Ah, October. The month that I, as a Phoenician, look forward to every year. It’s typically the time that temperatures are finally under 100 degrees and I can finally walk outside again without risk of heat stroke. I crank my air conditioner to 70 degrees, just so that I can bundle under blankets, order a pumpkin spiced latte, and post a picture to instagram to feel that I somehow have something in common with all my east coast friends taking pictures of red leaves, scarves, and pumpkin patches.
When I crawl out from all my blankets, put my shorts and flip flops back on and step outside into the Phoenix fall world, I immediately feel assaulted by the blanket of well intentioned people wearing head to toe pink. Pale pink, blush pink, and neon pink. Doesn’t matter the shade, it’s just an assault to my eyes. October is no longer the month that ushers in fall, it’s the month that every grocery store looks like it came directly from the set of the Steel Magnolias movie when Julia Roberts got married in a sea of pink Pepto Bismol.
The phone calls come pouring in from telemarketers and neighbors trying to collect money for their organization of choice or another 3 Day Walk. Because who do you call when you want money to fight cancer? That’s right, you call a person who has or has had cancer, because they surely want a cure, right?
I was doing ok with the first couple of days of October until yesterday.
My youngest daughter, Sam, and I were headed out for a day of errands. Her favorite place in the world is Trader Joes. I knew if I promised her a trip to Trader Joes, then I could get away with going to two or possibly three other places on my list first.
We ran into a supermarket to get contact lens solution and fabric softener. As usual, more items appeared in the cart. Toy Story bandaids, a flyswatter, and a butterfly net were all items that Sam thought we needed. I finally convinced Sam that we could head to Trader Joe’s as soon as she was finished, and just like that, she pushed the grocery cart as fast as she could to checkout aisle number four. As Sam was unloading the cart, the checkout lady and I exchanged pleasantries. I noticed her name was Martha on her red name tag. She was in her late 50s or early 60s and covered in head to toe neon pink. She had pink glitter eyeshadow and bobbing pink antennas on her head band. Martha was really taken with Sam and her blonde curls and had a beaming smile as she watched Sam proudly place a shopping divider stick between the our groceries and the next gentleman in line buying condoms and cantaloupe. ‘A new trend perhaps?’ popped through my sarcastic, constantly moving mind.
As Martha hit a button on the cash register to tally up my groceries, she enthusiastically asked, “Would you like to donate one dollar to fight breast cancer?” I smiled at Martha, and politely stated, “No, thank you. Not today.” And she looked over at Sam, and stated, “It’s just a dollar. You should want to donate just to make sure that pretty daughter of yours doesn’t get cancer! You wouldn’t want that now would you?”
I took a deep breath and I was consciously trying to hide my 87% nonverbal communication. I feared my facial expression was probably telling her where to shove her headband antennae. I smiled, and said, “I have given more to breast cancer than you can imagine Miss Martha. But you are right about one thing. I don’t want Sam to get cancer.” I quickly ushered Sam to the side of the cart where she started climbing on it like a jungle gym, and I nervously loaded the last bag into the cart in hopes to escape the wrath of pink Martha.
As I climbed into the car, I found myself wishing I could have shared my heart with her. This is what I would have liked to have said.
Dear Miss Martha,
You are a sweet, kind lady. I am certain you are a lovely person and a doting grandma to many precious little kids. You probably bake the best chocolate chip cookies and host the best sleepovers. But right now, I’m certain if you knew me or my story, you would probably eat that obnoxious pink glittered antennae ball sitting on top of your head right now.
Please don’t take offense to what I have to say, but I really want you to see how your few simple words were hurtful. You see, I really hate pink. I hate pink ribbons. I hate running races where “survivors” are singled out in a special pink shirt. I hate how family members wear pink badges on their backs with the names and pictures of their moms, daughters, friends, and even sons who were robbed of their story and life because of cancer. I hate standing behind those surviving family members and feeling a rush of guilt for having more time with my husband and kids. That feeling rushes to my lungs so quickly that I wonder if I will be physically able to take a deep breath without bursting into tears. And let’s not even begin to discuss the pink jewelry. I could line my walls with all of the pink necklaces and bracelets I have received over the past 9 years. Miss Martha, if you want you could come by my house and I am sure I could contribute to your pink costume with my dusty box of cancer fighting treasures.
But Martha, breast cancer has become a money making business. Do you know how much of that dollar you are wanting me to donate is going directly to cancer research? I would suppose less than 15%. And that might be a high estimation. Many organizations, including Susan G. Komen, give very little money to research. They give a higher percentage of money to salaries, and that is pathetic. And the monies going to current research isn’t even going to the more aggressive cancer types that I and others have been unfortunate to encounter.
