Written by Allie
September 30th, 2020
Tomorrow is October 1st, the first day of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Or, as many of us living with breast cancer call it, the Pinkwashing. This is always a hard time for many of us because it represents the capitalization of a disease that we live with - that is killing us - and we don’t benefit in any real way from it.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month does not help many people living with breast cancer, and especially people living with stage IV metastatic breast cancer, like me. The only thing that will save us is a cure. However, many of the businesses selling pink items for breast cancer awareness donate little to no money to breast cancer causes like research or outreach or care for patients. Most of the money goes back into their pockets as profit. They are literally making money from our suffering. It is predatory and cruel. If you are thinking of purchasing something with a pink ribbon on it, please do your research and make sure the profits from the item are actually benefiting breast cancer patients.
The whole concept of breast cancer awareness is not the issue. Unless you have been living under a rock, you are aware of breast cancer. It’s not lack of awareness, but lack of resources, that harms those who need care. Those who have breast cancer need access to mammograms, affordable cancer care, and help during treatment like childcare, counseling, physical therapy, house cleaning, grocery shopping, accessing medications, paying the mortgage, and other practical things that pink ribbons don’t fix. We also need more research toward finding a cure for stage IV. One third of all breast cancer patients will end up being stage IV, which means we are now living with a terminal disease.
Pink ribbons make people feel good in the moment. They make people feel like they are in solidarity with those who are suffering. But really, it can be hurtful to see pink ribbons everywhere when you are literally dying because of lack of access to the lifesaving things you need. Breast cancer can represent the darkest moments in a person’s life, and hope can be hard to find.
I know what it’s like to face down the darkest moments. I have been to the place where I literally could barely get up off the couch to go to the bathroom because the pain was so great. I stared down bottles of very strong pain pills and applications for handicap parking spaces. I stared down wheelchairs and well-meaning family members. And I said no. I slept in pain, I ate in pain, I did everything in pain. But I never stopped trying. To me, all those things were steps I wasn’t ready to take. I wasn’t there yet mentally, and I had to fight everyone around me to keep my course and push back against all of the “help.” I know people were worried about me and thought I was being foolish. And maybe I was, in certain aspects. But I needed to trust myself and do it my way to make it to the other side.
I’m not going to romanticize this. It was an extremely painful time. I have lied in bed and coaxed myself to sleep by telling myself that everything would be okay tomorrow if I didn’t wake up. I have thought that it was time to be done, that maybe it was best for everyone if this was the end of my journey. There were certainly times that the loved one I was staring down was myself. I was hanging on to hope by a very small thread, but I somehow managed to keep putting one foot in front of the other, no matter how painful in the moment. It was dark. It wasn’t pretty and it definitely wasn’t pink.
Hope doesn’t look like pink ribbons and road races to me. Hope looks like the quiet, hard work done in the background. It’s the researchers, the trial patients, the psychologists, and the countless health care workers who help their patients push through and achieve their version of a meaningful life with cancer. It’s the caretakers, the housecleaners, the meal makers.
I am writing this the morning after learning of the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I am so sad. I am mourning and I’m trying not to speculate in the moment, but hope is hard to find. But five years ago, I was entering the darkest place in my life. I didn’t know if things would ever get better. I didn’t know that I would be here to see this moment we’re living through. In fact, statistically speaking, I shouldn’t be.
So today I ask you not to Pinkwash the moment. Take the small steps you need to take to make it through today, and then do it again tomorrow. Don’t waste your time or money on things that only profit others or are a quick fix to cover up any pain or guilt you might be feeling and won’t make a significant difference in the long run. Trust the scientists, the experts, the survivors, and trust yourself.