An ocean of pink ribbons, pink clothes and shoes, mugs with catchy sayings, invites and initiatives to fund raise for research and awareness…this is just the first onslaught of the pink parade. When I found out I had breast cancer…the pink parade welcomed me with open arms. Four days later, I had my bye-bye boobies party…an inkling of what the parade had to offer. My old friends and new ones gathered together to help guide me into the world of cancer with love and support and a healthy dose of sarcasm and humor. They made me feel like I could take on the world in just a few hours. That is the power of the pink: it is a subculture that embraces their own and bolsters them up wherever they go because you cannot escape the parade…it is everywhere you look. At the grocery store where a nurse is wearing a scrub top emblazoned with the pink ribbon logo and words like courage, believe and hope. At the water park, where a woman comes to me with my chemo cap and tells me her story of recovery and survival as I stand holding my 5 year-old daughter’s hand.
Everyone has a story by the way…friends, family and strangers. And as soon as you say I have breast cancer, you invite them in. Most of the stories from those without cancer are about who they lost; balanced out by stories of survival from those who have been there. It is bittersweet because you never know which category your story is going to fall into. Roughly one third of women diagnosed with early stage breast cancer will progress to stage 4 or incurable breast cancer and no one really knows why. That is one of the problems with the pink parade: it is focused on early detection and prevention and mostly focusing on those women with early/treatable disease. Stage 4 is the pink elephant in the room…looming over the party and being ignored for the sake of “staying positive” through treatment. But it is really hard to ignore.
The pink parade helps you there. It is hard to be negative when every pink ribbon campaign is filled with smiling faces and everyone compliments you on your positive attitude. It is a positive feedback loop. And it helps get you through the days where you just can’t seem to get out of bed for the overwhelming thought that you have cancer…even if you can’t see it or feel it…you have the terrible thing. I recommend having a few friends send you weekly, or even daily texts or phone calls or letters depending on your preference, that are filled with encouraging sayings or positive thoughts. It helps keep the elephant at bay. Which is ironic for me since I have an elephant tapestry hanging on the wall above my headboard: 3 elephants playing ball. I stare at that tapestry when I think about my breast cancer and I think one day that will be me…I will learn to live with my breast cancer no matter what. Even if I am “cured”, I will never trust my body again: I will always assume every new symptom is a recurrence and one day I may be right. But the pink parade has taught me, I can thrive no matter what.
I was so busy training and studying and working to be a surgeon, sometimes over 100 hours a week. I put my health, my husband and my daughter in second place, most of the times they were an afterthought on a day off. I was driven and selfish. I still am, but now I know how to take the time to listen to my child when she is talking because I will never get that moment back. The pink boots I walk in, the pink shirt I wear, the pink wig my husband and I posted for Who wore it better…they are all daily reminders that I have breast cancer and that I may die sooner than we all thought I would. They are a reminder to live each day to capacity. My husband and I accept the elephant, we just choose to also embrace the pink for our daughter and for the other women and men starting this journey every day and for the many more to come. It isn’t easy…it is down right impossible some days, but I allow myself to grieve when I need to, as well.
I find the sea of pink a comforting tide at times but I am by no means a pink warrior…I am just a woman with breast cancer doing what I have to do to survive as long as I can to see my little girl grow up. See…I’m still driven and selfish 🙂 And right now…I think I’m perfect.