It’s October and of course that means it’s time for the “pinkification” of the country. Everywhere you turn there are pink ribbons and all the controversy that goes along with them. Pink, pink, pink.
Rather than indulge myself in the ongoing anger about turning a disease like breast cancer into a pink fantasy world, what I’d prefer to write about are my friends who’ve gone through breast cancer, to honor them instead of honoring the pink ribbon marketing campaigns that are in our face everywhere this month.
When I think of breast cancer, I don’t think of the color pink, or of ribbons, or all the products I see on the shelf and in the store circulars with pink ribbons. I think of the faces of the women I know who have had breast cancer, including myself, who walked through the “pink bubble” in 2008.
Six of my friends have gone through breast cancer and a few have gone through recurrences. Some of them were friends before I was diagnosed, all of them have become close friends after diagnosis.
There’s an immediate connection that is formed when someone you know gets breast cancer. You quickly bond and share stories about your diagnostic treatments and procedures, and nod heads when the other one tells you about her difficult reaction to her chemo treatment, or how her breast literally became so red and burned with the radiation she received that she couldn’t wear anything against her skin for months, or how her surgical scars got hard and thick with keloids and she worried about how it had changed her body, or how she’s having severe joint pain from the Arimidex or Tamoxifen she’s taking, or her fears that her daughters will someday have to go through what we went through.
With some, there are the unspoken words and nervous looks you share when you both hear of someone new who’s been diagnosed, which sparks your fears of recurrence.
But with each of them, I’m most amazed by the strength and courage I see in them. They’re women, they just keep doing what women do. Even while they’re going through treatments, procedures and surgeries, they keep being the mom, the one who takes care of the kids, the family, and the hard worker in the career world.
Many of my friends kept working right through their treatments (me included). We went through the hair loss, got through the endless hours of toxins being poured through our bodies, the drips, the constant doctors’ appointments, and the often barbaric diagnostic procedures. We let our bodies be poked and cut, we got cat scans and pet scans where our bodies were filled with radioactive materials and we laughed about whether we were going to start to glow green after all the chemicals coursing through our bodies.
You know what? My friends don’t really complain. Me, well, that’s another story. They say things like, “Oh, it’s a tough one this time,” when they’re talking about their latest chemo session. Or, “I’m feeling kind of nauseous this treatment,” such an understatement. Kind of nauseous? Try constant nausea for weeks and months. It sucks big time. But these women are resilient.
We laugh a lot. We have a lot of joy and energy and gumption, my friends. We compare breast surgeons, oncologists, and the handsome plastic surgeon who worked miracles on their reconstructed breasts. We laugh and bitch about the crazy hot flashes and the weird OBGYN procedures some of us now have to go through while on Tamoxifen and the strange new breasts some of us have.
Oh, I’m sure each one of my friends have had their moments, often, when they just let it all go and cried and were scared. I sure did. But that’s not what I see when I see them out and about, or when I see them with their kids or the after school sports. I see them being moms, trying as hard as they can to just keep a semblance of a normal life for their kids while they’re going through one of the most frightening times of their lives. I also see strong career women.
These are tough women. And if you saw them, you’d never know what they’d gone through. They look, on the outside, like all of us; just 6 great women with families, jobs, busy lives. But inside each one has a quiet strength, resilience and courage.
So this month, when you see all the pink and the ribbons and the products hawking awareness, maybe you’ll take a moment and consider donating your time and money towards breast cancer research instead of just breast cancer awareness. Because all the awareness in the world isn’t going to end this disease. The only way to end it is to find a cure.
RANDI RENTZ graduated with honors from The Johns Hopkins University with a Masters degree in Special Education. She was an editorial assistant for a publishing company in suburban Washington, DC before becoming a special education teacher in a school district outside Philadelphia, PA. Randi currently is a High Functioning Autism Support Teacher for grades kindergarten through fifth. She is a proud member, supporter, and blogger for many breast cancer organizations and never leaves the house without diamonds. Visit Randi at her web site and blog at www.randirentz.com. Her upcoming book, Why Buy a Wig…When You Can Buy Diamonds, is a soulful, surprising uplifting journey by a dynamo who used her own adversity as a platform for examining issues all women face. This is the first time that wearing diamonds is a metaphor for courage and hope.