Of all the things breast cancer ruined for me, the color pink is among them. I used to like pink. Sometimes in a shamelessly girly way and sometimes just because it was beautiful.
As a decorator, I know I’m not alone. In fact, the 2011 Color of the Year, as pronounced by Pantone, is Honeysuckle Pink. Pink is hot right now in the world of decor. For people who haven’t had breast cancer, or known someone who has, pink is a whole spectrum of hues which represents positivity. Pink is cool.
Pink innocence is over for the rest of us. Pink now symbolizes “awareness” of a disease I’d rather not be so aware of, especially firsthand. Further, pink marketing has led to a real debate as to the relative merits of “awareness” versus prevention and cure. It’s the color of pink ribbons, pinkwashing, pinkification, pink nausea, pinktober and pink overload. I think I can speak for most of us when I say, we are pinked out.
Pink also labels. I am a breast cancer survivor who speaks up about the disease. Wearing the pink ribbon, however, has always made me uncomfortable. Even before my initiation into the “awareness versus research” debate, I was a reluctant “warrior in pink.” Do I want the first thing you learn about me when we meet to be my breast cancer history? Do I want to turn myself into a billboard “for the cause?” While I respect others’ decision to do so, I cannot. My reason is simple. Breast cancer completely took over my life when it hit. Little by little, I regained equilibrium. I can’t be a 24/7 “warrior in pink” and maintain it. Worse, the positive attributes of pink have prettied up the disease. There’s nothing “feminine,” “girly”, or otherwise “sweet” about breast cancer, but pinkification has glossed over the ugliness with a pretty pink glow.
I want to clearly state that I believe in education and awareness. It is because of awareness that I dutifully got the yearly mammogram that revealed micro-calcifications and might have saved me from an invasive cancer. Awareness is old news, however, to women living with metastatic cancer. For an exhaustive accounting of how Komen presently prioritizes awareness over research, you must read “Komen by the Numbers,” posted by The Cancer Culture Chronicles. I’ve learned so much from Rachel and from reading Dispatch From Second Base and Pink Ribbon Blues. You will too, if you haven’t already.
Right now, let’s get back to poor maligned pink. We need to take a break from pink fatigue with a nostalgic look back. In the olden days, (for me, that would be pre-2008) pink was just another color in the rainbow and it made me happy. Join me as I look for that happiness again by listing all things pink – well, all things minus one – because the pre-cancer days of pink were sweetly innocent and, once in a while, I demand the right to go back there:
1. Historically, being “in the pink” meant at the very peak of something. Shakespeare used the phrase in Romeo and Juliet when Mercurio uttered: ” Why I am the very pinke of curtesie.” Now, the phrase more specifically means at the very peak of good health.
2. When I’m “tickled pink” I’m delighted by something. Again, pink is a symbol of happiness, referring to the pink, rosy blush which comes to your cheeks when you laugh yourself silly.
3. Who can resist pink undies? Nineteen-year old Army specialist Zachary Boyd made the front page of the New York Times when he was photographed fighting off a Taliban ambush in Afghanistan, in his pink boxers. Seems it’s not just us girls who like a bit of pink under our street clothes (or fatigues.)
5. I’m not a die-hard Pink Floyd fan, but I’ve known their music most of my life and like it. I also like John Mellencamp and his song, “Pink Houses.” I could be a fan of Pink, but I don’t know yet, I’ll have to give her a real listen.
7. I have seen the infamous pink plastic flamingos grazing on many a lawn. I’ve never seen a pink Amazon River dolphin, which is actually real and actually very pink. Are they “benevolent, semi-divine beings?” Check them out and decide for yourself.
8. While I’m contemplating the power of pink, I’d like to be happily wiggling my toes in the pink sands of the islands of Bahamas, Bermuda or Maui. That would definitely tickle me pink.
As Elizabeth Taylor famously said, “I fell off my pink cloud with a thud.” We can never recapture pink innocence. We can push pink forward toward more research. As Audrey Hepburn noted, there is a lot of power in pink. “I believe in pink. I believe that laughing is the best calorie burner. I believe in kissing, kissing a lot. I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong. I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is another day and I believe in miracles.”
There is no doubt that “breast cancer pink” is a powerful symbol of much needed awareness and solidarity. It was the courageous activism of such singular women as Betty Ford and Nancy Brinker of the Komen foundation, which put the days of silence about breast cancer behind us. But we need to carry the banner forward and I join Jackie Fox of Dispatch from Second Base, when she asks Komen to “think of how much more good you could do.“ Redirecting more funds to research will do for prevention and cure what was done for awareness. Let’s make pink the color of miracles – the kind of miracles that result in prevention and cure for the millions of us who are desperate to see it.
Survival > Existence,