Why this breast cancer survivor avoids pink

Confession time: I don’t love the color pink. Never have. And clearing breast cancer didn’t make me like it. If anything, it was the opposite, especially in October when the month is washed in the color. Keep reading learn why this breast cancer survivor avoids pink and how you can help fight breast cancer.

You do pink (if you want to)

One of my favorite ways to fight cancer – loving life!

I don’t hate pink, just have never loved it. Maybe it’s my fair skin and strawberry blonde hair that make me avoid wearing it too often, ha. I do own a pretty pink nail color and a cool cycling jersey (given to me by a sweet friend, see picture).

I understand this may be an unpopular perspective (both for pink lovers and other breast cancer survivors). So before you read any further, let me be clear: there is NO judgement on other breast cancer survivors who embrace pink in October and beyond. I actually love seeing cancer survivors show their strength and courage, and unite in solidarity, no matter how it looks. I’m part of the cancer club too. While no one wants to be part of it, I love the available support and encouragement from those ‘who get it.’

I also think awareness campaigns are important to bring attention to issues and encourage people to take action. Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among U.S. women. It affects one in eight women and an estimated 2,700 men in the U.S. every year, according to the CDC. About 85% of breast cancers occur in women with no family history or genetic tendency.

Another cancer perspective

I’m in an unique position – I’ve cleared osteosarcoma (bone cancer), melanoma AND breast cancer. I also was diagnosed as a young adult, another challenging category of survivorship. My dad died from multiple myeloma. My younger sister is a melanoma survivor, my niece a breast cancer survivor. So my perspectives range widely.

There’s barely a blip on the radar in July for Sarcoma Awareness Month. And I forgot if melanoma ‘gets’ a month (ok, I checked – May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month). Young adult cancer survivors get one week in April to be acknowledged.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019, I was inundated with the color, from medical facilities, well-meaning gifts and gestures, and more. Pink was a symbol of that cancer. And while I celebrate every day with gratitude and joy that I cleared it and am HEALTHY, I also have moments of anxiety, sadness, frustration, anger and more. Being a cancer survivor is a journey. I can’t help but be reminded of the disease every day while managing ongoing side effects. Maybe I’m a little burned out. I’m so much more than a cancer survivor – sometimes escaping from that part of my life helps me stay balanced.

I’ve talked to cancer survivors who have similar perspectives. This includes fellow breast cancer survivors – one ‘breastie’ friend refuses to schedule any medical tests during October. Another wears black during the month to highlight the stress and difficulty of her cancer journey. I also won’t schedule breast cancer screenings in October – I do not need to sit in a waiting room surrounded by pink ribbons and other reminders of cancer when I’m praying that my tests show no cancer.

The need to go BEYOND pink to truly fight breast cancer

My issue isn’t with the color pink, nor is it with labeling a month to raise awareness. It’s with the lack of true action beyond the promotions and month by some companies and people. The fight against cancer is a year-round campaign. Actions matter.

Here’s what I’m aware of in October:

  • Rarely do medical facilities promote and colorwash in support of other cancers like they do for breast cancer. That’s unfair to diminish what other cancer survivors are going through. “In your face” reminders can actually cause stress and anxiety to patients, whether clearing breast cancer or another disease, as it’s a constant reminder of cancer.
  • Businesses do “Pink Out” events to get you to purchase products, with some donating minimal funds to a cancer-related organization that makes an impact.
  • People copy/paste and share pink ribbons on Facebook and other social media, stating “share this if you support cancer survivors.” Yet do nothing beyond that or in fact take actions that negatively impact women’s health, etc.
  • Elected officials show up to breast cancer awareness events wearing pink and send emails to constituents supporting survivors through proclamations (which are nothing to do with laws that impact, btw) – many of these same people vote(d) against women’s healthcare and funding for research and access to care (yes, voting records are public).

Showing up only when it’s convenient doesn’t sit well with me AT ALL. Especially as a cancer survivor. Do not use my suffering to make you look good.

Over the years, pushback against ‘pinkwashing‘ has occurred as companies host pink ribbon promotions with products and services that may increase the risk of breast cancer or raise lots of money but only donate a small portion to research or to support people during breast cancer treatment. My concern is that pinkwashing can negatively impact patients and the overall fight against the disease as people get turned off from supporting anything pink.

Actions matter

I know many people and businesses genuinely support cancer survivors and mean well when they promote breast cancer awareness and other stuff. I ADORE all of that!

And I, of course, want our society, legislators and healthcare community to pay attention to the need to fight breast cancer! I cleared breast cancer. I hate this disease. I’ve spent 25+ years as a cancer/health advocate, donating thousands of hours of my time talking at events, mentoring other survivors, teaching advocacy workshops, meeting with legislators, being interviewed by media and much more – all with the purpose of fighting cancer.

But I want people and companies to go BEYOND pink and beyond one month to FIGHT this disease to make a DIFFERENCE in preventing the diagnosis and ensuring women and men live longer if diagnosed.

How you can fight breast cancer

Protect your breasts

Self breast exams are important for women and men. Contact your doctor immediately if you notice a lump or other change in your breast. But not all cancers can be felt so if you’re a women 45 or over, talk to your doctor about an annual mammogram (if you’re 40, ask your doctor when it’s best to start). Insurance providers are supposed to cover preventive mammograms and many states have programs that offer free mammograms to uninsured women.

Be an advocate

Using your voice for positive change is an important way to fight cancer. Ensuring that research studies and new treatment options are funded, and equal access to preventive screenings and affordable care are available really do help in the fight against cancer. But we need to speak up to elected officials and others in charge of making these things happen. Volunteer for organizations, such as the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship, in your community. And VOTE for candidates that will support women’s health and these other issues. [Read my post on how your vote fights cancer] Your voice could save someone’s life, like mine. I KNOW that I’m alive thanks to research, preventive screenings and access to care. [Read my post on 5 ways to advocate for change.]

Be a friend to cancer survivors

Facing a diagnosis and treatment for ANY cancer is devastating and difficult. Many cancer survivors face ongoing side effects and mental health challenges even after treatment ends (remember that some people never finish treatment). So be a friend – ask how they’re doing, how you can support them. Kindness and knowing that you have support go a long way in helping face the day. [Subscribe to Heather’s Hangout blog to get a free tip sheet on how to be a friend during someone’s cancer diagnosis.]

Support organizations that support cancer survivors

Before you buy another shirt, mug, beverage or other product where only a small portion of the sale actually goes to a charity, consider directly supporting an organization that helps people impacted by cancer. Many people face challenges with things beyond treatment, including access to healthy food and transportation. More and more organizations are recognizing these factors impact patients’ ability to manage their care.

Are we (as a society) doing enough to support cancer survivors?

I’m a passionate cancer advocate. I’m passionate about fighting all forms of cancer and creating support for all cancer survivors. It is a tough journey. We need to work together for real action.

There are many cancer survivors who celebrate during various awareness months, such as embracing pink during Breast Cancer Awareness month. I love that for them! I also celebrate survivorship in different ways that are meaningful to me. It’s important to respect each person’s perspective. This is mine.

So this is why this breast cancer survivor avoids pink, at least in October. What do you think about pink? Do you think breasts cancer survivors are supported beyond October?

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    1. It’s a great opportunity to raise awareness about that cancer. I realize that there are so many diseases (not just cancer) and not enough public attention span, but there definitely is a need/opportunity to promote important screenings and more by healthcare facilities and other organizations.

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