Invisible (pink) Ribbons

I have to be truthful: I hate the pink ribbon.

It’s that time of year when pink ribbons are everywhere. Women are fighting for their lives or shouting triumphs joy by beating breast cancer. The last thing I want to do is make light of their pain, or diminish an ounce of their thriving joy.

But I always been put-off by it’s cheery rah, rah, go-team, let’s fight this thing! vibe of “pink.” Maybe you think I’m waxing on snarky – but I’m not, I’m just being really honest here. And I feel validated in my view.

Why?

Because a lumpectomy resulted from my first mammogram. I’m part of the group of women bound with pink ribbons.

~~Before~~

Prior to my first appointment, my closest friends knew I had fear—not because I ever thought I’d have cancer—rather I thought the machine wouldn’t stop in the “squeeze.”

The day I went to the squeeze room, my fears were put to rest. The procedure was simple—and I laughed for ever having a worry. But during the exam, the technician captured a couple extra images. She said I must have been breathing or moving…thus the need for more images. I know I didn’t move or breath. I began noticing every single facial expression, eye movement, breathe and vocal tone of my technician.

Suspicion ONE set into my brain.

I waited the expected number of days for results, only to be told I would need to come back in for another boudoir photo shoot. See! I KNEW I wasn’t breathing or moving!

Suspicion TWO settles in.

For my second appointment, I arrived calm, collected, and knew the procedure: go into the dressing room, change into a gown, wipe down the “girls” with a sani-wipe, put personal items in locker, take a key (that has a pink wrist band attached to it), and wait in the “women’s lounge.”

Seated in my pink-gown I pretended to read, but in truth I got involved in people watching and intense listening. My bionic hearing allowed me to hear conversations from the radiologist’s office. I watched a woman exit an exam room and take a seat near me. A female counselor told her to relax while they got the second ultra-sound ready. I could feel her anxiety. How terrible that she had to go through two procedures in one day. I prayed for her and every person who would sit in the waiting room that day.

That’s when the still voice formed words in my head. Words I would NEVER say to myself. “This is only step-one baby girl – but you’ll be fine.” Only one person calls me “baby girl”…it made my heart quicken with mild anxiety.

It wasn’t long before I was in an exam room getting ready. I saw x-ray pictures of my “girls” on the wall—I thought they were pretty and nothing seemed wrong.

My technician for this exam was sweet. I asked tons of detailed questions (as I’d consumed a lot of “Googled” info between these two shoots). Before long we were chummy friends, she became less guarded as we talked. She confessed, she shouldn’t tell me, but there was a very tiny area, so small I would never feel it. This area needed to be magnified and reviewed.

Then this is where she screwed up… she said, “the doctor will look at it, then when she’s ready, I’ll take you over and she’ll go over the poop with you”.

POOP?!  I have poop? {crap!}

Suspicion THREE has arrived.

After the exam, I sat in the waiting room—thinking about POOP. The worst kind. Before long the counselor woman walked up to me. She was going to escort me to the doctor’s office. I smiled serenely but inside screamed, “WTF? WHERE IS MY TECHNICIAN FRIEND WHO WAS GOING TO TAKE ME. WHY DID THEY SEND A COUNSELOR INSTEAD? OH THIS IS NOT GOOD AT ALL!”

Suspicion FOUR is the elephant in the room.

In a dim office, only illuminated by electronic boards, buttons, and knobs, I stared at black and white images on three large TV screens. The doctor mumbled a bunch of stuff about “my poop.” The counselor was perched like a lifeguard—waiting for the opportunity to dive in and save me. The last thing the doctor said was, “So you’ll meet with a surgeon to go over your options.”

The room was eerily silent. Me looking at the screens, them looking at me.

They waited for me to fall apart. Too long in fact—it got awkward. But I was fine—at least—in-shock-fine. To break the heavy silence I asked in a carefree tone, “So that’s it?” The doctor nodded yes, and counselor mother hen led me back to a changing room.

What now?

In the private safety a 5’ x 5’ changing room, I looked in the mirror. I glared. Scared-me stood in the flesh while brave-me blankly stared back from inside the mirror. I felt this separation, a surreal feeling. Scared-me had been silent all this time, quietly keeping track of one suspicion after the next. Scared-me had been cautious in listening to all the friends saying things would be okay—that there was nothing to worry about. Scared-me was now mad. I accusingly pointed at brave-me in the mirror and mouthed, “S.H.I.T. I told you so.”

