Breast Cancer Awareness – Why I Wear a Pink Ribbon

Finding out if you have breast cancer is the first step in surviving it.

Wearing a pink ribbon is a non-confrontational way of putting a face on breast cancer and inviting the people you encounter to engage you in conversation.

Although anytime is a good time help people learn about breast cancer, Breast Cancer Awareness Month brings it to the attention of the general public potentially giving you a wider audience for sharing information, support, or assistance. The way you interact with people will affect how willing they are to receive what you have to offer.

For instance, how would you feel if you were walking down the street on your way to run an errand during your lunch break and I stopped you and asked you if you had mammogram recently? What if I turned to you in the grocery market checkout line and began reciting breast cancer statistics? What would you do if we were sitting next to each other waiting for a meeting to begin and I introduced myself as a breast cancer survivor and began describing my chemotherapy treatment?

Chances are you would feel offended, threatened, annoyed or some other emotion and would try to get away from me as soon as possible.

Now, imagine you see me adorned with a pink ribbon minding my own business as I walk down the street, stand in the checkout line, or sit waiting for a meeting. Of course, you might not notice my pink ribbon or you could just ignore it and me. But then again, maybe you will see the pink ribbon and it will spark a thought.

Perhaps it jogs your memory and you scrounge around your purse looking for the mammogram slip you doctor gave several months ago. After pulling out the crumpled form along with your cell phone, you call to make a mammogram appointment. Possibly, you are curious and open a dialogue with me by asking me if I am a breast cancer survivor or why I am wearing a pink ribbon (this has happened to me, although not in the grocery market). Maybe a friend who is undergoing breast cancer treatment comes to mind so you sneak out of the meeting and call her volunteering to drop off dinner tomorrow.

Do you see what I mean?

Why I Wear a Pink Ribbon in October

Wearing a pink ribbon during Breast Cancer Awareness Month is personal for me. I am a breast cancer survivor. It is part of who I am, now.

Each morning during October, I attach a pink ribbon to whatever I am wearing for several reasons.

One is that I want to remind the people who see me that breast cancer affects real people devastating our lives and too often killing us. It could be you or someone you love. Breast cancer mostly affects women, but a small number of men get breast cancer, too.

Another reason is that by wearing a pink ribbon, I am inviting you to engage in a conversation with me at a level that feels comfortable to you, but only if you choose to talk with me. It is your choice.

Woman Wearing a Pink T-Shirt and Ribbon Shouting into a Megaphone
Photo Credit – iStock/RyanKing999

As odd as this may sound, wearing a pink ribbon also acts as a sort of safety mechanism for me. It cautions me that even though I might feel like ranting and raving about toxins in the environment, complacency about cancer in our society, or government agencies failing to protect our health, I realize that throwing a fit is not going to encourage you or anyone else to talk with me about breast cancer.

A Mammogram Saved My Life

Saying “A mammogram saved my life.” is an overly dramatic and not completely correct statement but it does grab your attention.

My breast cancer tumor was buried against my chest wall and was not detectable to the touch. A mammogram first alerted my doctor and then me that I might have breast cancer. The ultrasound that followed the mammogram indicated that I likely had invasive breast cancer and the biopsy confirmed it.

I have shared parts of my breast cancer journey in other posts like Life after Cancer – Volunteering, New Year’s Resolutions for 2017 – Hit the Reset Button, and Life after Cancer – Gardening so I will not repeat myself here. I am grateful to be alive every single day.

Tragically, not everyone who has a mammogram and later receives the dreaded diagnosis “You have breast cancer.” will make it through treatment and live. My heart is full of grief for these women and men and the people who love them.

Having a mammogram could help you or someone you love to survive breast cancer so I urge you to get regular mammograms.

Pink Merchandise Exploitation

Pink everything is everywhere during October.

Pink Ribbon for Breast Cancer Awareness
Photo Credit – Dreamstime/Msc1974

Companies and even nonprofit organizations cash in on pink and beribboned merchandise. Some of the products you will see for sale include wristbands, t-shirts, key chains, lingerie, coffee mugs, jewelry, tote bags, Christmas tree ornaments, sunglasses, hats, shoes, pens, candy, stickers, bottled water, party decorations, posters, tools, and cosmetics.

Although some companies contribute a portion of the proceeds to breast cancer research or support services for women and men undergoing treatment, many do not.

I know that the plethora of pink ribbons and other pink items are upsetting for some women and men for a variety of reasons. Moreover, the sheer volume of stuff available ensures that you will run across items that may offend you. For instance, I cannot decide which is worse the t-shirt with the statement “Save Second Base” or the button that says, “I have chemo brain. What’s your excuse?”

