Powerful in Pink

When I was 5, my best friend was diagnosed with leukemia. Beyond not recognizing her when she returned from St. Jude’s, feeling as if I was making a brand new friend as we became reacquainted once her immune system could tolerate my presence, and spending the rest of my pre-adult years trying to convince her that the damage the chemo had done to her hair did not detract from her beauty, I didn’t really understand what she had overcome – not until I lost my nephew to this same horrific cancer years later in my life. I was a kid. She was a kid. I had no awareness of death.

When I was 7, my mom was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Beyond not seeing her for weeks on end when she’d have to go for treatments, then feeling exuberant over spending nearly every day with her one summer at the dialysis clinic (when her kidneys stopped functioning), and knowing I wasn’t to get near the heparin and needles in her closet, I didn’t really understand terminal cancer – not until the very end, anyway, as she would lie in the hospital bed at our house, looking up towards heaven and speaking to angels in words only they could understood. All other times, she functioned as normally as she possibly could as a mom. I didn’t notice the graft loop in her forearm or the fact that her skin had become a yellowish-green tint over her emaciated structure. (It was only in looking back at pictures, years later, that enabled me to see those changes.) I have no doubt that she put forth great effort to be as productive and seem as vivacious and as lovely as she could for her family. I was a kid. I had no awareness of the war a mom will wage to “do anything” for those she loves.

I’m sure it’s not by accident that I ended up being drawn into the health care field. For a portion of those years, I had the privilege of serving many women in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer, most directly while supervising and assuring accreditation of three breast centers in their early years of operation. We all opted to wear pink each day there, not just as a reminder to the women who came to us that we were dedicated to supporting them, but to remind ourselves and others (when we were away from our work territory throughout the day) of the bravery of these women who were waging war against a deadly opponent. We were wearing our team colors proudly, supporting and cheering this team of women towards VICTORY!

That’s what many of the sports teams have been doing, as of late (particularly during October, the month designated for Breast Cancer Awareness). It may seem pointless to some for people to put on the color pink while playing a ball game, but Real Men are wearing pink for a powerful purpose! You see, when these gruff, tough male team members begin to dress out in this otherwise improbable choice of color for support, it sparks some level of awareness in them (and in those watching) about what others are battling on life’s field, where the impact of wins and losses is substantial.

Cancer patients know – this battle’s tough; but life has to “go on” around them. Despite the time stolen for surgeries, treatments, reconstruction, therapy…others at work, at home, in life are depending on them to be there. And I’m always amazed at how responsive they are to these demands.

Breast cancer is an especially tough diagnosis, too, maybe because it emphasizes the difficulty of life simply “going on” – not necessarily just for the patient, but for her entire family. The majority of those affected (though not all – and that, too, is important to recognize) are women, more specifically often mothers and wives. Many of these ladies are the center of their families’ universes, serving as the beautiful centerpiece around which everything else is arranged. While they visually represent the softness, the warmth, and the splendor of the household, they authentically serve as a backbone of support. More than anything, that’s the importance of bringing awareness to their battle ground and offering our own lovely pink arrangement of support to them.

I’d love to share with you how my son’s school and football team (and their opponents) participated in this effort during last week’s homecoming game. Beyond selling items (shirts, hats, etc.) where proceeds would go towards breast cancer research, beyond pink jack-o-lantern buckets being passed around at half time to gather additional proceeds, and beyond a check for previously collected money being presented to the American Cancer Society during half-time, we had an inspirational half-time show where all cancer survivors present (led by the school’s headmaster, a breast cancer survivor, herself) were invited to come onto the field and release balloons to honor their victories and the good fight fought by so many others.

I hope these photos depict the excitement of the evening and celebrate what took place on both of these fields of “battle.”

We Salute You Sassy Sisters (and all others waging war against cancer).

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