My experience is more than a pink ribbon

Heather Jauquet

There’s nothing dainty or pretty about having cancer

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Plush doll wearing a halo of pink flowers and pink breast cancer ribbons in her hairAnn/Unsplash

“I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”― L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

There is so much I love about October. It's the cooler weather, the bevy of red, gold, and orange that brighten up the trees before giving us a blanket of crunchy leaves to shuffle through on our way to school. October is fire pits and sipping hot chocolate. It’s soccer games, and cross country meets. It’s cozy sweaters and boots. But, most of all it’s the celebration of my daughters’ birthdays, and I’m happy that I’m still around to enjoy them.

But October also means the onslaught of pink ribbons, the Pink Out, where students wear pink one day during the month to support breast cancer awareness. I see the local high school football teams brighten their uniforms with pink ribbons or pink lettering. I see manufacturers and businesses cheapening my experience by selling pink items, which most likely don’t benefit anyone except the manufacturer who prey on women’s vulnerabilities or those who want to support a family member or friend going through breast cancer. They are fooled into thinking that buying that pink ribbon item will actually go towards funding a cure.

October is filled with trauma for those of us who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. It’s joining a club that we never wanted to be in and can never leave. It’s a time filled with anxiety, fear, pain, and fatigue. It’s a time where we are exhausted just by living, and we’re counting the days, months, and years by the number of treatments we have left. We count them by the strands of hair we find dusting the floor and in our teacups. We count them by the eyelashes that sprinkle our face as they fall out one by one.

One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. I am 1 in 8.

Those little pink ribbons do nothing but remind me that my children spent a year wondering if I would die. They remind me of the year I lost my hair and made people uncomfortable when I didn’t wear a hat to cover my baldness.

The pink ribbons remind me of the friends who thought about how it affected them instead of how it affected me, the person dealing with cancer, and the treatments. I could not rally to make them feel better about my ordeal and therefore I was left hanging to be scooped up by those who saw past the shell of a person I was during treatment. They gritted their teeth and held me up at my lowest.

The pink slogans are only good for a month, and then what? Do we forget to do our self-checks the other 11 months of the year? Do you set aside your friend’s experience until you are reminded of it again next October? Or worse yet, do you avoid it because it makes you feel uncomfortable and makes you contemplate your own mortality?

Women are more than a pair of breasts

The “Save the ta-tas” slogans do nothing but reduce women to a pair of breasts. If we can’t save the ta-tas, does that mean we’re not worth saving? Wouldn’t you rather women do everything they can to save their lives, even if it means losing their breasts?

We are no less because our chests are lopsided, if they are scarred, without nipples, or dimpled from where they removed the tumors.

Women are not breasts. We are mothers, daughters, sisters, cousins, aunties, and friends. We are compassion and empathy. We are fighters and survivors. We are businesswomen and caregivers. We are the epitome of strength. We are fragile. We are scared. We are determined. We are more than flesh.

Four-year cancer survivor, Holly Burns, sums it up best in her New York Times article For Some Breast Cancer Survivors, October Is the Cruelest Month, “October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and I am a person who’s had breast cancer, which means me October is basically 31 days of low-key PTSD.”

When you see the onslaught of pink, instead of being performative and buying cheap pink crap to show your support, check in on your friends and loved ones. You don’t need a pink spatula to show your support for breast cancer awareness. Instead, bring a meal. Get your mammogram. Do your monthly self-check. Send a book you enjoy (make sure there’s no cancer references in it because we really don’t need to be reminded that cancer kills). Most of all, take away the burden of having the cancer patient make you feel better about her illness. That added to our plate is exhausting, and we cannot do that as we balance diagnosis, treatment, side effects, fatigue, and reentry into life post-surgery, treatment, reconstruction. We’re trying to find ourselves again in a society that seems to value the ta-tas over the whole woman or the not so physically whole woman as the case may be.

I know that Pinking October is well-meaning by many. If it brings awareness, that makes me happy because early detection is key. I found my lump through a self-check, and a mammogram and biopsy confirmed it.

If you are a fellow breast cancer warrior and survivor who wants to wear pink to illuminate the awfulness of our disease and your survivorship, that is your right, and I stand beside you. Each patient’s journey is her own, and we support each other through our shared experiences.

However, October hits differently for me now as it does for many. So please don’t reduce our experience to a pink ribbon. There is nothing dainty and pretty about breast cancer. We are more than our cancer. And we are more than our breasts. We are more than a 31-day reminder to do your self-check and to get your mammogram.

When should you get your mammogram?

Women should begin getting their mammograms at age 40 or ten years earlier than when their mother was diagnosed, whichever comes first.

For more information about breast cancer the signs to look for, check out Know Your Lemons.

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Certified educator K-12 and Reading Specialist with a focus on the adolescent brain. I write about how educational decisions affect parents, students, and staff. As an educator and parent I also focus on community events for the whole family.

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