Imagine if you had a sweet, little cozy house. You tend it well, doing all you can to keep it all pretty and quaint. While it’s not the house you imagined yourself owning, you have found yourself loving it; loving the simplicity of it. Outside you have planted a yard chock full gardens for all things to grow, all surrounded quaint little white picket fence.
But imagine for a minute that your sweet little house sits at the foot of a massive dam. As you part your gingham curtains to look out of your window you see not only the massive dam, but more worrisome, the cracks in the dam. Because you live so close to the dam you can see all those cracks, yet your neighbors living farther away can’t even see the cracks; they just aren’t close enough. But you, you know that one day those cracks will amount to a breach and that when it happens, you and your house will be destroyed. Your lovingly planted gardens will be whooshed away; all that you created since the dam was built, gone.
Imagine further your frustration that when you tell the others in village about the crack, they ignore you. In fact, the other people in your village are all into just celebrating the fact that the dam was built. They have annual Dam Days, full of festivities and face painting and parades. They have Dam ribbons and Dam balloons and Dam 5k’s. They just keep giving money to the Dam builders, saying “Would ya look at that dam! What a beaut!” Problem is, the dam builders are doing nothing with the Dam money to fix the crack, in fact they just keep using the money to pretty up the damn Dam.
But you, you see your future in that crack. You know that once the crack spreads, it’s game over. Could be today, could be years from now. The most frustrating thing is that your friends and neighbors are all pissy with you because you won’t go get your face painted at Dam Days and you keep asking the builder to fix the crack instead. Neighbors get mad at you for spoiling their fun; every time you point to the crack they say, “Don’t be an ingrate! Look at the magnificent dam, would you!” They try to distract you, and paint your picket fence pink saying, “Look at that pretty little thing instead will you?”
But you know that one day the dam will break and you and your house will be up, or more likely, down the creek without a paddle.
I once made what I will now call a mistake by saying I liked a figurine called a Snow Baby. I wasn’t lying, in fact that first Christmas the first Snow Baby I saw was really cute. But from then on, all I got for Christmas were Snow Babies; tumbling Snow Babies and ornament Snow Babies. The truth was that at some point, the little guys had kinda started to creep me out in their vast armies. Finally, after year twelve of opening a Snow Baby box at Christmas and trying to feign my gratitude and joy, I had enough. The time came when the giver and I had to have an honest little chat, because it was becoming an enormous waste of her effort and money to buy them and too, I realized she was starting to sense I wasn’t real thrilled anymore. But, here is the thing, because she wanted to keep gifting me at Christmas I found myself in the uncomfortable place of not only having to tell her what I didn’t want, but also having to ask for what I did need; for what would be appreciated by me.
Everyone was happier after that hard little chat. Honest.
Pinktober unleashed an unprecedented number of blogs/tweets/rants and discussion on pinkwashing and the pinking of America. After several years of this joint blogosphere, anti-awareness/more-research effort, I am thrilled to see it is working; to see that a small number of women with a committed purpose can in fact change the world. I see more and more companies each fall using the word “research” rather than “awareness.” as their goal. I know we have captured the attention of our friends and of Big Pink. I think people are starting to understand the ludicrous nature of pink.
But I also get this sense that those outside our inner cancer survivor circle are feeling a little miffed with us cancer girls at this point; that they think as we say here in the south, “It’s just plain rude darling,” for a breast cancer survivor to call bullshit on your pink NFL shoes. It seems at least to this thin-skinned gal, that the tide turn did not come without garnering the impression that we are spoilsport…that we are a pack of angry bitchy she wolves…that we are ingrates. That we are just ranty cancer women, angry really because our breasts were mangled or removed and we got cancer.
We are not any of those things.
People are put out that we survivors aren’t acting like non-cancer people want/expect us to act; i.e. what is making them happy isn’t making us happy and grateful. They are irked that in our collective anti- pink onslaught this month we have effectively said, “We don’t like Snow Babies.”
