I woke up today pain free and feeling pretty well, for the most part. Then I looked in the toilet and noticed the blood. My last Lupron shot is still active for another week or so. I know I’m not menstruating. I also noticed that I still felt the urge to urinate even though I had just done that.

“I’m peeing blood!”

That’s what I could have thought. What I thought instead was, “Hmm, I bet I have a urinary tract infection. I’d better go to urgent care and get it checked out.”

I woke up my husband, told him that I needed to go to urgent care for a possible UTI, and asked if he would drive our daughter to a jazz singing workshop in my stead. He agreed and I drove 5 minutes to the nearest urgent care place. Since they’d just opened, I was the second patient of the day and was seen rather quickly. I was calm and the nurse congratulated me on my blood pressure, which was 110/68. Within 25 minutes, the UTI was confirmed and I left with a prescription for an antibiotic. I drove to the pharmacy thinking, “I wonder if I should buy some cranberry juice?” When I got to the pharmacy, I read my discharge instructions from the urgent care clinic and it advised that I drink cranberry juice.

I’ve never had a UTI. How did I know not to freak out about bloody urine, about cranberry juice, and about having the chronic urge to urinate?

I knew because I’d gotten a lot of education about UTI’s in my life. They are common for women and due to the miracle of antibiotics and cranberries, very treatable. They were discussed in sex education class when I was young. They are covered in Our Bodies, Ourselves. There are pamphlets and other forms of public health education about UTI’s. So I knew that I probably had a UTI and promptly got an appropriate assessment and treatment.

Education can lead to effective action. Awareness? Hmm.

What if I were only aware of UTI’s? That I knew nothing of the symptoms or treatment? What if I were only aware of the urinary tract or of infections? What if I did not have a basic knowledge of physiology or of common disease?

Awareness just doesn’t get you very far. Awareness is not knowing. Awareness is not education. Awareness is not doing.

Awareness is superficial. It works in the part of our mind that makes easy associations, the part that doesn’t think that hard. In other words, awareness is a perfect vehicle for marketing products. Breast cancer is bad. This product is associated with a pink ribbon, which is associated with “helping” breast cancer. Pink ribbon = less bad.

Most advertising relies on this kind of superficial quick thinking. That’s why so many things are paired with sex. Do we really think that drinking Bud Lite is going to make a swimsuit model magically appear next to us? Of course not. This kind of advertising relies on people making quick associations between a product and something (a woman is not a thing, I know that, but it is the way she is presented in an ad) desirable, thereby making the product more desirable.

Public health education is important. Let’s support that. Research is a kind of education. It is the way we learn about disease and treatments. Let’s support that.  Training healthcare providers about disease, treatments, and the whole person is also education. Let’s support that.

I don’t want to just be aware of breast cancer. I want to know it so we can get rid of it.