In case you didn’t notice the pink billboards all over the highway or the placards at the checkout counter in your local grocery store, it’s October and that means it’s Breast Cancer Awareness month.
I would say that its hard to miss, even if you don’t drive I95 or buy food. Prescription bottles are sporting pink child-proof caps, Facebook is offering a temporary “Go Pink!” profile picture, and breast cancer cheerleaders are on street-corners everywhere shouting cutesy sayings like, “Save the Ta-Tas!” or worrisome statistics, like “1 in 8 women will be diagnosed. Will that be you?”
The first time I really noticed Breast Cancer Awareness Month was while I was recovering from a bi-lateral mastectomy and a cancer diagnosis that fast-tracked me into a whole new plane of existence and a new level of intolerance for all things pink and sparkly. Especially ribbons, which seemed to be sprouting off everyone’s lapels like weeds. Suddenly, everywhere I went, I was a card-carrying member of the trendiest party in town that I never wanted an invite to.
The timing was just off.
I should have been warned not to go to a breast cancer store that October. Having spent the summer battling post-cancer depression, I was in no mood to speak to the happy-go-lucky, perky, breast cancer survivor who was fitting me for a lymphedema sleeve, my latest go-to apparel for flying and working out. I should have been nicer to her, but I had just come from PT and wasn’t buying into her chipper attitude:
Well-Meaning Breast Center Lady: “So what kind of cancer did you have?”
Me: “Breast. That’s why I’m at the ‘Breast Center.'”
WMBCL: “Haha! I know!” *squeal* “I mean what kind?”
Me: “The kind that you take your breasts off for.”
WMBCL:”Ooh. Yeah, that must be why you need this.” *Holds out lovely, skin-colored arm stockings.*
WMBCL: “And what’s your treatment plan?”
Me: “Alcohol. Alcohol and chocolate. In large quantities.”
WMBCL: “I’m sure you’re discussing it with your doctor. Is your doctor here at – “
Me: “I don’t discuss anything with doctors. I’m against medicine. In fact, my husband did the surgery himself, with a coat hanger, some whisky, and duct tape. Can I just have the f-ing sleeve please?”
WMBCL:“…I’ll get your size. Would you like the pink one?”
It was like shooting a puppy.
The cheerleaders were everywhere that October. Pink Day at work was a slow kind of torture. Wearing all black, I walked into a sea of hot pink shirts. When a friend of mine asked why I wasn’t wearing pink I told her I decided to come to work with fake breasts, weight gain, and depression. It was a much more realistic picture than a happy pink T.
I wasn’t exactly the most positive person to be around. In a sense, I was a Rizzo, angry and snarky and missing her period, fighting the Patty Simcoxes of the world, celebrating and cheering on “awareness.” I wanted to crawl in a hole. Maybe take some of them with me.
But my take on Breast Cancer Awareness month changed with time. As I dealt with all the side-effects of my new reality, I made peace with the cheerleaders on the streets and the constant “Run for Cancer!” ads that showed up in my inbox on a daily basis. I was hardly grabbing the pom-poms, and my sarcasm hadn’t dimmed, but I slowly opened up to the shirts, the sentiments, the understanding of the ra-ra in bringing awareness to the masses. I gave a speech. I shared my perspective. I convinced some people to get mammograms.
The fallacy of Breast Cancer Awareness Month is that it’s only a month, while breast cancer is a 24/7, 365 day a year fight. Even so, for 31 days, the excitement of the cheerleaders, the chipper ribbon-wearers, the pink lymphedema sleeve sellers, and the ever present pink hue definitely brings Breast Cancer research to the forefront of the country’s mind. It is validating. It’s a communal nod to a disease that desperately needs a cure. And it reminds women to do whatever they can to take care of their breasts before their breasts conspire to to kill them.
Having argued with doctors and rolled my eyes at naturopaths and oncologists alike, I’m clearly on the other side of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. While I’m still snarky about the pink, I’ve come a long way. Time does that I suppose. So does a good prognosis.
So I’ll wear pink once this month and remind people about mammograms and statistics, and smile at the pie-bakers and pink frosted cupcakes in the bakery windows and high-five the runners in the “5K for the Cure” races. I’ll even bite down on my sarcasm a bit. Because even Rizzo, with all her gruff and tough outer shell, was still a Pink Lady.
But keep your ribbons off my implants.