However, I admit that I have purchased pink Breast Cancer Awareness gear over the years.

In 2012 before my breast cancer diagnosis, on a whim, I bought an Oakland Raiders baseball cap during the NFL’s annual “Crucial Catch” breast cancer awareness campaign.

As a newly minted breast cancer survivor in 2016 needing tennis shoes, I selected a black pair with pink accents and a tiny pink ribbon on the heel.

Before October rolled around in 2017, I carefully selected two pink ribbon brooches that I could see myself alternately wearing for 31 days a year for years to come. I also bought a sheet of pink ribbon stickers so I could attach one to the letter I was writing to Scott Pruitt, who was the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency at the time.

Last October, I attended a Raiders game in Oakland with my sister and my niece. I was wearing a pink ribbon pin and my pink Raiders baseball hat. The Raiders team colors are black and silver so when you are walking around among thousands of people wearing a pink hat you really stand out. Maybe no one noticed, but maybe someone did.

If even one woman or one man seeing a pink ribbon worn by anyone or on anything survive breast cancer because she or he first got a mammogram and then treatment, I am willing to wear a pink ribbon every October forever.

Featured Image at Top: Breast Cancer Awareness Pink Ribbon and Pink Speech Bubbles – Photo Credit Shutterstock/hidesy

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Resources

  • Cancer Facts & Figures 2018 – American Cancer Society (From this webpage you can download a report containing data about all cancers including breast cancer.)
  • MammographySavesLives – The American College of Radiology (This website provides a broad range of information including survivor stories and a tool for finding mammogram facilities in your area.)
  • Mammography – Susan G. Komen (This webpage has good information but the video is antiquated.)
  • My First Mammogram Dispelled Every Myth About the Procedure – Borgess Medical Center (This is a video of Heather McGregor getting her first mammogram. Of course, there is variation in equipment and facilities, but this video will give you a good idea of what a mammogram is like. In my experience, the technician does not share images during the exam.)
  • National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (This webpage provides information about free and low-cost screenings in the United States.)

Life after Cancer – Gardening

Gardening can help you reconnect with your life.

On the last day of cancer treatment, I think every patient should receive a medal and a garden trowel. The medal is to acknowledge the horrific journey you have just completed and the trowel is to encourage you to get outside and do some gardening.

Cancer treatment can save your life but it is a brutal experience. I know this because I have been through it. I am a breast cancer survivor. At the end of my treatment, I was grateful to be alive! I was also feeling beat up, worn out, and emotionally traumatized. I needed to recover from cancer treatment.

Gardening has been a surprising and vital part of my healing process. I am sharing my story here in hopes that it may help you if you are coping with cancer or another serious illness or you love someone who is.

My Cancer Treatment is Over, Now What?

For those of us fortunate enough to survive cancer treatment, there is life after cancer.

After I completed treatment, I felt as if I had crossed some kind of ephemeral bridge that disappeared into the mist as soon as I stepped off it at the other end. There was no going back to the old me. The only choice was to move forward into uncharted territory.

As far as I know, there is no roadmap, with the destination “you are recovered” marked on it with directions on how to get there. At least I did not receive one. How do you begin recovering from a devastating life-altering experience?

You start by doing something, anything.

I did things like gradually increasing my daily walking and resuming my healthy eating habits. Volunteering gave me a sense of empowerment that helped me get back to my work, which is trying to convince you, me, and everyone else to live more lightly on Earth.

Taking up gardening again both soothed my soul and healed my body.

You may not realize that gardening is good exercise. Almost any kind of gardening requires physical activity like moving around, carrying stuff, and using tools. These activities can help you regain your strength, energy, and stamina.

Gardening has intangible benefits, too. It can refresh your spirit and reconnect you with your life. The act of growing something can remind you that you are part of nature, not separate from it.

Besides reconnecting me with my life, gardening gave me a feeling of doing something worthwhile. By healing myself, I was healing a tiny spot on Earth.

Gardening Helped Me Heal after Cancer Treatment

At its most basic, gardening is about helping something grow with your own hands.

Hanging Basket with Plants and Flowers
Hanging basket with plants and flowers – Photo iStock/Antony Kemp

Close your eyes and picture yourself gardening. What comes to mind? Do you see yourself pruning roses, digging a hole for an oak tree sapling, harvesting bell peppers, taking out your lawn, or _____?

I saw myself spreading mulch on our drought-stricken patch of land in the Monterey pine forest of the California Central Coast.

Moving a Mountain of Mulch

Mulch nourishes the soil and helps it retain moisture, which is especially important if you live in a dry climate with low rainfall as we do.

In our town, tree and landscape maintenance services will deliver mulch consisting of wood chips, leaves, and pine needles free. You then provide the labor to move and spread it out.

