*This essay was published in several places, including Memorial Sloan Kettering Bridges publication and MBCNetwork website. I post it in one version or another on Facebook every October since I was diagnosed in 2012.
Ok, I’ll say it; “I hate pink!” This is a harsh statement for me to admit out loud, on paper, since pink had forever been my favorite color.
The pink passion started early. My mother always dressed my three younger sisters and me in the same style dresses and coats. We were differentiated by color. Mary had the carefree blues, Diana in gorgeous greens (the only light eyed and golden hair of the four who could carry all shades of green) and I in happy pinks. My faded clothes were handed down to my youngest sister, Barbara, whose color was dubbed “peach.” We were quickly identified by our colored peddle-pushers and peter-pan collared shirts.
Pink suited me. Pinks softened my dark eyes and evened my ruddy skin tone. While most girls outgrew their 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 pink fit my practical and shy nature best. It was always mine.
Then breast cancer hit. Surgery, chemo and radiation therapy knocked out the Stage 1 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, breast cancer’s mascot, flooded my already pink themed drawers and closet. During that year, pink crept beyond the clothing and took center stage in jewelry, accessories, and housewares. I toted a canvas bag with the pink ribbon embroidered on the side and collected pink flip-flop promotional pins to give away with the message to stay vigilant. I wore pink breast cancer awareness T-shirts and scarves to prove my participation in walks.
My pink had a new role. It was proof of my membership to the mission. I was proud to be a pink survivor and so grateful to have my health and a long life ahead.
The bottom fell out in 2012. The menace came back. The cancer had metastasized in my bones. Some little cell(s) somehow survived the onslaught five years before and meandered its way to my vertebrae. Unbelievably, some 25-30% of earlier staged breast cancer patients do develop Stage IV metastasized cancers!
No one dies of cancer to the breast, but over 40 thousand women will die of metastatic breast cancer in 2018. There is no cure. Although the value of the fundraising campaigns cannot be overstated, I am particular over which organizations I contribute to and support. Finding the cure should be the mission. METAvivor and the Susan G. Komen foundations are committed to finding that cure.
I am lucky, though. The cancer was caught early before any real damage occurred. After surgeries and radiation therapy, the ongoing treatment protocols have been minimally intrusive and invasive. I continue to work and take care of my family and home. Play fits in more frequently, and there is a dent in a deep bucket list. I look healthy and can believably state “I’m fine.”
Despite all this “good attitude,” I do feel betrayed by my own body and really angry! I try not to rant over the unfairness or sob through boxes of tissues (OK, I’ll admit to having regular private pity parties). I won’t let cancer rule my life. I am at war and war is not pretty. Pink has no place in war.
The purging of pink had taken place. I adopted my sisters’ blues and greens. Tough reds and bold purples seeped into my closet. The pink ribbon mugs live in the corner of the kitchen cabinet. The pretty pink shoes and handy totes have new homes. I hung up the pink survivor role for a stealth warrior persona. My practical and shy nature reluctantly surrendered my beloved pinks to take on a bold stance for life.
Antoinette Truglio Martin is the author of Hug Everyone You Know: A Year of Community, Courage, and Cancer. The memoir is a wimpy patient’s journey through her first year of breast cancer treatment.