Breast Cancer

Surrendering Pink

octoberpink

Ok, I’ll say it, “I hate pink!” This is an extremely hard statement to say out loud on paper since pink has forever been my favorite color. Forever! Pink was always my color.

The pink passion started early. My mother always dressed my three younger sisters and me in the same style dresses and coats. The colors differentiated us. Mary wore carefree blues, Diana donned gorgeous greens (the only light eyed and golden hair of the four who could carry all shades of green), and I was in happy pink; from bashful shades to shocking hues. Since Mary, Diana and I were close in age, and they grew at a faster rate than I, my faded clothes passed over them to my youngest sister, Barbara, whose color was dubbed “peach.” We were quickly identified by our colored peddle-pushers and peter-pan collared shirts. My bridesmaid sisters wore their colors for a “rainbow” effect while my little cousin dressed in my happiest shade of pink.

Pink suited me. Light pinks softened my dark eyes and evened my ruddy skin tone. While most girls outgrew their powder-pink tendencies, I continued to wear pink from fluffy headbands to sparkly pink pumps. I preferred pink roses. Conveniently, pink tourmaline marked my birthstone.

Soft spoken pink was not loud like orange or tough like red.  Happy, simple pink fit my practical and shy nature best. It was always mine.

Then breast cancer hit.  Surgery, chemo and radiation therapy attacked the Stage1 cancer and forever placed me in the sisterhood of survivors.  This was not exactly a crowd I wanted to be a part of, but since 2007 I have been proud to have this strong army on my side of the battle.

Pink, the mascot of breast cancer awareness, flooded my already pink themed drawers and closet. During that year, pink crept beyond the clothing and took center stage in my jewelry, accessories, and housewares. I toted a canvas bag with the pink ribbon embroidered on the side and collected “Fight Like A Girl” and pink-sandle promotional pins to give away to colleagues and friends with the message to stay vigilant. I wore pink breast cancer awareness T-shirts and scarves to prove my participation in walks for the cure and fundraiser donations. My pink had a new role. All this pinkness gave visual proof of my membership to the mission.  I was proud to be a pink survivor and so grateful to have a long life ahead.

The bottom fell out in 2012, less than five years from the initial diagnosis. The menace came back as metastasized bone cancer. Little cells somehow survived the onslaught five years before, bypassed nodes, and meandered their way to eat my spine. Astonishingly, some 30% of earlier staged breast cancer patients do develop Stage 4 metastasized cancer! Now cancer is forever. Currently, there is no cure—just management.

I am lucky, though. It was caught before any real damage occurred. After surgeries and radiation therapy, the ongoing treatment protocol has been minimally intrusive and invasive. I continue to work and take care of my family and home as usual.  Play fits in more frequently, and there is a dent in an ever increasing bucket list.  I look healthy.  I can say, “I’m fine.” with conviction.  I consider it a chronic condition, not a terminal illness.

Despite all this. “good attitude,” I feel betrayed by my own body- and angry! Really Angry!  I am not one to rant over the unfairness of it all or sob through boxes of tissues (OK, I’ll admit to regular bouts of private pity parties). I do not intend to allow cancer to rule or ruin my body or my life. I am at war, and war is not pretty.  Pink has no place in war.

I purged pink from my wardrobe and adopted my sisters’ blues and greens. Brave purples seeped into my closet. Tough reds gained prominence. The pink ribbon coffee mugs now live deep in the corner of the kitchen cabinet and the pretty pink shoes, and handy totes have new homes.

The value of giving back cannot be overstated. Awareness, screening, and support are important, but the hard fact is that women who perish from breast cancer, die of metastasized breast cancer; which is an absent benefactor of many popular fundraisers. I give directly to cancer research. This ensures that the funds go into action rather than administrative expenses.  I favor Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Research and Metavivor.

I hung up the pink survivor role for a stealth warrior persona.  My practical and shy nature surrendered my beloved pinks to take on a bold battle stance.

Be well, my friends. Hug everyone you know.

 

 

*This essay was first published in Bridges 2014

 

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