In previous years, I had spread literally tons of mulch around our yard.

Gardening in our yard involves a lot of walking up and down sloping ground so a wheelbarrow is not practical. I had purchased a 17-gallon plastic tub with handles (the kind you put ice and beverages in at a party). After shoveling mulch into the tub, I would carry it to a location in the yard and dump it. After I covered some section of land, I spread the mulch out with a rake.

The work was hard and strenuous, but it paid off. More tree seedlings survived each year, native plants established themselves, and the soil was dark and rich where the mulch had biodegraded over the years.

Just before my cancer diagnosis, I had received a truck full of mulch that had been strategically placed in piles around our yard.

I had not made much progress when chemotherapy quickly sapped my strength and energy. There was no way I could move the mulch with a shovel and a tub. I could have asked my spouse or perhaps I could have hired someone to do it but I wanted to do it myself—so the mulch sat, and sat, and sat.

As the end of my treatment came into view, I could not imagine how I would ever have the strength to push a shovel into a pile of mulch with alone carry a tub of it more than a few feet. This was a depressing thought. I felt defeated.

Then one day, I realized that there was another way to move the mountain of mulch. I could do it a little bit at a time with a garden trowel and two small pails I already owned. This seemed like a questionable idea, even to me, but I decided to try it.

Each day that I could walk uphill in our yard, I used my trowel to fill the two pails with mulch, then I walked to an area that was crying out for protection and dumped the pails. On days that I felt especially energetic, I did it twice.

As you can imagine it took me many months to move all that mulch but I did do it and I enjoyed doing it.

Being outside was refreshing. I could feel the breeze and hear the birds twittering in the trees. I was doing something worthwhile by helping this tiny piece of land heal. The simple act of moving the mulch from point A to B was empowering for me. It showed me that I could and would recover.

A mulch mountain project may not appeal to you so let us look at some other gardening activities.

Gardening Can Help You Recover from Cancer Treatment, Too

Everyone’s situation is different. You could be a novice who has never grown anything in your life or a seasoned gardener looking for a way to re-enter gardening.

I hope one of the suggestions below will appeal to you or help you come up with your own gardening idea.

Container Gardening

Not everyone has a yard or wants one. Many homes, condos, and apartments have a patio, terrace, or a balcony. These are good places for experimenting with growing plants, flowers, or food in pots and other containers.

Fresh Parsley, Basil, and Oregano Growing in Pots
Fresh parsley, basil, and oregano growing in pots – Photo Credit iStock/Mkucova

Are you a fan of cooking with fresh herbs? Then try growing a few from seeds or already potted plants. Do you wish you had a rose garden? Then start one on your patio with a few rose bushes that are suitable for containers (ask at your local nursery). Would like some color on our balcony? Try your hand at creating your own planter with small-scale flowers and plants.

You can do a lot of gardening with a garden trowel, a pair of clippers, a bucket, a watering can, and a pair of gloves.

Native Plant Gardening

Native plants and trees are adapted to living in the climate of the regions they originated in and they do not require a lot of extra inputs like pesticides, fertilizers, and extra water.

Are you interested in giving native plants a whirl but not ready to make a big commitment? Ask your local nursery for suggestions and then select a plant or two to try. Are you tired of caring for your turf grass lawn or paying someone else to do it? Consider taking the plunge and removing your grass then growing native plants or seasonal foods. Are you interested in attracting birds, bees, or butterflies to your yard? Ask for native plant ideas at your local nursery, botanical garden, or native plant society and then add some native plants to your garden.

In addition to the equipment listed under container gardening, you will probably need a shovel, a tub for carrying soil, weeds, and plant clippings, a weeding tool, and possibly a rake.

Public Gardening

If you do not have a place to garden at home or even if you do, you might enjoy volunteering at a public garden. This also gives you an opportunity to work and learn alongside other people in your community.

People Planting Vegetables in a Community Garden
People planting vegetables in a community garden – Photo Credit iStock/Rawpixel

Are you interested in growing some of your own food but do not have a place to do it? Look for a community garden in your area where you are either responsible for your own plot or everyone works together collectively. Do you enjoy visiting a botanical garden where you live? Become a volunteer gardener and help with weeding, raking leaves, pruning, watering, and transplanting seedlings. Would you enjoy helping kids learn how to grow their own food? Find an elementary school in your area with a food garden and volunteer.

These are just a few of the ways you can get involved in gardening.

I hope you envision gardening as part of your life after cancer. Gardening is a delightful way to heal yourself and reconnect with your life while contributing to the greater good.

Featured Image at Top: Wood handled garden trowel pushed into soil – Photo Credit iStock/malerapaso

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