying from breast cancer. That can only point to one thing: We are not getting screened early enough!

The Susan G. Komen organization, best known for its national mobilization of walkers for its annual Komen Race for the Cure, reported that in 2011 black women had a 44 per cent higher rate of breast cancer deaths than white women.

In 2012, Hispanic women had the third highest rate of getting breast cancer and had the third highest rate of breast cancer deaths, says the CDC.

So while it is cute to wear pink during the month of October, it’s even cuter to go and have a breast exam and a mammogram, the latter particularly if you are over age 45 or have had suspicious lumps or even surgery in the past.

While I am not a doctor, what I do know is that getting regular checkups can save lives.

Women are not alone in this. The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be 2,350 new cases of breast cancer in men in 2015 and about 440 men will die of breast cancer this year.

I challenge every one of you to contact a dozen women that you know and remind them that now is the time to be screened for breast cancer. Do it today.

It’s no secret that a real obstacle for some women is the cost associated with screening. But there are many programs offering free or low cost options. Go to for a list of options.

Make it a priority, encourage your friends to make it a priority. Let’s put some power behind the pink this October. It may save a life.

Alison Bethel McKenzie is a veteran newspaper editor and former executive director of the International Press Institute in Vienna, Austria.