Martha, my prayer is that you and Samantha never have to have your breasts removed. I pray that you both are able to keep that part of your body that contribute to you feeling unique, beautiful, and feminine. I pray that you don’t catch a glimpse of scars in the mirror and ever let your mind wander questioning your value or beauty as a woman. You see, my breasts are removed. Gone. I imagine they are sitting somewhere on a shelf, in a dusty chemistry lab jar with a pink tombstone label or a giant pink, boobie cancer filled landfill.
So I don’t need to wear a pink shirt to remind me that I had cancer. I just have to look down and see my chest, complete with scars that would actually make a relatively creative tic-tac-toe board. I have a constant daily reminder. I don’t need Pink October to remind me that breast cancer is an issue.
So if you want to do something for cancer Miss Martha, please save your pennies from purchasing all your pink gear. Save your money from purchasing pink (or any other color) cancer ribbons. And save your time from posting your bra color to social media sites. Geez – don’t get me started on your dang bra colors. Who flipping cares? I lost my breasts. How does the fact that you are wearing a lacy purple bra help those of us fighting cancer?
Instead of donating to a breast cancer money making machine, consider giving your money and time directly to a person battling the disease. Here are some of my suggestions:
Make a meal or better yet start a community wide calendar to ensure they have meals provided to them and their families for 3-4 days a week.
Don’t cook? No worries, buy a gift card to their favorite grocery store or restaurant. Many stores provide home delivery and they can order food that will be dropped off on their doorstep.
Bring take out over with a funny movie. Laugh and talk about funny things and things your friend would like to do or learn how to do after their journey with cancer treatment is complete. Make a pact to have times where cancer can’t be discussed.
Make a homemade blanket.
Make a mixed tape. I know I’m dating myself here, but you know what I mean. Arrange and share an upbeat play mix of songs that help your friend smile or provide comfort while waiting for hours at hospitals, oncology offices, or in the chemo lounge.
Make a chemotherapy basket. Fill the basket with items needed during their course of treatment. Mouth candies, mouth wash, blankets, funny books and movies, etc. There are many websites available in google land with great ideas for items to include during chemo and radiation.
Help with the children. Babysit. Carpool. Help arrange a group of moms to carpool for sporting events, church activities, etc. Keep the children’s lives as normal as possible. As a mom of four, I want to make sure my kids are taken care of. If I know they are being attended to, I am able to recover and rest easier. This is a tremendous burden to those fighting cancer, especially with young children. My kids were 1, 2, and 6 years of age at the time of my diagnosis.
Take care of the spouse, significant other, or parent. Take them to a movie, golfing, or out for a hike. Anything, just not related to the duties of taking care of a cancer patient or children. My parents, sister, and husband took my illness very hard. I was only 30 with three small kids and they were terrified. In many ways looking back, my cancer was harder on those four than even myself.
Avoid giving items related to cancer. If they want a t-shirt, a bracelet, jewelry, or a book related to cancer, let them purchase it. Unless of course they ask for this personally. Books are personal. Some people want books with specific, concrete research. Others just want to read a book with feel good, happy stories where nobody dies. We all handle the diagnosis, treatment, and grieving differently. None of it is wrong – it’s just different.
Avoid sharing your horror cancer stories. It’s very similar to sharing your horror labor stories. Just as I didn’t want to hear about your vagina nightmares, I don’t want to hear how your neighbor died a horrible death due to cancer. These stories often invoke fear and terror rather than serving to inform them. Cancer is scary enough without adding your ‘need to know’ story.
So Martha, I really like you. And Sam loves your headband, so in her book, you are amazing! But stick to your red grocery clerk apron as a uniform and spend your time and monies directly towards a man or woman battling the disease. With that energy and heart of yours, your efforts will not go unnoticed or unappreciated. Make them those world famous chocolate chip cookies that I imagine you are famous for. I am certain you will bless a family beyond measure.
But today Miss Martha, I will not give you a dollar.
I don’t want a month. I want a cure.
My prayer is that this time next year, a cure will have been found or revealed. Then I will host a party next October and proudly wear that dusty, damn pink shirt currently folded in my closet. And if you show up on my doorstep, I will ask to borrow your headband and invite you to dance.
Blessings sweet Martha,
P.S. And to my friends who have gifted me with pink clothes and jewelry. Don’t worry, this doesn’t apply to you. Yours is my favorite.Tweet