Friday, October 20, 2017

The Pink Sisterhood

I attended a screening of a breast cancer documentary last night because, you know, it's breast cancer awareness month. I was there for the discussion after the film to offer a different perspective, because my breast cancer is Stage IV. 

Now I figured the audience would be mostly women (it was). But I did not expect the audience to be dressed in pink. All of them. Dressed in pink. Pink shirts. Pink socks. Pink sweaters. Pink purses. All of it pink. A sea of pink.  I'd never seen anything like it before. 

And considering how much pink was already going on in the room, I found it odd that the women in the room were clamoring for even more pink. "I have t-shirts!" the event organizer called across the room,  holding a bright pink t-shirt aloft, the word survivor emblazoned on the back. And the women surged forward to grab their pink reward. They were a pack of pink breast cancer sisterhood, a sorority you can only enter after enduring a horrifying and hellish hazing period. 

But I am not a member of the pink sisterhood. My cancer has spread. I will not be a survivor, and survivorship is a cornerstone of membership in the breast cancer sorority. The reality is that roughly 30% of the pink sisters in the room last night will join my sad sorority, the cancer coming back into a distant organ, taking the poor woman through a new and never-ending hazing routine.  But as of last night, the women in the room had all been through breast cancer, their treatment was done, they were moving on with their lives.  They were survivors. They were members of the pink survivor team.

I do not blame those women for loving pink, for holding on to the hope that the cancer will never return. I certainly wish I could be a member of their group. I hate the color pink, but I would have been happy to wear fuchsia to be a part of the crowd. It's just I never got to experience living in the world of "your cancer's gone, you can go about your life now." By the time I was first diagnosed, my breast cancer had already spread to my liver (HER2-positive cancer is an aggressive and fast-growing disease).  Any way you cut it, pink was never meant to be my color after all.

The one wish, though, is that people would quit assuming that, because I say I have breast cancer, I will automatically survive and insist to me I will survive as well. Not everyone survives, and it's a sad reminder of that fact when the person I'm speaking to insists otherwise. Everybody survives breast cancer is a line sold by clever marketing people who want us all to believe that cancer, if caught early, never comes back, so please, buy these pink things and we'll give a little of the money to awareness campaigns, and then we'll pocket the rest. Breast cancer can come back years after first diagnosis. And breast cancer can and still does kill an estimated 40,000 women and men in the US every year.

So do me a favor. Do not assume that just because my boobs are gone and I've had chemo, that I'm happy about it and moving on with my life.  I live in the world of cancer permanently. Cancer will most likely kill me, unless that proverbial bus hits me first.  Go ahead and wear your own pink. Just try not to rub the pink in my face as well.  This is hard enough already.