Four months, two biopsies, and one lumpectomy later, scared-me and brave-me became a united force to be reckoned with. And we (I) didn’t like pink ribbons.

My journey took place during the breast-cancer awareness season. In a normal (non-pink) environment, I could actually forget my fears. I could go about my life—thriving—while waiting for surgery day. But, during those months I was slammed with one pink ribbon after the next. Buying cat-litter—a pink ribbon. Paper towels, bathroom tissue, chap-stick—pink ribbons. Doctor offices—pink ribbons, pink pens, pink-ribbon stickers, and pink rubber wrist-bands kids used as sling-shots in the waiting room.

During those months I had to be braver than ever. I rarely got to forget what was going on. All because of pink ribbons. They were (and are) intrusive. Can’t be escaped. I couldn’t even go to the grocery store without seeing every employee in pink t-shirts asking me if I want to donate $1 to fight breast cancer. Cancer. CANCER. C.A.N.C.E.R. I COULD HAVE CANCER IN MY BREAST!!

{baby girl. be brave. pray. breathe. ignore the pink ribbons}

How many women are walking around with pink ribbons in our faces? Not giving us a moment to process, to grieve, to breathe, to thrive?

My lumpectomy was successful enough. But I have lingering cells. My journey is not done, I just have no idea how it will play out.

Between now and then, I put positive thought, prayer, and energy into these things. Yet, on a hard day, it can be corroded away with the sight of single a pink ribbon. For me, a pink ribbon has become a tool used by evil—it creates fear. And that is NOT what God would wish for me. Sometimes my response to another sighting rolls like this, “Please Dear God, help me be strong. Help me stay brave. Take away my fear. And please God—the pink ribbons—make them invisible ribbons. Not just for me, but for all the others who MUST feel the same.”

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15 thoughts on “Invisible (pink) Ribbons

  1. My dear, my dear…
    I almost called you “baby girl” but it’s not my place to call you that.
    How about little sis…?

    My dear little sister,
    Thank you once again for your honesty.
    Once again you led me on a journey.
    Once again you hit me in a soft spot.

    At first I was thinking about the rough draft that is sitting waiting for me to make sense of it before publishing – about my own “struggle” with pink ribbons & other awareness gimmicks. I was hoping your perspective would help me figure out my own.

    Then I kept reading & my heart went out to you. I can feel your pain & your fear. Oh, how I remember those days & those “announcements” & those call-backs for another look – & those times of watching & listening for those little signals that may or may not be significant. Oh, how I remember the locker/key/bracelet routine – although in my case (during radiation) the “lounge” wasn’t just for women. Oh, well.

    And then I wanted to kiss you when I came to this line: “How terrible that she had to go through two procedures in one day.” How sweet of you to say that! You see, at times I feel like a wimp – & maybe compared to other people at the cancer center, maybe I am. But there has been more than one occasion when I’ve had two or more procedures in one day – so you know what? Maybe I’m not a total wimp. So thank you, thank you, thank you for validating that reality. You’re right; it’s NOT fun to have more than one procedure in one day.

    So you did it again, my dear little sis. You bared your heart & soul & you ministered to me, one of your big sisters – once again.

    Thanks.
    Your grateful big sis!

    (To anyone who wonders &/or cares or is confused, nope, we’re not REALLY sisters of the biological sort; in fact, we haven’t even met yet, but we’re sisters of the eternal sort.)

  2. Sherry, my heart is with you. The cancer journeys of our family found hope and help at Envita in Scottsdale, AZ. John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Cancer was instrumental in our grandchild’s testimony, If you’ve ever heard Bunny Wilson’s tapestry allegory, I think every thread viewed pink on earth looks gold or silver from heaven. We hated pink too, when we found out we were helping raise funds for Susan B Komen to give to Planned Parenthood helping women get abortions and increasing their risk of breast cancer. You have a powerful testimony and God will use every color of your life experiences to recognize the hurting pink in others so He can minister to them through you. You’ve done a great thing by sharing. My immediate response was to see the pink as more than a sign of a perverted world that supports the billion dollar world of cancer. The color has also meant pain to me as it is so personal – but hearing your truth-telling has lifted me to remember that God created everything that man has distorted. You’ve shown me I need to redeem pink as the color for baby girls, and the color of the Rose of Sharon, and to use that bionic sensitivity to recognize others’ fears and offer them prayer and hope instead of looking the other way in pain. Thanks for improving my view.

