I have tried-I really have- to resist the urge to write about "pinktober" but I'm giving in now. My fellows in the breast cancer community, especially in the US, have rightly stated their concerns about how the movement has at times been distorted. Understandably have challenged the pink ribbon and what it has seemed recently to represent ( or not), importantly shouted out about metastatic breast cancer and I have looked on with concern that I found hard to articulate. My own feelings are ambivalent and complex. The sharing again of the Scar project with its strap line of breast cancer is NOT a pink ribbon helped me begin to articulate my thoughts and feelings.
What I notice is I have not, perhaps for this first time in nearly 20 years, worn a pink ribbon. I have worn at times a gold plated ribbon brooch for two reasons, one it complimented the red jacket it's on ( yes I am that shallow) and two it seemed to say with a bit more gravitas somehow that this is my tribe. I wear it with pride honestly to acknowledge my membership but importantly I know I can wear it without embracing the pink and fluffy.
I guess I'm acknowledging my anger at what cancer has taken from me and that at no level do I wish to be seen to celebrate that. Although I am still here and maybe that's just cause for celebration but not for smugness or even complacency. So I thank those who are making genuine efforts to help detect breast cancer early, who are raising much needed funds to invest in the research that will ultimately save lives in both early and later stages of breast cancer and those seeking to alleviate distress in all its forms- I commend and want to support your work. But this year at least, I'm just not wearing pink.
Please let's not fragment this powerful breast cancer movement. There isn't a hierarchy. Primary and metastatic breast cancer are not pink ribbons in any sense. And today's survivor of primary breast cancer is tomorrow's metastatic patient; we still don't really know who that will be. So it's all our fear, the fear that unites us I suspect. I can't be alone in suffering survivor guilt over the friends and family I have lost to breast cancer. Why have I survived when they haven't? Why has my luck held out when others, sometimes much younger than me, have gone on to look their mortality in the face. I grieve for their situations; feel distress when I see breast cancer rob them of youth, of children, of wellbeing, of hope, of a future. Breast cancer is not a done deal at any level and no pink ribbon can ever do justice to the impact of a diagnosis. But fundraising in October is vital to many charities doing great work so it you are walking, running, partying or having a fun pink bake-off thank you so much, you will make a difference. But also spare a thought for those for whom the pink ribbon is an unwelcome reminder of a cancer that changed their lives for ever.
I believe we really absolutely need the awareness the pink ribbon stands for and maybe its most important we ensure every person wearing it understands that breast cancer remains a huge challenge at both a personal and population level and that their support needs to be well invested in the organisations whose wise investment will find the breakthroughs and provide much needed support. Every month in the UK alone 1000 women die from breast cancer, that's a whole lot of broken hearts and lives changed for ever. And for every one of them there are many others living with the thought that next time it might be them. We owe them our commitment to work together for better outcomes for everyone.
Reasons to be grateful. The breast cancer community has shown global solidarity to fight for better outcomes for all women and men affected by breast cancer. I'm proud to be one of them .....even when I stuff my pink ribbon back in the drawer and wish I wasn't.