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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Pink Abyss

As we all know, pink is the color of breast cancer.  Pink is a soft color.  A feminine color (in Western culture).  A gentle color.  A warm, welcoming color.  It's a baby color.  Pink represents romance, love, friendship, harmony.  It represents innocence and youth.  Pink is just so PINK.

There's nothing wrong with the color pink.  It's not, though, typically thought of as a "power color."  No law student interviewing for an internship with a judge is going to show up wearing a pink suit, for instance. 

As Marshall McLuhan said, "The medium is the message."  This is seen nowhere more clearly than in the pink-itude of breast cancer.  In previous entries, I've written about the realities of breast cancer, and they really aren't all that warm, welcoming, innocent and harmonious.  Yet the medium of pink (ribbons) has become the message of breast cancer awareness.  It is also becoming controversial as bloggers and organizations take on the pink ribbon campaign.

I've never liked pink.  My mother loved pink.  I think it was her second favorite color next to baby blue.  She was a very pastel oriented person.  Unfortunately for her, her daughter turned out to be very much the tom-boy and very much did not like pink no matter how often I was told I look good in it.

Needless to say, being diagnosed with breast cancer has not helped foster my appreciation for pink.   Early in my treatment, a friend who is also an endurer offered me a golf visor with a pink ribbon on it, saying I could have it if I wanted but that she didn't "need to be reminded of breast cancer.  Fake boobs do that for me."  Very true.  As an endurer myself, the limited range of motion in my left arm is a constant reminder of my cancer.  The cognition deficits I struggle with are a daily reminder.  The damage to my children's psyches reminds me that we are all altered, and not for the better, by cancer.

Yet I find myself inexplicably drawn to pink ribbon paraphernalia.  Oh, I don't mean the cute pink teddy bears or pink ribbon key chains.  I most certainly won't be getting a pink ribbon tattoo.  Daily, though, when one particular group post comes through my Facebook feed, I find myself clicking on items to buy that are decorated with pink ribbons.  Pink ribbon running shoes, fleece jackets, and water bottles draw my attention. 

I never buy them.  I'd be uncomfortable wearing them.  I do, though, understand why others buy them.

At one point when I was in treatment, my infusion cycle matched that of another endurer.  I mentally referred to her as "the pink ribbon lady."  I've since run into her at other breast cancer oriented events.  We chatted as we sat, tethered to our poisons, for long periods of time.  From what I can infer, she's a mother of grown children, a grandmother, and also has metastatic her2/neu breast cancer.  She was there getting the herceptin infusions that are keeping her cancer from progressing.  As much as I could tell, she is "healthy" and living a very active life, which is awesome and gives me hope.

I refer to her as the "pink ribbon lady" because on one particular day every single item of clothing that I could see had at least one pink ribbon on it.  Her hat, her shirt, her sweat pants, her socks, her tennis shoes, her jacket, and her earrings all had (albeit tasteful) pink ribbons somewhere.  She was also talking about having attended a "pink ribbon" event the previous evening and plans for attending another the following week. 

Now, maybe her clothing was part of her infusion armor. I wore my "Hey Cancer, you picked the wrong bitch!" t-shirt on infusion days.  I also wore my Pac Man t-shirts to infusions.  I carried Pac Man band aides to be applied over my port after my infusions. I even mediated to Pac Man music during infusions. I'm all about infusion mojo.

I won't, though, wear pink ribbons.  For starters, they are pink.  I've made it clear I don't like pink.  However, every time I look at some pink ribbon festooned item, I also think "I'd never wear that."  I don't want to be known as the Breast Cancer Lady.  Trust me, I don't hide my diagnosis.  I also wear a lymphedema sleeve quite frequently.  I probably talk too much and in inappropriate situations about cancer and treatment.  On the other hand, I'm creeped out by the idea of wearing breast cancer ribbons on my attire.  During treatment, I had a pink boxing glove key chain that I attached to my bag and a real pair of pink boxing gloves on my power alter, but those are gone now.  I don't feel drawn to them.

Still, I find something attractive by the pink culture.  Although I struggle with the Komen organization and pinkwashing of product marketing, I also can't say I won't participate in the Race for the Cure this year.  I found participating in the Race last year exhilarating.  (I promise here that I won't hit anyone up for donations, though, and I won't be organizing a team again.)  There's something exhilarating about being surrounded by others who have shared experiences, fears, and hopes.  I also don't mind the support funding offered by Komen.  I fully enjoyed my exercise classes for women with breast cancer, funded by a Komen grant.  Best classes ever!  I don't, though, anticipate using the Komen bottle koozie or change purse that I was given. 

There is something about the message of hope and progress and belonging that supersedes the other messages in the pinkness of the ribbon medium.

I look at pictures of my friend and her pink ribbon dragon boating paddle, a friend who is many years out from treatment and doing well, and I think if she can do it, I can do it.  I relied heavily on messages of strength and hope during treatment. 

I'm planning on buying a new kayak next week.  I doubt it will be pink.  If I could find a pink kayak paddle, I'd be all over that.  I'd certainly add a pink ribbon decal to the bow of my kayak.  I'd wear a pink whitewater helmet or life vest.  I'd wear pink ribbon lifting gloves with pride.  I'd probably wear a tech shirt that says, "These boobs don't jiggle. Running for my life" or "Cancer sucks.  Running for my life."  I already have one that says, "Chemo is easy; chemo is hard."  I'd use pink kettlebells.  I'd wear a pink biking jersey.

A pink paddle, I think, sends a much more empowering message than a pink teddy bear.

Pink is here to stay.  The pink ribbons and teddy bears aren't going away.  I just want women to also find strength in pink, to see pink ribbon hand weights and heavy bags, not just yoga mats and water bottles.  Instead of racing for  a cure, racing in spite of no current cure.

Maybe I'll be out on the river some day and some woman whose breasts have been chopped off, who can't raise her arms more than 30 degrees from her side, who that morning had to ask someone to tie her shoes for her and pour her a cup of coffee will see my pink ribbon kayak paddle and draw some strength and determination to keep putting one foot in front of the other. 

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