I have a confession to make. I am a breast cancer survivor and I have never been a fan of the pink ribbon. Just admitting that sounds strange and I can almost hear the gasps coming from fellow survivors and pink ribbon proponents. The pink ribbon has a strong message and it carries a lot of power. I am not trying to diminish any of that. I am just stating it does not reflect my journey.
October was Breast Cancer Awareness month and we were awash in pink. Far beyond the humble pink ribbon, consumers can buy pink watches, pink scarves, pink t-shirts and hats. Professional sport teams wore pink shoes, gloves and strips of pink mixed with their team colors. Pink boas were wrapped jauntily around the necks of those who walked for three days in the name of beating this disease. I am for all of that. I am grateful for the awareness of this deadly killer but cancer of any form is a scourge to humanity. It doesn’t discriminate. It attacks any gender, any age, any socioeconomic group. It can happen to one of any race, of any religion. No one is immune.
I am not sure why I feel the way I do about the pink ribbon. Maybe because once I had breast cancer, it was assumed that I would embrace this badge of courage. I recall the information kit I was given at my doctor’s office shortly after my diagnosis. It was encased in a lovely pink bag. As I battled through treatment I was given gifts of the pink ribbon, bracelets and pins, necklaces, earrings, embossed scarves, coffee mugs and socks, a pink nail polish made especially to honor October. Everywhere was that little twist of pink. So much love and support, so much strength. Except I did not connect with it. I didn’t see myself as wanting to display the battle I went through. Maybe I fervently wanted life to go back to the way it was and that little ribbon was a constant reminder that it never would be.
I do not begrudge anyone who embraces the pink ribbon. It represents something for them I could never imagine. Cancer and the battle to fight it is a very personal journey, any illness is, despite the fact that everyone around you is affected also. A person is faced with so many what ifs and not any guarantees. You are trying to hang onto to some semblance of control even as your body spirals out of your control. Instead you become the property of doctors, nurses, a vast myriad of tests, of the powerful, sickening drugs. A life disrupted. When treatment is done, it’s not really done. There’s a level of mistrust that the cancer is truly gone. There are years of physical, mental and spiritual recovery. There will always be fear of recurrence.
In so many ways the pink ribbon is a symbol of hope, perseverance and defiance. Women, and men too, wear it proudly, wear it in solidarity, in support and for love. But it’s not any of that for me. When October rolls around and everything under the sun is available in pink, I just don’t feel it. I often get strange looks when I express this. I feel as though they wonder how I could possibly reject the pink ribbon that is the blazing symbol of that reluctant sisterhood. I am not sure how to explain it to them except to say that my defiance is a different color.
The pink ribbon represents the continued fight against breast cancer, a fight we seem to be slowly winning. No one is more for that than I am. But I will do it incognito. I do not need to wear any pink to symbolize the fight. The fight was inside me and it was not pink. It was black with rage and grey with fatigue. It was white with hope and green with envy and blue with fragile days of peace. Not a shred of pink in sight.
It’s important for people to have a symbol to rally around. Sometimes in their own sadness and despair it’s the one thing they can cling too. I am happy for those who find comfort in the joy the pink ribbon brings. But I will find my comfort from another source. And keep the prayers for a cure moving forward.