Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Plague of Pink (or, Why I am Glad October is Over)

We have all seen it—the pepto-bismol wash over everything saleable in October, ostensibly in support of breast cancer research and prevention. Spatulas to handbags, paper towels to notepads, T-shirts to bottled water (and how ironic is that last, given that some research indicates those plastic bottles, besides filling up our landfills, may contribute to breast cancer…). 

I, for one, am tired of it. I admit pink is not one of my favourite colours anyway, but this use of pink as a reminder is about more than I can stand. 

Here’s a practical reason why it puts my teeth on edge: many of those companies have just slapped a bunch of pink on their packaging—they aren’t giving any of the money to cancer research or support for cancer patients. They just want a bit of the pink October sales pie. Yep, you will remember breast cancer all year long as you use your pink spatula!

Here’s a more personal reason: I am a breast cancer survivor (5 years and counting, knock wood). I received the diagnosis in September 2008, had a lumpectomy in late September, first visit with the oncologist in early October, port placement in late October, first chemo first week of November. While I was trying to sort out emotions, make decisions, break the news to family and friends, set up support for the months to come, make arrangements at work for my inevitable absences, and yes, face the fact that this could do me in--I literally had no escape from that diagnosis. Go to a movie—there’s a chirpy trailer about breast self-examination. Go to the mall—everything is pink. Go to one of my favourite retail therapy stores—the office supply place—and even there, the pink ribbon is on white-out, on water bottles, planner fillers, lunch bags and pens. Stay at home and watch TV—again, pink on every show and many ads. I had no escape. 

I am not the only person (men are diagnosed with breast cancer, too) to receive this diagnosis at this time of year. Thousands and thousands of us have to make life-altering decisions in the face of upbeat bright pinkiness. 

“But don’t you want funds to be raised for the cause?” Of course I do—but all this pink splashed around tends to trivialise it, make it into a marketing ploy or a fad. 

As someone who has faced this breast cancer demon down, I have authority to speak to this. As someone whose sister this demon took away, I have authority. As someone who has had friends taken by this demon, and tortured by it, I have authority. 

I do not want to be reminded of the fear, the grief, the fatigue, the lasting effects of chemotherapy and surgery, that not only I, but my family and friends went through—and that so many deal with, often far worse than what I had to face. Yes, I want to stop it—but I do not want it thrown in my face for six weeks (they seem to start early) every year, just when I am already dealing with the seasonal reminders of that struggle. I don’t want to be reminded of the death of my sister at far too young an age and the grief my family is still dealing with, three years later. I don’t want to be reminded of the friends who aren’t here anymore. 

I know some survivors find solace and relief in raising funds for research and care—and more power to them, they are giving back—and I do too, through support for the CCS. I am not talking about that. What does turn my stomach is the trivialisation, the insistence that if you don’t buy the pink one, you don’t care, the faddish nature of all this. This is not a game or a neat thing for October. This is people’s lives, their quality of life, their families, everyone who loves them. The effects of cancer of any kind go far beyond the obvious “will I live or die?” and “was the lumpectomy successful?” Those are the first and simplest questions, in a way; the reality is complicated and difficult.  I would need a whole other post for that, and maybe that will be my next post. 

In short, PinkTober is a reminder of all that fear, grief, anxiety and struggle. I do not want that for me or any of my sisters and brothers and their families who have lived through that particular hell. And I have found I am not alone. See this website.

Support breast cancer research and prevention, support the organizations that care for patients—but please, no more pink.

1 comment:

8thday said...

I lost both my breasts to cancer and I absolutely agree with you. Pink is for breast cancer awareness. Not prevention. Not cure. And I am already aware. Acutely aware. Every time I see the scars. Every time I miss friends who lost the battle.

When pink means a cure, I will paint the town pink. Until then, I want all my colors.

Clarence Darrow--Beyond Scopes and Leopold & Loeb

Personalities fascinate me--people do. One way I try to understand history and places is through people--which is why I love good histor...