Until October. October brings on the pink socks, pink pom poms, pink towels, pink shoelaces, pink stripes and tons and tons of pink ribbons. Breast cancer awareness month (BCAM) has invaded a sacred tower, but without the necessary scrutiny as to why all the pink is worn.
My daughter is a cheerleader at her high school and she has been a very vocal advocate against the use of pink in October. Her constant question is: "What good does it do? What action do you want people to take? How does wearing pink help people like my mother?" She did put together a small program for last year, but unfortunately, the adults involved did not follow through. This year, there are no home games in October, so no pink is involved anywhere.
One of her fellow cheerleaders expressed great dismay. She really wanted to wear pink as she felt it was for a very good cause. Rachel (my daughter), pressed the question to her again ... "Why?"
"Because it's a nice thing to do."
And, deep down, it is. Symbolism is even stronger than Friday night lights. I know that I will long be remembered as the "more than a ribbon lady" and I will be remembered for dying of breast cancer. But I'd like to be remembered for far more than that. Right now, I think my strongest symbolism is The Tree of Life. Rooted in life, blooming in life, providing shelter and shade, The Tree of Life is a part of almost every culture on earth. It is so much more meaningful than a little pink ribbon.
Explaining this to high schoolers (or even adults) is hard to do. For the past thirty years, the pink ribbon has been tacked on to products as a "nice thing to do." Shopping, wearing pink and walking races has made people feel as if they are actually doing something to help those with breast cancer.
But then, October comes and goes and the pink is put away for another year.
Something has happened this year, though. October has come early. It's mid-September and pink has taken over several teams (probably due to schedules) and BCAM has become front and center stage for some.
In this particular case, this past Friday night was to honor a teacher who had just finished treatment for breast cancer and the principal and staff were celebrating her survivorship. The teacher bears a "cancer look" with loss of hair and a Friday night lights in September took on new meaning.
My daughter's high school played against that high school. One of our friends is the mascot for his school. He's a very active part of the cheer squad and is well loved by all around him. He is an integral part of Friday night lights.
Jeremy has Down Syndrome but doesn't let that slow him down. Like any other high schooler, he struggles with time management because he wants to do it all. Like all parents, our friends guide him and direct him just as my husband and I guide and direct our children.
On Friday night, Jeremy's cheer squad was bedecked in pink. They were very excited to be wearing pink and to make announcements honoring the teacher who has breast cancer. My daughter listened to these announcements and rolled her eyes. She asked herself, "What good does this do?"
Jeremy's mother was not mentioned. She, too, has cancer, but she's not sure if many at the high school know it. She doesn't have a "cancer look." You can't tell she is undergoing treatment. She doesn't have breast cancer. She has advanced ovarian cancer ... and she even had chemotherapy on Friday before the game.
Jeremy couldn't understand why his mother's name wasn't being honored. It's not that his mother wanted her name mentioned, but it was that a member of the sponsoring school's cheer leaders couldn't see past the pink to recognize that there are other cancers as well. (September recognizes childhood cancers and ovarian cancer. One of the very cancers for the month was right in front of these impressionable young women, but since the marketing machine hadn't made ovarian cancer a money-making behemoth, it was ignored.)
I saw Jeremy the next day. I was wearing one of my "I want more than a pink ribbon" buttons on my jacket (It's always there.) and Jeremy told me about how his school had "cancer night" the night before but that his mother's name wasn't mentioned. He feels that her honor is just as important as anyone else's. (He really doesn't understand that his mom and I have two different cancers.)
But he's right. Her honor and her symbolism is important. She shouldn't be left out simply because her cancer didn't start in the "perky boobs" of making money.
This isn't to say that the school was wrong to support their teacher. It's just to ask is pink necessary to do so? Is not a simple announcement indicating their support enough? How much money got spent on the socks, towels, and pom poms to show that support? How many other parents/teachers/friends are not publicly acknowledged because their cancer is not "pretty in pink?" It's all so very complicated.
Yes, all cancers are "equal" ... but someone forgot to tell the world.