    • Delores – thank you….. and yes there is that whole other side troubling side of the “pink wave” – thank you for bringing light to that.

      Funny enough, pink is one of my favorite colors (that and black – doesn’t every woman love black – all you have to do is look at our closets to know the truth?!) Yet during “pink season” I avoid wearing the color…sad. Looking forward to the season of Christmas – when pink will be welomed on me and around me again.

  3. I often think the readers/commenters have such better – more profound things to say… such is this comment from Facebook that I had to share from “Jessica” ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Love your honesty & bravery! I have a secret too.. I am resentful towards the ol’ pink ribbon too. I can’t say it’s because I had any sort of experience with it myself and because I have “girls” too I am supposed to feel this proud solidari…ty.

    But because at 7 it’s hard to understand how one of your best friends could be dying- And for 11ish (against all odds) years, I watched one of the strongest people I’ve ever met & his family celebrate every milestone with the cutest short bald boy on God’s green earth.

    Until His fight with Neuroblastoma ended. Childhood cancer & any cancer seems to take a back seat to this pink ribbon “save the tatas” stuff.

    I do support the fight, I do want ANY cancer, ALL cancer cured. But the constant pink ribbon stuff – where is everyone elses ribbon? Where is the “(insert relative title here) of a survivor/fighter” gear for Neuroblastoma/Leukemia/Lymphoma..etc.?

    I guess now that I read your blog I see maybe I ribbon/color isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Thanks for posting this though, it really sheds a light on things from a point of view I wouldn’t expect. You’re a tough chick, for sure.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Jessica you caught my heart with your comment – so very proufound! Maybe we are all just UNITED with an Invisible Ribbon of strength, courage, and hope of cures. No colors – just strength, courage, and cures.

  4. Sherry, thanks for opening our eyes to see pink ribbons in new light. Seeing the pain they bring to our friends and sisters in uncertain circumstances. Without your brave sharing, I would not have been sensitized to how those ribbons, symbols of solidarity and comfort to some, could be a painful in-your-face reminder to others.

    • Beth – honestly, I was a bit nervous, but even after just half-a-day of comments/emails – I’m so glad I spoke my truth. I had no idea how big this “tribe” was – and how it’s not just about the “pink” diseases, but every other hurt one out there as well.

  5. Sherry, one of the things I loved about this post (besides the raw honesty and the new perspective of pink ribbons you’ve given me) is the way God spoke to you before the diagnosis. He will always take care of you and you will always be alright, despite the circumstances because He is with you.

    I was reading the scriptures one night over 11 years ago and a verse jumped out at me that said, “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer.” I knew then and there that my upcoming thyroid surgery would reveal cancer. And it did. But, somehow I knew because the Lord had spoken, that I would be alright, no matter what happened.

    I recently heard the saying, “God doesn’t waste the bad stuff.” I love that because there’s a whole lot of bad stuff. He took my bad stuff in having cancer and used it to begin to free me from a lifetime of bondage to fear. I wouldn’t want to go through it again, but I also am so grateful for how He changed me through it. God will use your bad stuff to change you and to minister to others in ways you can’t imagine. In fact, He already has and is.

    I want you to know that when I see one of those pink ribbons, I will be praying for you and me and all those affected by cancer. And when you see one, know I am praying for you.

    • Thank you Judy, and thank you for sharing. I agree God doesn’t waste anything. One day in journaling I came up with this idea and phrase “God doesn’t leave crumbs.” And I find it true in everything… He can use everything, even down to the very last crumb.

  6. Dear Sherry, My heart goes out to you as I welcome you to the club. Every season brings it’s own reminder, my diagnosis came between my birthday and Christmas.. May one day you will be able to see the hope it stands for. I have always been grateful that so many people have stood to fight against this disease in voice and funds allowing so much more hope for the rest of us… I’ll be praying for you… (It’s almost 10 years for me)

  7. Sherry, thank you for showing me another side to the pink. It never occurred to me that women would feel the way you describe. Now I think, “Of course they do, and I would too!” You have a voice here, Sherry; you are living it. I’m proud of you for your transparency. This kind of realness always inspires and comforts others to know they are not alone. I think when people feel alone in their suffering, is when Satan can gain a stronger foothold. Thank you for not giving him that!

    I am praying for you and your continued healing and strength. God WILL and IS using your journey for His glory! xoxo

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