Support the Person instead of just the Pink.

October has always been one of my favorite months of the year.  First and foremost because it’s my birthday month (yesterday in fact), it’s also my mom’s birthday month (13th), one of my best friends (16th), my nephew (23th) and my daughters (30th).  Plus the end of the month is Halloween which is the biggest dress up day of the year!

Chicago 2008

Chicago 2008

My Nana (my dad’s mother) had and beat breast cancer twice when I was younger.  I don’t really have a lot of memories of these times as my parents were really good at shielding us from these things as children and young adults.  I do remember feeling “proud” to support breast cancer awareness and started to take part in the annual Race for the Cure in college and even completed two Avon Walks for Breast cancer, one in Washington D.C. in 2003 and in Chicago in 2008.  I was full blown into the “pinkwashing” of October and would sport my pink ribbon gear with pride.

In 2009 that all changed…….

SarahKellyFirst a little background, my sister and I weren’t always the best of friends growing up.  We are 6.5 years apart, and there are many many stories I could tell about our childhoods.  Some that I personally remember like borrowing her brand new, tags still attached Gap fleece when she was home from Purdue for Christmas break and getting into a car accident where the EMT’s had to cut it off of me.  We laugh to this day that the first thing I said to her when she got to the hospital through tears was “I’m sorry I ruined your shirt and I didn’t ask!”  There are other stories I know only from being told at family get togethers of her locking me in the screen porch as a toddler to see if I would cry because I wasn’t a baby who cried often.  All of these stories and memories have lead us down the path to having the close relationship we have now.  My sister is my rock, my confidant, my protector (whether I like it or not), and my biggest cheerleader.


Evie with Aunt Kelly

Evie was born in July of 2009, and when Aunt Kelly came to visit  she was about a month old and it solidified an even deeper bond between us as sisters because now we were also both mothers.  She helped me through those long, tired, lonely nights of new motherhood.  Kept me sane and focused when I wanted to quit breastfeeding because it hurt so bad, and calmly encouraged me to keep going in a way only a sister could.  She taught me how to master the swaddle, focus on one feeding at a time, the magic leg exercises to make them fart, and most importantly that I didn’t need to be perfect to be a good mom.  I just needed to be me and that was all she needed. We talked about how maybe someday we could be pregnant at the same time, and have kids the same age.

Then it was October of 2009, and like I said before…everything changed.  She went into see her midwife for a check up as she and her husband were wanting to try for another child.  She had suffered 2 miscarriages after her second son, so she wanted to get an all clear before they started to try again.  She mentioned this spot on her left breast near her armpit to her midwife and she thought maybe it was a leftover clogged duct from breastfeeding or something simple like that.  Her midwife seemed a little more concerned and sent her for a mammogram and ultrasound….which then lead to a biopsy….which lead to that awful statement on November 10, 2009: You have breast cancer.  She was 33, she had plans for her life, for her family, for her future and now it was all different.  I will never forget that moment, when my mom called, I was holding Evie getting ready to put her to bed, she was 3.5 months old.  I remember hearing the words “Its cancer” and then everything else was just noise.

kellybaldShe had her surgery 9 days later, started chemo in January of 2010 followed by radiation.  She also discovered the type of cancer she had was estrogen receptor positive which put a giant black mark against the thoughts of another child in her future.  With all this information flying around the noise between her and I got louder when I discovered I was pregnant at the end of February of 2010 just before her third chemo treatment.  The months following were the most trying in our relationship as sisters and as friends, but in the larger picture actually served to make our bond stronger.  She lost her hair, and has an incredibly perfect round head buried under her gorgeously thick hair.  Her hair grew back the same color that it was before it was gone and now she rocks the cutest pixie cut ever!

