It’s October and of course that means it’s time for the pinkification of the country. Everywhere you turn there are pink ribbons and all the controversy that goes along with them. Rather than indulge myself in the ongoing frustration about turning a disease like breast cancer into a pink fantasy world, what I’d prefer to write about are my friends who’ve gone through breast cancer, to honor them instead of honoring the pink ribbon marketing campaigns that are in our face everywhere this month.
Back when I was a marketing executive in corporate America, I ran one of those breast cancer awareness campaigns for my previous employer. I know how it works. We could only fund the 6 figure annual sponsorship fees associated with the campaign if we could prove to the corporation that we would see substantial incremental sales volume from the program. It’s not all out of the goodness of corporate America’s heart, guys. Five Hour Energy drink isn’t helping save women’s lives, it’s using breast cancer and pink ribbons to sell energy drinks that have no intrinsic value to your health, let’s be real about this, folks.
When I think of breast cancer, I don’t think of the color pink, or of ribbons, or all the products I see on the shelf and in the store circulars with pink ribbons. I think of the faces of the women I know who have had breast cancer.
To date, eight of my very close friends have gone through breast cancer and a few have already gone through recurrences. Some of them were friends before I was diagnosed, all of them have become even closer friends after diagnosis.
There’s an immediate connection that is formed when someone you know is diagnosed breast cancer. You quickly bond and share stories about your diagnostic treatments and procedures, and nod heads when the other one tells you about her difficult reaction to her chemo treatment, or how her breast literally became so red and burned with the radiation she received that she couldn’t wear anything against her skin for months, or how her surgical scars got hard and thick with keloids and she worried about how it had changed her body, or how she’s having severe joint pain from the Arimidex or Tamoxifen she’s taking, or her fears that our daughters will someday have to go through what we went through.
With some, there are the unspoken words and nervous looks you share when you both hear of someone new who’s been diagnosed, which sparks your fears of recurrence.
But with each of them, I’m most amazed by the strength and courage I see in them. They’re women, they just keep doing what women do. Even while they’re going through treatments, procedures and surgeries, they keep being the mom, the one who takes care of the kids, and who runs the household.
Many of these strong women kept working right through their treatments; they went through the hair loss, got through the endless hours of toxins being poured through their bodies, the drips, the constant doctor’s appointments, the often barbaric diagnostic procedures. They let their bodies be poked and cut, they got cat scans and pet scans where their bodies were filled with radioactive materials and they laughed about whether they were going to start to glow green after all the chemicals coursing through their bodies.
They don’t really complain. They say things like, “Oh, it’s a tough one this time,” when they’re talking about their latest chemo session. Or, “I’m feeling kind of nauseous this treatment,” such an understatement. Kind of nauseous? Try constant nausea for weeks and months. But these women are resilient.
They laugh a lot. They have a lot of joy and energy and gumption, these women. They compare breast surgeons, oncologists, and the handsome plastic surgeon who worked miracles on their reconstructed breasts. They laugh and complain with me about the crazy hot flashes and the weird OBGYN procedures some of us now have to go through while on Tamoxifen and the strange new breasts we have.
Oh, I’m sure each one of them has had their moments, often, when they just let it all go and cried and were scared. But that’s not what I see when I see them out and about, or when I see them with their kids and at school or the after school sports. I see them being strong women, trying as hard as they can to just keep a semblance of a normal life while they’re going through one of the most frightening times of their lives.
These are tough women. And if you saw them, you’d never know what they’d gone through. They look, on the outside, like all of us: just 8 great women with families, jobs, busy lives. But inside each one has a quiet strength, resilience and courage.
So this month, when you see all the pink and the ribbons and the products hawking awareness, maybe you’ll take a moment and consider donating your time and money towards breast cancer research instead of just breast cancer awareness. Because all the awareness in the world isn’t going to end this disease. The only way to end it is to find a cure.
Claudia Schmidt, a working mom with two teens, writes a blog about life after her breast cancer experience in February of 2010. You can follow her at My Left Breast. Claudia’s work has been featured on WEGO Health, Cancer Knowledge Network, BA50 and Midlife Boulevard. She lives in bucolic Clinton, New Jersey with her husband, two teens, and a menagerie of pets. Follow her on Twitter @claudoo, Facebook or Pinterest.