5 Things I Want the Pink Ribbon to Stand For

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Breast cancer awareness is a cause I care about deeply.

But after all these years, I still don’t get the pink ribbon.

I don’t get how wearing a pink ribbon helps anyone personally. I don’t get how going pink for a month makes an actual impact on the lives of those diagnosed with breast cancer. Purchasing a pink dustpan and matching duster for the advancement of breast cancer research and cure just somehow feels…frivolous. To me at least.

As a breast cancer survivor I want to rewrite the message of the pink ribbon. Because if it’s awareness we’re really after, then let us be aware of what truly matters. Let’s be aware of what will make significant changes in the lives of women diagnosed with breast cancer and those who are at risk of getting it.

So, if you choose to wear a pink ribbon, let it stand for this.

1.Let it stand for “How can I help?” 

Let’s be completely aware that when a person goes through the initial positive diagnosis of breast cancer, followed up by mastectomy and a series of chemotherapy treatment, added radiation plus medication – it is tough.

Very few will be able to run marathons or simply pick up where they left off soon after. Most will find even simple chores taxing beyond means.

Be aware that after such a course of radical and invasive treatment, a person’s strength is sapped. Not just for a week. Or a month. But for a year, or two, or sometimes even five.

I remember my early days after receiving the full treatment of six courses of chemotherapy. I had to pace myself every moment of the day. After hanging out a load of laundry, I had to lie down in bed to catch a breath for 30 minutes.

After making a simple meal in the kitchen, I had to lie down again. Life was lived out in small pockets of time. I couldn’t read out loud to my son or even sing to him because it took so much effort. Everything took an enormous amount of strain to accomplish. I remember walking to the little corner store just two minutes away from our home was a mighty fine accomplishment.

So, please, I ask of you, if you choose to wear a pink ribbon, then let it be a statement to this. “How can I help?”

Let the pink ribbon signify, “I’m coming over to fold that mountain of laundry for you!”

Let it be an unconditional offer to vacuum, to run errands and make dinner for someone you know who has breast cancer.

Don’t just bring flowers (as lovely and as thoughtful as they are). Bring yourself over for an afternoon of housecleaning. Babysit the kids. You can be sure that they are stretched thin when illness of this sort hits the family.

Be bold. Be practical. Be helpful. Don’t just be aware of breast cancer. Lend a helping hand.

2. Let it stand for Kindness

Kindness goes a long way in the healing and recovery of anyone stricken with cancer.

Most people tend to keep a safe distance from those who are ill and suffering. Oftentimes mistakenly believing that is the kindest thing to do. Because in this day of supreme privacy, we can be shy about intruding into someone’s life. We feel awkward about helping in case we come across interfering. Or worse, pitying.

“Breast cancer patients who have a strong social support system in the first year after diagnosis are less likely to die or have a recurrence of cancer, according to new research from the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center and the Shanghai Institute of Preventive Medicine.” The study, led by first author Meira Epplein, assistant professor of medicine, was published in a recent edition of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Awareness of breast cancer means nothing if it is not accompanied by the deed of compassion. Be a friend. Be a listening ear. Be a healing balm. Be that shoulder to cry on. Be the hand that reaches out.

If you decide to attach the pink ribbon as a badge of support to breast cancer awareness, then let it be a pledge to go the extra mile. For if there is one thing that I hope this awareness campaign ultimately achieves is that we become kinder folks. Kinder to the suffering of another human being.

You might just save a life.

3. Let it stand for Understanding 

Please understand that breast cancer changes a woman’s life forever.

So, please understand if she isn’t as active as before. Please understand if she sometimes cancels last minute. (the wig just won’t sit nicely that day/ she has about a hundred side-effects kicking in from the medication she’s on/ she’s just a tad overwhelmed by it all.)

Please understand if she disappears for a season. It’s her time. To rest. To heal. To build up her strength. To examine her life. She needs to make sense of it all. But on her terms. Not yours.

Please understand that her immune system is low, so do not visit if you are down with even a mild fever or cold.

Please understand that not all breast cancer patients appreciate gruesome stories of chemotherapy side-effects, death statistics caused by breast cancer. Neither after-dinner details of tumours and lumps found in one’s own body.

Please understand that if you feel the urge to educate or enlighten a cancer patient with a medical truth you have, do it with utmost courtesy and kindliness. Do it only if you ask permission. Do it if you are a qualified medical practitioner.

4. Let it stand for Good Health 

With so much money and campaign awareness promoting the existence of breast cancer, I simply wish the pink ribbon would also stand for the awareness of how we can achieve good, wholesome health.

I wish greater awareness and priority can be given to inform women and men of lifestyle risks and changes that can be made so that breast cancer will no longer be among the top five leading causes of death for women worldwide.

If “health awareness” was promoted as seriously as cancer awareness currently is, we would see a huge drop in cancer rates and other illnesses. Unfortunately, most people don’t even know what “being in good health” even looks or feels like, because almost no one in the health field talks about it. Everyone only talks about illness.” – Anita Moorjani

For more information on health risks and lifestyle changes linked to breast cancer, please read my post Beyond The Pink Ribbon.

5. Ultimately, let it stand for Hope.

The first words I heard from a cancer survivor after I had been diagnosed were, “Do not be afraid. This is not a death sentence but a new beginning.” I clung on to those words with my life.

Hope floods life into a body. Hope makes even the most terrified soul, brave. Hope is medicine for the heart and mind and body.

By wearing the pink ribbon, you are saying there is Hope. This glorious, beautiful, bright, shiny hope that gives strength to every tired warrior battling breast cancer. Hope is the light at the end of a dark tunnel. 

By all means, if you want to put your money towards the cause of breast cancer, buy all things pink and pin a pink ribbon on your lapel, do that. But please, please don’t stop there. Because, the pink ribbon has to mean more than that.

It’s not the acknowledging of the existence of breast cancer that counts. It’s the acknowledging of the existence of lives that matters even more.

To all the warriors out there. This one’s for you. To JL and EQ who were my rock and solace. You fed my soul with so much hope I had no room for fear. I thank you both with all my heart. To all of you near and far, who gave of your time, love and friendship. Thank you so much for reaching out to me.

And for those who left us too soon, too young, we remember you. In loving memory of Melanie Rose Killick.