October is the time of year when leaves begin to turn from lush green to hues of orange and red. It’s also the time of year when businesses “go pink” in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. As a breast cancer survivor and someone who has watched both my mother and grandmother battle the disease, I find myself with mixed emotions when it comes to the flood of pink products and promotions that come along with the month.
More Than a Pink Ribbon
“When October comes to an end and all the pink ribbon merch disappears from the shelves, many people like myself still wear the reality of the disease.”
I think it’s awesome that some brands donate funds made from limited edition pink products to support breast cancer research and programs that help those affected by the disease. However, I don’t think many people get to see the reality of breast cancer. Breast cancer is more than a pink ribbon and fuzzy “support the cure” socks.
October 2014, like many Octobers before, I wore my pink t-shirts and ribbons in honor of my mother and grandmother. I had no idea that I would find myself on the receiving end of a breast cancer diagnosis the very next month. It was then that I truly saw the unpretty side of “pink.”
The bedazzled “support the cure” hat that I once sported with my ponytail hanging out the back, now covered my bald head. It only took three rounds of chemo before I found myself peeling my hair from my scalp. The pink and black v-neck breast cancer awareness top that I wore the month before didn’t do much to cover the port bulging from underneath my skin.
Nothing Pretty About It
There was nothing pretty about my breast cancer treatment like the six rounds of chemo that caused extreme fatigue and nausea. A pretty pink ribbon was the last thing on my mind as I hugged the toilet, unable to keep anything down. I often curled up on the couch wrapped up in a huge pink blanket, worn out and aching from chemo and my Neulasta shot.
I was far from “tickled pink” as I spent much of my time in and out of doctors’ offices. I spent weeks with surgical drains and the discomfort of tissue expanders. I was a ball of emotions. I was 28 years old being asked whether I wanted to have “simple mastectomy” or “nipple sparing.” Words like infertility, tamoxifen and oophorectomy were being thrown at me. I was overwhelmed trying to process it all.
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Life After October
When October comes to an end and all the pink ribbon merch disappears from the shelves, many people like myself still wear the reality of the disease. My port scar. The scars that stretch across the place where my breasts used to be. The two small scars that remind me daily that my ovaries are gone. This is the reality of a breast cancer diagnosis. This is the reality I live with all year long.
For those of us who have lived through it, who continue to fight and remember those who are no longer here—it’s personal. Breast cancer awareness, research and advocacy are not seasonal. Pink is not always pretty, but there are so many powerful stories behind the famed pink ribbon.
Monisha Parker found herself on the receiving end of a breast cancer diagnosis at the age of 28. Her diagnosis further ignited her passion for spreading awareness and offering support to others who have been affected by breast cancer. She authored a children’s book in 2018, which helps explains breast cancer to children. She currently resides in North Carolina with her husband and 3 children where she frequently shares her breast cancer journey at conferences and other community events. Follow her on her website at www.purposepaintedpink.com or on Instragram at @monishashante0503.