Finding Pride in the Color Pink

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with the color pink. When I was younger, I was obsessed it. I wanted everything I owned to be some shade of it, and for a while, everything basically was. And then, at a certain age, I detested it. It felt too girly, or at least too stereotypically girly. Even at the ripe age of nine, I was way too pretentious for that. But once I reached sixth grade, I became very uncertain of how I felt about pink. By then, what was once a simple color became the symbol of something so much more.

I was 12 years old when I found out my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had gotten out of bed to get a glass of water, but I stopped outside the kitchen when I heard my parents talking in hushed tones.

“They think it’s cancer?” my dad asked my mother.

I don’t remember the reply. Maybe she didn’t say anything at all. I couldn't really focus because my head was spinning and I just kept thinking of that one word, again and again and again: cancer. I went back to bed, trying to swallow back the panic as I told myself I must’ve heard them wrong. I forgot about the water. I wasn’t thirsty anymore, anyway.

Aside from that night, my parents never put what was going on into words. It was a lot easier not to talk about it. We knew that addressing the elephant in the room would shatter the whole illusion that everything was okay, and I don’t think any of us knew how to handle that.

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My aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer a few weeks after my mom was. I’d like to say that maybe it made it easier for both of them to have someone going through the same thing as they were, but sometimes it just seemed to make things twice as hard. We had to worry about twice the amount of appointments and twice the amount of prognoses. Family get-togethers became discussions about chemo, surgery options and health updates. Everyone was just waiting for things to get better, but no one really knew if they would.

Watching your loved ones battle with life-threatening illnesses is hard. Really hard. The worst part is that you can’t really do anything but try to stay strong for them. I took care of my mother the best that I could, whether that was by taking over the house chores, being there when she needed someone or even just trying to make her smile when it seemed like she never would again. I didn’t let anyone know how hard it was on me. I didn’t even tell any of my friends what was going on for a long time. By the time I decided to, both my mom and aunt were already in remission.

I’ve spent a lot of time pretending that breast cancer hasn’t affected my life. It’s not something my family talks about very often, and it’s not something any of us really like remembering. Maybe that’s why I’ve had such a hard time deciding how I feel about pink. It was the color of the ribbons that adorned the potted plants people gave us after my mom’s surgery. It was the color of the bracelet my friend gave me when she found out. It was the color of the posters in doctors’ offices that listed breast cancer statistics. It was the color of breast cancer awareness, and as a result, it became a reminder of a lot of hard things my family had to go through. But now that I’m older, I’m starting to realize that it’s more than that. Because it's not just a color that represents the bad times from the past, but also a color that represents hope for the future.

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October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and I think it’s important that we really put in perspective just how big the issue is. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. If that statistic doesn’t scare you, you should probably consider what this implies. Even if you aren’t the one in those eight women who will personally suffer from breast cancer, it could still be anyone else in your life. It could be just another person you see on the street, but it could also be your sister or your best friend. It could be your mother.

It’s easy to ignore it and push it out of your head. Trust me, I know. But ignoring it isn’t going to change anything. It might not seem that we, as individuals, can do a lot about it, but we can donate to research centers. We can raise awareness and teach women the warning signs and what to look for. We can get people to care. We can care. We can all be the daughters trying to make their mothers smile again. It seems like such an insignificant role, but maybe even that can give someone enough hope to keep fighting.

A few months ago, my grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer. And, just like the first time, hearing the news terrified me. My first instinct was to push the thought away, to fight against it, but then I realized that’s what I’ve been doing my whole life. Cancer is a scary thing, but pretending like it isn’t a problem isn’t going to change anything. This time, I’m going to do what I can to help donate to the cause. I’m going to be there for her whenever she needs me. And this time, for every mother, grandmother, daughter and friend that I’m ever going to meet, I’m going to proudly wear the color pink.

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