As most everyone knows, it’s breast cancer awareness month…my least favorite month.
I wear a pink ribbon on my foot. It’s a tattoo actually. I have a total of 3 (tattoos). One on my foot and two on my breast from where my nipples used to be. When I was younger and wanted to get a tattoo, I had one rule, it had to be something that I stood for, something about who I was, a symbol that people could see and immediately know what I was about. My tattoo has running arms and legs to symbolize well, a running ribbon. I saw it on a race that I did where I met a breast cancer survivor who told me she ran through treatment. She is/was my inspiration. Four months after that race, I was diagnosed myself at age 35. The tattoo on my foot tells you exactly who I am. I am a runner and a survivor.
Seems like there is a lot of anger over the pink ribbon these days and I can honestly say I understand. Years ago, the pink ribbon stood for awareness when in a society we didn’t want to know about breast cancer and we were ashamed to talk about it. We wanted our women, our mothers, our grandmothers to have the strength to get through anything without compromising our male counterparts. Those women who pioneered the pink ribbon, I’m thankful for. Today, people abuse the pink ribbon. Believe me, we are fully aware of breast cancer. What needs to happen now is more research – how do we prevent women from getting it and how do we help those with metastatic disease.
When I was a little girl about 5 (1980-ish) my grandmother, my mother’s mother went through breast cancer. It wasn’t something we talked about in my family. Deedee, as I called her, survived but we all saw the impact it had on her and those around her. She lived in Little Rock, we lived in Memphis. She came to Memphis for treatment and surgery because her husband was ex-Army and there was a military base close by that would cover the cost of treatment. She had a single mastectomy and radiation. I’m not sure if she went through chemo because I don’t remember but I do remember her losing her hair so maybe she did. However, I do remember, as clear as yesterday, walking into my bedroom where she was staying while she was being treated and seeing my mother apply an ointment to her charred skin. Back then, they over-radiated. My mother immediately yelled at me to get out but that image, just like her skin, is burned into my brain.
My father’s mother also had breast cancer. As did his sister and her daughter. I’m assuming that’s the side of the family where I get the gene from because my dad also died from prostate cancer which apparently is linked. I never knew my grandmother, Annie Mae as she was known. She died at 34 back in 1945, maybe. Back then, they definitely didn’t talk about it (breast cancer) and I believe her death certificate indicates heart failure instead of breast cancer. Heart failure at 34…hmmm.
When I was diagnosed in 2010, I hated telling my family. I tried to lighten it up, for them, by saying “Guess what? I’m finally getting those bigger boobs I’ve always wanted.” I hid the fact that it bothered me and I was scared. I didn’t want to remember my grandmother’s charred skin and thinking I would look the same. I remember telling my mom and how calm she was. She was silent, then very matter of fact, she said, “So, you definitely have it (cancer)”? Yes, Mom I replied. I knew she was thinking of her mom and how they ‘butchered’ her back in the 80’s. I also knew as soon as I got off the phone, she’d call my brother and proceed to freak out.
Being in a technology field in my career, I knew things (treatment and reconstruction) would be different for me. The good news is because of the pink ribbon, I wasn’t ‘butchered’ and I had an amazing team treating me. Technology & research were on my side. Almost six years later I’m still healthy runner and a survivor. I can’t imagine what my grandmother would say today about my tattoos – specifically the 3D nipple tattoos! Hopefully she’d be impressed.
It’s different today because of the pink ribbon. Today, we openly talk about getting breast cancer, surviving, and dying from the disease. We show our scars openly and we talk about the struggle it is to go from breast cancer to hero. We also criticize the pink ribbon. I’ll admit, pink is not my favorite color but it is what is and I wear it proudly. I don’t like the companies out there exploiting the ribbon though. My advice to you when it comes to the pink ribbon is to encourage you to do your own research, see who it represents and where the money (if any) is going towards. Support those organizations that support research. Just because you wear the pink ribbon, doesn’t mean you’re making a difference.