We are not ranty she-wolves, we are simply women who live our days within the reality that our cancer could come back any day now and that when it does, there is no cure. Still.
We are simply women pointing to the crack in the dam. Loudly now, because it’s not just about us, it’s about you and your sisters and moms and grandmothers and aunts and daughters. Loudly, because the crack is spreading. They are miffed that we have kept pointing to the crack, instead of enjoying our pink picket fence and the dam itself.
I was chatting with a couple at a dinner party recently and as it turned out, the husband had just finished round two of chemo. While he sat quietly, his wife got to talking about how it had recently been “Cancer Survivor Day” at his local chemo center and how he had not wanted to go to the event. I of course, being of Big Mouth and No Filter, chimed in saying, “Oh my god, I hate those things too, those events make me cringe!” For emphasis I added, “I don’t feel different or special. I just look at the whole mess as, I got sick, I got medicine, and I got better.” And for good measure as I was on a roll, I talked about hating the whole pink thing too.
I was met with silence and a GIANT, EPIC stink eye from the Mrs.. She said, “Well personally, I love those events, why in the world would you hate them?” I could see that I had clearly rained on her cancer celebration parade, so I shut up. But what happened next made the stink eye turn into a whole stink face; the hubby lit up with that look of, “Alas, a kindred spirit!” as he loudly proclaimed, “Exactly, Lauren! That is how I feel too! I can’t stand those events!”
Okay, so maybe wife thought I was cancer flirting (which I wasn’t) but mostly I think she was angry/hurt/miffed that we cancer patients weren’t appreciative of what she had decided would make us feel better about our cancer.
These days, as an anti-pink warrior, I feel that I am getting the stink eye from the universe for being so vocal about the crack in the damn dam.
My Pop has always said to me, “When someone does something that falls flat, you always have to step back and look at intent. Almost all the time, the person’s intent was good.” So I know two things in my above tale were true, her intent was good and my mouth was too big. People just want us to smile after cancer and they think pink teddy bears and cancer celebrations will do just that for us. But it doesn’t. And when it doesn’t, it’s as my kids say, kinda awk.
It is indeed an uncomfortable and hard conversation to have-the one when you have to let the air out of someone’s pink balloon by telling them that what they are doing isn’t helping and/or appreciated. When you have to say, “Your solution is not my solution. In fact a lot of your solution is salt in the wound and insulting.” I also think the other fault here was that we cancer folk were dissing stink eye woman’s ideas of kindness, without really offering any constructive thoughts on what would be appreciated.
This is where we are as a breast cancer community at the end of Pinktober. We have hit that awkward, interpersonal benchmark in the anti-pink campaign; the uncomfortable place just after breaking it to them that we don’t like/appreciate pink but just before telling them what would be appreciated and how to do that instead. We have dissed, but have not been constructive.
I personally think it is imperative that we as a blogging and breast cancer community move quickly toward conveying what is appreciated and needed at this point. It is most important to tell people how to do that effectively. Because the biggest part of education about a problem is offering a solution with it; without a solution you are just whining. I think we run the risk of alienating people at this point. It’s important that we don’t let the disappointment on both sides fester and that we instead quickly generate new ways to make everyone happy. That we offer simple ways for people who want to do something pink for us, to instead do something effective and meaningful for us.
We must do what I did with the Snow Babies…ask. The solution is to ask.
Ask for the Cure. Indeed. Ask for the Cure.
Let’s make next October Ask For the Cure Month.
Now, we must show them how to do what we ask. We must be constructive and construct. I want to offer people a toolbox for change, for picking good charities, for clear directives on where to write letters to about the crack in the dam. For how to read labels and make choices. A guidebook for asking for the cure.
A place to learn what to do instead of pink.
I grabbed a domain name (askforthecure.org) and web host, but no one is wise enough alone. Any ideas ladies? Who’s in?