As I sit here to write this blog post, I am conflicted. On the one hand – I am scared to put my thoughts down for mass consumption as I am sure I am somewhat asking for some hate mail (but hey, the haters gonna hate). Yet, on the other hand I feel I am being compelled to share my perspective as my social media feeds have already started to fill with the pink haters.
I believe I am able to offer a unique perspective as I have been living with Stage IV breast cancer for almost six years. Nov. 1st will mark a day that I never thought possible – six years since I was told that I have terminal cancer. I was 32-years-old with three small kids at that moment. I am grateful. I am grateful that research has provided options. I am grateful for pink. I know several of my uncles, my brother, my mom and my dad would’ve appreciated and been grateful for the type of time that I have been given in the face of a terminal cancer. Sadly, they are not here to express that because they did not have pink. They did not have a month dedicated to the horrific cancer that took each and every one of their lives. I hope this offers a little bit of my perspective.
It is not even October yet and the “Pinktober” hate is building. I need to start by explaining – over the past six years I have had the privilege of meeting some of the most brave, amazing, compassionate and determined women living with metastatic breast cancer. That’s stage IV terminal cancer. They are all living in varying degrees of grief and illness every day. They are all in treatment while working jobs, raising families and living with knowing that this monkey will always be on their back. They will bear the burden of marching forward while mourning the pre-cancer life they led. These women have provided me with so much inspiration I can’t even begin to articulate the amazing grace I have witnessed. (Right now I am thinking of my beautiful sister in Syracuse, the one and only Mrs. L. She has changed my life with her grit and determination as she has endured mind numbing treatments all to share more time with her beautiful son and incredible husband.)
So, as the “pinking” of a month rolls around and I begin to read the absolute hate regarding Komen, Pink, Charity walks and so forth – I find myself tensing. I find myself becoming a bit defensive of all things PINK. Now – I understand there are dozens of companies and even charitable organizations that slap pink on products to sell and claim they are raising money for breast cancer, all the while contributing pennies to questionable organizations, sometimes not even that. But, does that mean no good comes from Pink? Does it mean that no research funds for breast cancer are raised during the month? Does it mean NO compassion, no understanding for breast cancer or metastatic breast cancer comes during October? Does it mean pink is only for my non-terminal breast cancer sisters? Geez, perhaps I am the idiot here? For the past six years, I have been operating under the idea that October and the pinking of a month was – at the very least – opening up a conversation. It was allowing me an opportunity to share my thoughts on breast cancer, on terminal breast cancer. But, I also trust that my friends, my family, my neighbors and my co-workers are intelligent enough to look into different organizations in which they are going to donate to (by the way many other cancers and diseases are in desperate need of this type of visibility). After all, this is their hard earned money. Is it my job to police and shame them for their compassion? For their pink products? For their big hearts? I just want to be clear here – there are hundreds of other cancers and diseases that are in desperate need of this type of research funding, visibility, compassion and understanding. Many of these diseases and cancers we can’t even pronounce and we certainly have no idea what the symptoms or screening methods are, or how to contain the disease. While I respect my fellow Stage IV BC patients, I am also disappointed that they aren’t seeing the value in the type of visibility that breast cancer secures every October. I would like to think that many of the medications and treatments that have kept me alive gained traction and funding from Pinktober. Yes, I do believe that grant dollars and research funds are increased when an entire month is dedicated to a disease. Of course, the sheer number of people diagnosed with breast cancer also helps secure these funds. But, I think it would be ignorant to suggest that public relations and visibility has nothing to do with research dollars garnered. And many of these breast cancer treatments have now been effective in treating other cancers.
I am all about letting people know, there are some uncouth, low down, dirty organizations out there, buyer beware or as my dad used to say, “Caveat Emptor”. Make good decisions. Understand where your charitable contributions are going and if you want to buy a pair of pink gym shoes, in which none of the funds are supporting a breast cancer charity – guess what? I will NOT shame you! I will NOT judge you. I will instead be appreciative that you want to show your support. Because every day I am among the living I feel a pull, a sense of isolation that I am here and I am not like everyone else. I feel a sense of jealousy that you are living without this monkey. And for a month every year, you all choose to wear pink, buy pink, take part in charity walks (many of which DO benefit my treatments) and for a month every year I feel you! I feel your love and support, I see it. Ahh – sweet solidarity! You, you are reaching out and desperately trying to connect. To connect with me, to the mother you lost or the sister that is in chemotherapy or the friend that you just buried. You ARE aware that breast cancer is more than pink, you are aware that we are dying of this disease and you just want to show your support.
So next time you see pink – a pink blender, a pink pumpkin, a pink bracelet – instead of seeing hate, instead of seeing capitalism look closer and see love, compassion and that human need to connect. Look again and see support. See what’s right with this instead of what is wrong.
I know this weekend I am going to go to my son’s football game and I am going to see all that love in those pink gloves he wears, he wears those pink gloves each and every game, October or not. He wears those gloves because he has seen me bald and burnt from radiation, he has seen me bed-ridden and defeated. This is his way of saying he is with me. He’s got my back. Those gloves aren’t about October or commercialism or greed, those gloves are all about love and support.
And for my loved ones that I have lost to another cancer, I would have worn any color, I would have marched in any walk to let them know – I love you and I got your back.