The point of the post (800 words later) is that while as good intentioned as it may have been when it started.  Octobers explosion of pink has turned from a focus on the awful disease to more of a commercialized marketing scheme and even a fashion trend.  NFL players wear pink shoes, gloves and towels.  The grocery stores become overwhelmed with packaging turned “Pink for the Cure”. The pizza boxes from my favorite local pizza joint change to pink in October.  It has become increasingly difficult to not be assaulted by the pink in every direction you turn.

I am not in anyway saying that awareness and early detection education is not extremely important and vital to diagnosis and treatment of this awful disease, but I am saying that overtime I think the “Pink” lost some of it’s most important souls….the quiet, weary, tired and forgotten souls who’s lives have been forever changed by this disease.

Last chemo treatment

Last chemo treatment

The culture today is so focused on “The Cure” “Save Lids to Save Lives” and lets not forget two phrases that make me the most stabby “Save the Tatas” and “Save Second Base”.  I can be quite confident in the statement that a large number of women (and men too) who have fought breast cancer find these taglines offensive.  They make the focus on the body part and not the person.  My sisters breasts have no direct effect on her ability to get pregnant and have more children, but the type of cancer that invaded that specific part of her body does.  There is little to no acknowledgement in the mainstream marketing of breast cancer awareness month that talks about the hard reality of what the “Cure” really means. There is no discussion about what the treatment of this disease does to the bodies of those so gracefully fighting it, nor what the disease and treatment steals from these women.  No one wants to talk about the plans that are changed, the dreams that are lost, the lives that are forever different, and that there are those precious souls who still lose the battle no matter how fiercely they fought.

I ask you that this October you take a moment to be mindful of the far reaching, and long lasting effects of breast cancer.  Think about women like my sister who try go about their everyday lives in the month of October yet are constantly faced with the reminder everywhere they look about the day their lives changed and some of their dreams were stolen.  Think about the men who have lost their mothers, wives, sisters and daughters, their grief may still be very raw but even in the simple pleasure of watching football they can’t escape the reminder of what they lost.

Summer 2013

Summer 2013

I support awareness of this disease and the discussions on early detection, but I want to see a shift in the marketing machine that is Pink October.  Breast cancer isn’t pretty, and slapping the color pink on it can’t hide the raw reality of how this disease impacts lives.  In the days of reality TV and graphic gruesome pictures on the news I would like to see someone interject some reality into Pink October, to show more than a pack of smiling women in pink because that is not reality, it’s more like “putting lipstick on a pig” (thanks for the quote dad).

I will end by saying I am one of the lucky ones affected by this disease because my sister is a survivor.  She battled her cancer with such gracious determination that it gave me the ability to have many more years with her.  Her successful battle allowed us to make new dreams and plans together, but not before it stretched our bond to it’s limits.  I am going to take a new spin on Pink October this year and I am going to support the people affected by this disease and not just the pink.

2 thoughts on “Support the Person instead of just the Pink.

  1. I totally agree with all of it and can identify with so much of it

    I’ll never, ever, ever, ever forget the day my best friend Anna told me she had breast cancer. She was twenty-damn-three. I know that sinking feeling and the gut reaction

    I’m glad her mom started a foundation in her name related to travel. That’s so much more in line with how she lived rather than how she died

    She loved the color pink, but hated that everyone puked it up in Oct.

    It means something so different when your life is affected by it directly. When you’ve been there through the treatments, hospitalizations, the hair loss, the pain. The hard conversations about the future…Wondering if there will be a future.

    Being in a hospital conference room where the information changes by the hour, but you know that you have precious little time left and her parents are begging you, as her friends and family to start thinking about how you’re going to memorialize her

    In a last conversation, sharing pics from high school and promising her that you’ll take her to the HS reunion that she desparately wants to go to, but dies 4 days before she can attend

    That’s cancer. Not some meaningless pinksplosion.

  2. I’m a marketing guy. I loved what you had to say, and think there are implications for major brand marketers. You’re right, we’ve mucked it up. (From a friend of your sister’s) 🙂

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