“Every three minutes a woman is diagnosed, and that’s just unacceptable.”

This is how Reese Witherspoon speaks about breast cancer, a disease that more than 200,000 women in the U.S. were diagnosed with in 2007 alone. On Oct. 16, Witherspoon joined more than 3,000 men and women at the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer in New York City, raising more than $8.4 million for breast cancer research and care — just one of many events held throughout October, also known as Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Organizations such as Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the Y-ME National Breast Cancer Organization and the Avon Foundation use Breast Cancer Awareness Month as a way to educate the public about the disease and how to be proactive when it comes to detection. Acting as a public face of the Avon Foundation, it is this consciousness-raising role that Reese Witherspoon finds herself in. In town for the walk and to announce the foundation’s latest Global Scholars Initiative, we had a chance to catch up with Witherspoon (who was just as sweet as she appears to be on-screen) and learn more about her involvement with breast cancer education.

Witherspoon has been the foundation’s global ambassador for the past five years, and she says the experience alone has been an education:

When I was first approached by Avon to represent their foundation … I wanted to know, what were the issues on women’s minds? … Breast cancer is first and foremost on the list of concerns for women. Domestic violence is also in the top three … It was really an education for me to see that these are the issues affecting women every day of their lives.

 

The importance of early detection and screening is a hot-button issue that Witherspoon is particularly passionate about. “You have such a greater chance of surviving breast cancer if [it's] detected early … Throughout the world, that’s a message that we need to get out there,” she told The Huffington Post.

Women over the age of 50 (and younger women who are considered high-risk) are recommended by the United States Preventive Services Task Force to get screened every other year. The American Cancer Society casts a wider net, suggesting that women begin getting yearly mammograms at 40. Although a recent study revealed that mammograms return false positives on a fairly regular basis, the scan remains the best way we have to detect breast cancer early on. Witherspoon said that one of the key ways that she maintains a healthy lifestyle is by visiting her doctor on a regular basis, and she urges all women to do the same.

When it comes to educating children about breast cancer and other health issues, many parents find it difficult to even broach the subject. Witherspoon sees October as the perfect time to delve right in. “There’s pink everywhere,” she said, laughing. “I don’t think your children can not notice that buildings are painted pink, and at the airport there are pink balloons everywhere. That’s a great [way] to start a conversation with your kids.”

And although she doesn’t think that celebrities have a responsibility to become activists, she’s quite vocal about the merits of being involved:

Whether people are making movies about issues or TV shows, or giving money, or giving their voice to raise funds -– any one of those ways that people help shine the spotlight on these issues that are affecting so many people is great … It’s very humbling [to] feel like you can make any kind of change in this world. I’m very lucky to be able to do that.

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