Make Mine Maroon

I have come to dislike pink. It was never my favorite color. Too little girly for my taste and not a color that ever looked good on me. Very dark pink, hot pink is okay, but that rosebud pink always seems to suit other people, not me. Then, I had breast cancer. Since then, I am besieged by pink … not only the color, but an attitude.

I lost both breasts and got, in return, two nice fake breasts. Implants are not real breasts. They are vastly better than nothing, but they aren’t flesh. They have little or no sensation and I’m not sure how long it will be until they stop feeling like alien invaders.  The implants look fine under clothing but somehow aren’t me.

I am tired of being told my attitude is the critical issue rather than the disease. A lot of people seem to want me to be upbeat because if I’m happy, it makes them feel safer; these people do not want to hear if I am at sometimes besieged by feelings of sadness and loss. Considering the prevalence of breast cancer … of cancer in general … that’s sad. We really should have long since improved our ability to understand. But cancer scares the bejeezus out of everyone and no one wants to deal with that.

Walking around grim and full of impending doom is not necessarily a good choice, but each of us should be allowed to feel how we feel even if it’s bad. We’ve taken a major loss. Telling us we shouldn’t feel unhappy, that we should stay positive is unfair and infuriating. It ought to be acceptable to be fearful, worried, to mourn losses, to wonder “why me?” People complain about a lot less. They moan and complain about their bosses, their love life, their cars, traffic and the weather, but if I complain I had cancer … that’s not okay? Really?

Fake breastsI come from a family where cancer has taken a lot of lives. