Invisible (pink) Ribbons

I hate the pink ribbon. That’s the truth.
And while I’m being truthful, this is an edit (new info) and an important repost from last year.

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.

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

Prior to my first mammogram, my 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, breath and vocal tone of my technician.

Suspicion ONE creeps on.
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 radiologists’ 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.

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.

{God, please let me have made-up those words on my own, and not from You}

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. Nothing seemed wrong.

My technician for this exam was sweet. I asked tons of detailed questions. I had “Googlcated” myself info between these two shoots (google information overload and education leaves me “Googlcated”). Before long the technician and I 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. 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-kind-of-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.

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 and skeptical in listening to all the friends saying things would be okay—that there was nothing to worry about. Scared-me was now mad. Raging furiously 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, chapstick—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 try to go on about life while be accosted by 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 “questionable” cells. My journey is not done. And I have no idea how the journey will play out.

Most days I forget about the scar on my breast. I forget about a journey that may still have miles. I live with peace. But last week when I bought mushrooms, the pink ribbon was there. And I remembered. The scar. The fear. The poop.

On a hard day, all my positive thoughts and thriving can be corroded away with one single pink ribbon. For me, a pink ribbon has become a tool used by evil. It creates fear. And I know that is NOT what God wishes 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.”

© 2009-2012 Sherry Meneley All Rights Reserved soiled wings createheart create heart create●he/ART life coach coaching art journal

20 thoughts on “Invisible (pink) Ribbons

  1. You are so right that fear dominates our society… the number one tool of the enemy. And so often what is taken to be a sign of support merely becomes a reminder of our fear. Cancer. Abuse. HIV. MADD (not that I’m afraid of Mother’s Against Drunk Driving, rather it’s the Drunk Driving that is supposed to scare us…)

    It is good and right to remind yourself that is “NOT what God wishes” for you or anyone. “God is love… and there is no room in Love for Fear.” (1 John 4:18) Yet we acknowledge that we are human and weak and frail and we do fear… How precious to know that you have one who will call you “Baby girl” (a term of endearment) and will not let you walk this path alone, but will doggedly follow you through each twist and turn to keep you safe. (Though that is an interesting discussion too… what is safe?)

    Thank you for your powerful words… (Prayers continuing…)

    • Thanks Jer. As I go on my journey with so many people and circumstances along the way – I’m continually reminded “never once did I ever walk alone.” (even when I want to protest that I’m alone, I am not, for that I’m thankful for grace given to this girl that throws tantrums and wanders ahead)

  2. Sherry – I’m a member of your hate pink ribbons club for reasons you listed and more. It frustrates me that this emblem of fear encourages people to empty their pockets for lies – “research” to spend millions to build treatment centers. These two report of gaining wealth and fake research is why I also will not purchase anything with a pink ribbon on it.

    I love how God names us and speaks to us.

    • Oh Delores – I 103% agree. I never cared for the ribbon before my journey, and after it’s become a double icky whammy. Yeah, it’s just too too too much. Thank you.

  3. Wow, girl…I hear your roar…Roar… ROAR!

    What a raw, honest, courageous story to share. I understand now why you don’t like the ribbons. I think those who use them know of no other way to try to support the “cause.” Be happy, be peaceful, be healthy, love!

    • Thinking I needed to repost it hit me hard too. Actually it was seeing the mushrooms this year – my first pink ribbon encounter. And then the swoosh of fear just light me up like a woman about to rage of the edge. (still bought the mushrooms because I really wanted them with dinner) But I realized how badly that ribbon plays on me. And I think for as long as I blog, for as long as those dang fricken ribbons continue, I will also repost this in various forms. Thanks for the re-read. Thanks for your friendship. Thanks for getting it. xo

      • I do get it friend.

        I can’t quite articulate what stirs in me. I really never had time to get used to the “cancer” with my dad. There just wasn’t time. He was gone too soon. But something weird rages inside me when I discover others have given to cancer research in his name. What? Why? It doesn’t make sense to me. ugh.

  4. Yes Sherry, I feel exactly the same way! You are not alone and I guess, neither am I. I have loathed pink ribbons from the beginning. I react in EXACTLY the same way you do for the exact same reasons. I’ve never been able to verbalize it, but there– you did it in this post for me. (and probably many, many others).
    I secretly dread this time of year for these reasons.
    Thank you for this post.

  5. Cancer is a horrible thief, it steals our sense of joy and replaces it with fear, sadness, loss, and grief. I was diagnosed with Lymphoma 3 years ago and have had 3 surgeries (including an unsuccessful lumpectomy); each year with another threat of cancer. This year I lost my 49 year young brother-in-law to AML (an aggressive Leukemia), and his wife is now left with raising their 5 & 8 year old daughters. I too am suspicious of fundraising being used properly for a cure, but people need to have hope and a way to feel empowered.
    Thank you for telling your story so well. I felt as if you were telling mine.

  6. You’re right, Sherry…The ubiquitous pink ribbon is a symbol of fear. Thank you for sharing your story. It touched me very deeply as if I were the one going through that scary ordeal. I don’t like the pink ribbons either, and now I understand why.

  7. This post isn’t about those pink ribbons, it’s about one tiny pink ribbon that for some reason I hold onto for reasons I’m not even entirely sure about myself.

  8. I was thinking of it as one of those drive-by mammograms, one stop in a series of mundane missions including post office, supermarket, and gym, but I began to lose my nerve in the changing room, and not only because of the kinky necessity of baring my breasts and affixing tiny Xray opaque stars to the tip of each nipple. I had been in this place only four months earlier, but that visit was just part of the routine cancer surveillance all good citizens of HMOs or health plans are expected to submit to once they reach the age of fifty, and I hadn’t really been paying attention then. The results of that earlier session had aroused some “concern” on the part of the radiologist and her confederate, the gynecologist, so I am back now in the role of a suspect, eager to clear my name, alert to medical missteps and unfair allegations. But the changing room, really just a closet off the stark windowless space that houses the mammogram machine, contains something far worse, I notice for the first time now an assumption about who I am, where I am going, and what I will need when I get there. Almost all of the eye-level space has been filled with photocopied bits of cuteness and sentimentality: pink ribbons, a cartoon about a woman with iatrogenically flattened breasts, an “Ode to a Mammogram,” a list of the “Top Ten Things Only Women Understand” (“Fat Clothes” and “Eyelash Curlers” among them), and, inescapably, right next to the door, the poem “I Said a Prayer for You Today,” illustrated with pink roses.

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