My sister Mary turned to me one day and said, “If I have to look at one more pink ribbon on a household item or on a notepad, I just might scream.”
With the diagnosis of breast cancer came the overwhelming flood of gifts with pink ribbons. I imagine it’s a bit of what my father-in-law, a Pastor of a church in New York, must feel whenever someone gives him a gift with an image of Jesus or a cross or a Biblical quote. While he loves the Lord, the Bible, and his calling as a minister, he also likes getting gifts that do not have any religious references at all. Yet, whenever I see a item with a familiar religious symbol on it, I think “Pops would really love that shirt/card/painting.” It just is.
With the whole BRCA and Mb4M journey, I’ve received beautiful cards and gifts with pink ribbons. Though, like most pre-vivors, it doesn’t seem to quite fit with me. “Pink ribbons”, to me, means breast cancer awareness and a way of remembering and honoring those who have breast cancer. Because I’ve never actually had it, the pink ribbon isn’t a symbol I connect with. (on the other hand, FORCE has a lovely “pink and teal” ribbon that I does speak to me as an awareness symbol for BRCA).
Early in the school year, one of my students, Michelle, gave me a bracelet. “I Love Boobies” it read. She bought one in pink and one in blue. “This is for you, Liza. It’s in honor of your boobies.” We had a great laugh, I wore it, then I got weird looks from my priest/boss when I rocked it at a meeting, and then I moved on. I loved that bracelet, though. It did feel like something I was proud of. Because I so openly talked about My Boobies, wearing an “I Love Boobies” bracelet seemed to fit.
Then, I went to Burger King. And, there, handing me my change after ordering a bad-for-me hormone induced burger, was a young man with the same bracelet. Now, sure, he could, too be BRCA positive and wanting to show his support for men who are often under and mis-diagnosed with breast cancer. Or, maybe his mom, grandmother, auntie, sister or teacher had battled it. Or, maybe he wanted to fight against the silence that women often face in talking about their breasts.
Or, maybe, just maybe, he really loved Boobies and wanted to make sure everyone who ordered a #4 with a Diet Coke knew, too.
I laughed, at first. Then, I shook my head. Have we made breast cancer too sexy? In our efforts to destroy the silence, shame and embarrassment about our breasts, have we made breast cancer awareness just another marketing campaign? Does seeing pink really just mean making green?
Thanks to my friend, Denise, who is recovering from back surgery, I read this article with the same sentiment:
I hate to be a buzz kill, but breast cancer is just not sexy. It’s not ennobling. It’s not a feminine rite of passage. And, though it pains me to say it, it’s also not very much fun. I get that the irreverence is meant to combat crisis fatigue, the complacency brought on by the annual onslaught of pink, yet it similarly risks turning people cynical. By making consumers feel good without actually doing anything meaningful, it discourages understanding, undermining the search for better detection, safer treatments, causes and cures for a disease that still afflicts 250,000 women annually (and speaking of figures, the number who die has remained unchanged — hovering around 40,000 — for more than a decade).
Make no mistake, there is nothing sexy or, yes, titillating, about the risk of cancer. I joke, uncomfortably, about having perky boobs that “point straight instead of pointing down” because someone else has. I find that people who have been really uncomfortable with the boob conversation tend to go directly to the “well, you’ll have a nice rack!” conversation. And, not looking to prolong the awkwardness, I tend to just joke back and move on. But, no. No. Risk of cancer isn’t funny. It isn’t hip. It’s not trendy nor cool. Not sexy nor exciting. It’s not a cool opportunity to start joking about “second base”. Women have died. Men have died. Young people, older people, and people of all faiths, races, educational achievements, sexual identity, abilities, and geographic homes have died from breast cancer. Moms. Grandmothers. Sisters. Brothers. Fathers.
It’s true. I, too, have been a traveling consumer on the marketing bandwagon. My “Marathon B4 Mastectomy” running shirts are pink and teal. I have bank checks with a pink ribbon. But, the pink ribbon, for me, is an outward show of support for all who have been affected. My own awareness is much closer to home. For, every time I look at myself in the mirror, I am reminded that breast cancer has affected my family. Lately, as I stare at my naked breasts — for the last few times — I am reminded exactly to what lengths I must go to reduce my risk.
I have begun to say goodbye to my breasts.
I have thanked them, for nourishing my children, for making them strong, for being true taste of love and life just moments after they left the comfort of my womb. For though my babies were no longer contained within me after birth, my breasts allowed them to share a connection — a life connection — with me for more than a year.
I have begun to say goodbye to my breasts. I laugh at the first time I was old enough to buy my first bra, putting it on, and turning sideways in a mirror to see my new body.
I have begun to say goodbye to my breasts. For all those times when I tried my best to make them look cute in a new shirt or pushed-up in the latest Victoria’s Secret purchase. They have been in training bras, cute lace bras, maternity and nursing bras, sports bras, and bathing suit bras.
I have begun to say goodbye to my breasts. They have been a line in a poem my husband wrote to me years ago. Have been with me on every major life event. And, they have been there with me through every celebration, sadness, and day-to-day.
In just a few days, I will say goodbye to my breasts. I will say goodbye to the worry of cancer, to the fear of dying, and to the agony of discovered lumps. I will say goodbye to a part of me that I never imagined would need to be removed. And, I will say goodbye to a life source that has given me three beautiful and strong children.
I will say hello to a life of reduced risk. I will be alive. I will be strong. And, I know, soon enough, I will find peace.
Peace, love, and reclaiming sexy,