In the last 2 years, I’ve grown to have some very confusing emotions upon seeing anything ‘pink,’ ‘pink ribbony’ or displaying the name ‘Susan G. Komen.’
Now, before you all go thinking I’m a heel, please let me explain.
When I was growing up, my Mom was a big proponent of supporting anything relating to Breast Cancer. The woman religiously got mammograms and insisted that any other woman at risk by virtue of genes or age get one too. One of her very best friends from work died from breast cancer when I was in 8th grade. I still think of Cindy often. I miss Cindy. Cindy had a 4 year old daughter when she died, named Megan. Cindy and Megan were two of my very favorite people. It was Cindy who, upon learning that I’d gotten my first period while away at space camp, made me feel like growing up and being a ‘woman’ was something to be excited about. When Cindy was at home on hospice care we visited a couple of times–most memorably on the Christmas Eve before she died. When Cindy died, I got my first real taste of grief. And it hurt. And when Mom died, it comforted me greatly to know that Cindy “Mac” and Mom were cutting it up together, and keeping the place spotless (probably more Mac on that one than Mom).
Partly because of Cindy, Mom bought every single pink-ribbon she could find. If Avon was doing a promotion, she bought Avon’s pin. On one of her favorite winter jackets (one that I have now claimed) there is still a pink-ribbon pin. It was her way of supporting and remembering the amazing person that Cindy was and standing in solidarity with women everywhere who were faced with that devastating diagnosis.
Fast forward to November of 2004. Here we have my Mom, who has never failed to get a Mammogram, who has supported breast cancer awareness and research before it was an ‘in thing’ diagnosed with…. what?! Lung Cancer?????
Not long after her diagnosis I came to learn that it’s lung cancer, not breast cancer that is the #1 cancer-killer of women. Each year about 70,000 women die from Lung Cancer–many of whom, I’m sure, like my mother got regular mammograms, and supported breast cancer awareness fervently as a show of solidarity with women everywhere.
But it’s Lung Cancer that is painfully underfunded. It’s Lung Cancer that because of poor screening measures is diagnosed over half the time in late stages–when the five year survival rate is less than 5%. It is Lung Cancer whose underfunding has been so consistently low since President Nixon declared a “war on cancer” in 1971 that it’s survival rates have scarcely changed.
But… you won’t see a lung cancer ribbon selling a vacuum cleaner anywhere these days.
Now back to the pink ribbons. Each time I see them I cringe. Then I chastise myself for doing so. Then I try to reprogram myself. You see, though I wish desperately that the fight against Lung Cancer had been as successfully waged as the fight against breast cancer, how can I possibly begrudge the amazing funding and success that has so benefitedthose who struggle with the disease?
How can I claim that it’s a cause that doesn’t need any more funding when people like our friend Cindy, still die. The survival rate for Breast Cancer has risen in a phenomenal way, but it’s still not 100%
When I read stories like this one or cheer on Minerva how can I possibly begrudge the amazing thing that is being done by the Susan G. Komen Foundation and anyone else raising money for breast cancer? And when I think of one of my dearest friend’s from college and the struggle her mother has been through this year fighting breast cancer–diagnosed during my friend’s pregnancy just as my Mom’s cancer was–how can I possibly, possibly not want everything that could be done to help Breast Cancer to get done?
So… I guess the only satisfactory answer is this: Since I have been unfortunate enough to get such a real-life illustration of how devastating an ‘under-represented’ cancer like Lung Cancer can be, it’s my job to not only support those who are struggling with Breast Cancer (and…. maybe even buy some pink stuff), but to do my best to raise my voice and let people know that it’s time we start making strides for all the other cancer’s out there too. It’s my job to share my Mom’s journey with Lung Cancer. To support those battling with Leukemia and Lymphoma (By the way–did you know that September is actually theirmonth), to let people know that the survival rates for pancreatic cancer and kidney cancer, both of which took dear friends of mine this year, need to climb now too.
So… I’m going to try not to cringe so much at the pink anymore. Instead, I’m going to try to let it serve as a challenge to support each and every one of the cancer’s until CANCER ITSELF is obliterated. Who knows? Maybe one day there will be a Carol A. Haffner Foundation doing it’s best to fight the underdog cancer fights.
Because NO ONE should have to go through cancer. And I want for NO ONE ELSE to die fighting it.