I am old enough to remember the 1970s when we tied yellow ribbons around a maple tree in my front yard to welcome hostages home. We still tie ribbons to trees and around our fingers to remember things, to keep them close to our heart and to provide a hopeful reminder of something painful that we’ve endured. Ribbons represent being united with those we love.
We didn’t used to talk about breast cancer. Or any cancer, really. That began to change in 1991 when a woman in Florida named Charlotte began making peach loops out of yarn in her kitchen. She did so to create awareness and to urge the National Cancer Institute to increase its budget for cancer prevention research. She was a pioneer whose small act evolved into a great movement. Though Charlotte fought the commercialization of the ribbons, Susan B. Komen ran with the idea, changing the color to pink and distributing them that fall at the New York City race for breast cancer survivors. In 1992, the pink ribbon was chosen as the official symbol of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Self Magazine and breast cancer survivor Evelyn Lauder, an executive at Estée Lauder, also began distributing them in stores in New York City. Breast cancer had come out of hiding. We were talking about it and wearing ribbons of remembrance.
This small pink loop has grown to one of the most recognizable symbols in the world. Pink represents a call for support, research and the acknowledgement of women in the midst of debilitating treatments and those who have lost their earthly battle. The shades of pink that overtake our community in October represent hope and remembrance. Pink tramples fear and scatters beauty. Pink ties us together to give attention and dollars to research, support and encouragement to each other.
I am not a breast cancer survivor. But where cancer takes up residence is really just a question of geography. Whether in your breast, in my ovary, on your wife’s medical report, or is responsible for taking your mother’s last breath, it’s devastating. All cancers attack the body, soul and spirit. Breast cancer also attacks a woman’s femininity. When cancer has cut through our most feminine parts and leaves us radiated with fear, often without hair and feeling unbeautiful, pink reminds us of who we are.
Why Pink? Pink is the color of lipstick and blush. Pink is the shade of roses, the first sunlight, flushed cheeks and newborn beauty. Pink is the most feminine color. We use this pink to pretty things up, but it’s more than that. We wear pink to connect, to bring awareness, to come out of hiding, to speak the truth. It is a symbol of seeing and encouraging beauty and femininity. I think we needed something bold and pink does not arrive silently, unlike cancer that is quiet and moves unnoticed.
Pink is cute. Cancer is not. Some days, there is nothing good about the pain, and the diagnosis and the journey. I want you to know I see you, wearing pink on your lapel, your hat, your T-shirt. Husbands, fathers, sisters, and survivors I cheer you for walking laps and running miles honoring her or her memory. I smile at your bravery because I am living after cancer, too. Although mine did not take up residence in my breast, this month a pink ribbon ties us all together.
(Amy Breitmann is a published
writer and blogs at Belovedin
BlueJeans.com She is a 16-year ovarian cancer survivor and a Co-Founder of The Lydia Project. Amy currently works for Helms College with Goodwill Industries. She has called Augusta home for 17 years.)