When I finished 29 of 30 treatments yesterday, I pulled out of the hospital parking lot and noticed the plethora of pink stickers all over the back of the car in front of me. I found myself wondering why was I not as motivated as many of these other women to wear pink pins on my clothes, or pink ribbons around my wrists, or a pink hat on my head, or get a pink tattoo, or place pink magnets and stickers on the back of my car? Why am I so timid about making my battle public in such a visual way? As a matter of fact, this is the first time I’ve blogged about my cancer. Is there something wrong with me? Am I still in denial? Am I still hoping the oncologist will call me and say, “Guess what? We got it all wrong. Turns out, you don’t have cancer. How ‘bout that?” Perhaps.
Then, another woman posted the same question to a breast cancer support group’s social media page this morning. She felt the same as I and was genuinely curious. Why so much pink everywhere? I felt relief I wasn’t alone in my confusion and in my complete apathy for pink and the ribbons that almost always accompany it.
The responses were heartfelt and moving. Some were even defensive. For some, this is the single most difficult thing they’ve ever had to try to overcome in their whole life. All the pink served as a reminder they are a fighter. They were proud of their survivor status. Others were not only battling cancer, but also had already lost loved ones to the cursed disease, so all the pink was in memory of those loved ones who died. Their answers make sense. I feel the same way; yet, I still find myself recoiling from most things that are cancer-related and pink. It’s been so confusing because pink is one of my favorite colors, but despite that fact, some days I avoid wearing a pink sweater or a pink blouse (even though they have nothing to do with breast cancer) because I don’t want anyone thinking I’m wearing that color because I have breast cancer. I know. It’s weird.
After reading all the responses and seeing I’m not alone in my feelings, I felt somewhat better, but still needed to explore why I feel so differently from many of my brave, pink sisters. So naturally, I decided to think about it out loud by writing about it. I hope others who feel the same way will get some type of comfort from this admission.
The reasons why I don’t openly wear pink ribbons or put pink stuff on my car and most likely won’t ever, ever, ever, get a pink tattoo:
- I don’t want that to be all you think about when you talk to me. Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely understand the value of talking things out when I’m upset or need to vent. But most of the time, I just want to feel normal again. It’s fine if you know me and already know I’m battling cancer and you ask me how I’m doing. But after that, let’s move on. Let’s talk about the kids and school and work and the business of just being a parent or a spouse. Let’s talk about who the Dawgs are recruiting for the upcoming football season and swap some more recipes for some really fattening desserts. Honestly, it’s nice to have some relief from the cancer talk.
- This may sound conceited, but there are some pretty interesting things you could know about me and they have nothing to do with me having cancer. A part of me just feels like if I have stickers all over my car and wear all the paraphernalia I might as well as just wear a neon sign on my forehead that shouts to the world, “HEY I HAVE CANCER AND I WANT YOU TO KNOW IT.” At this point, let me push the pause button…I’m not saying this is what motivates my pink sisters. I’m just saying I don’t want to advertise it. I personally don’t like the attention. Maybe it’s because I’m a hopeless introvert. Who knows?
- I’ve got bigger fish to fry. Honestly, having to stop what I’m doing in the middle of the day to go get my treatments has been the most frustrating and irritating thing ever. I know I shouldn’t complain too much. After all, it’s much better to be inconvenienced than dead. I know. I know. But you see, I’m in Year 2 of my PhD program and seriously need my time back! I’m so behind in my writing it makes me sick to my stomach just thinking about it. I have classes to teach and assignments to grade. I can imagine some of you are thinking, “She really needs to sort out her priorities.” You’re probably right. But I feel keeping my focus on the end game, whether that be graduation or writing another book or preparing another TEDx talk, is the biggest motivator to keep me moving forward and to not wallow in self-pity while eating ice cream and binge-watching shows on Netflix. (Although I have been known to do the latter quite often).
- I don’t want this to be the experience that defines my character. I’ve never been the type to enjoy anyone saying, “Oh you poor thing” or “Bless your heart” to me. Being a victim or feeling like a victim is simply just not in my nature. I’ve always been a fighter. Having cancer is not going to change this. I’ve always been an achiever. Having cancer is not going to stop this. I’ve always been a problem-solver. And having cancer is just another problem to solve.
After spending way more time thinking about this topic than I should have this morning, here’s my conclusion. Having cancer is one of many bumps in the road some of us will have to navigate around in this drag race we call life. Like any other obstacle, I plan to drive right through it and stick my middle finger out the window at it as I watch it fade away in the rear-view mirror. I don’t need or want pink ribbons all over my possessions to remind me of my battle with cancer; nor do I want cancer to be the focal point of my existence while I’m still existing. Full disclosure - I do have some pink ribbon socks and a t-shirt. Most of the time I wear them to bed.
Finally, I have no delusions this battle is over. I have one more radiation treatment to go followed by at least five years of the medication, tamoxifen, and the knowledge that it’s possible for the cancer to come back at any time while I live out the rest of my days. But while I’m living out the rest of my days, I want to focus on other things besides cancer.