The Reality of Pink Ribbon Fantasy Land

With Pinktober creeping up on us, I feel the need to release my thoughts on it.

If you’re like me (and I know some of you are, but won’t admit it) and have been diagnosed with breast cancer, you will never forget the day you heard those words, you have cancer. You will likely never forget how you were then propelled into the maze of cancer treatment and survivorship.

Somewhere along the way while trying to figure out the maze that is breast cancer, it can feel as if you’ve landed in what I like to refer to as, Pink Ribbon Fantasy Land.

Have you heard of it?

Have you been there?

What and where is Pink Ribbon Fantasy Land?

It’s a “place” where you are expected to enjoy, or at least tolerate, basking in all things pink.

Even if you’ve always disliked pink (I have always loved and been a pink kind of girl), suddenly well-meaning people may start sending you pink stuff to wear or pink “trophy” (my badge of honor are the scars upon my chest…which I actually plan to hide under a beautiful tattoo some day) stuff for you to display.

You might be expected to support one of those walks or races (which, I have done. And I am proud to have done it. But it was by choice, not guilt), or maybe even to consider walking or running in one yourself. If you pass, you might be seen as a bit ungrateful.

You notice it’s now often suggested that you should fight like a girl, kick cancer’s ass, show your tough side, don fighter’s gloves, keep that smile pasted on 24/7/365, relish wearing pink and, of course, just beat this curse. And perhaps it’s even subtly suggested that doing these things might help you do it. (Which is all well and good…but it doesn’t work for everyone. And some just fake it, hide their true feelings inside, and become depressed.)

You are encouraged to be brave, strong, courageous and tough even if you feel you are the exact opposite. And if you don’t feel it, don’t worry, it is normal to feel helpless, worried and weak in moments. That’s where God lifts us up and gives us hope.

Before you can turn around, it’s October, and you notice everything you want to buy (and don’t want to buy) has a pink ribbon slapped on it.

You hear and see on TV and read articles in magazines about celebrities who’ve also been diagnosed with breast cancer, and often they are proclaiming to have turned their lives around as a result. (I find this absurd. I have always known what was important to me. I didn’t need cancer to show me that. Love of God, family and friends pushed me through.) You listen to what they say because even though they are celebrities, like you, they have been diagnosed with cancer. There’s a bond. You look for the similarities because you want to see them. But usually they are smiling while looking calm, lovely and fully recovered (unlike you), appearing almost grateful to have had this experience, this “gift”. They’ve seen the light and they want you to see it too. They expect you to see it. (To have seen the light, means you have taken for granted breathing, family, friends, love and God)

It seems everyone expects you to see it.

But you don’t. You can’t. Maybe you don’t even want to see it.

You start to wonder if you’ve missed something. If you’ve been doing cancer wrong all along. You doubt. You question. You wonder what’s wrong with you. Besides the cancer.

And you do this while trying your damnedest to adapt to an unfamiliar body you now occupy and are supposed to feel grateful for.

And you are. But you aren’t.

You miss your old, less “damaged” self and suspect know you always will.

You wonder what and where your new normal is and wonder why you cannot figure it out or find it.

From time to time you might feel angry, depressed, confused, surprised, disappointed, sad, weepy and/or a whole host of other ways. And then there’s the guilt and yes, sometimes the shame.

Suddenly pink feels suffocating.

You are in Pink Ribbon Fantasy Land and you can’t find your way out.

Then one day someone, perhaps another “cancer misfit” like you, reaches out. She (or he) accepts, validates, does not judge, but rather listens and offers to help guide you through the maze.

And finally, you do find your way out.

You start to ease up on yourself and learn to go with the ebb and flow of your emotions.

You realize YOUR way of handling YOUR cancer is good enough.

It always has been.

YOU are good enough.

You always have been.

You choose reality. Your reality, not someone else’s, not the over-the-top-pinktified version.

You realize you don’t belong in Pink Ribbon Fantasy Land. You never did. Some like it there and this is fine. But you do not.

You can breathe again.

You are free. Not from the cancer, but from something else…

Goodbye, Pink Ribbon Fantasy Land, hello land where pink is/isn’t my color of choice.

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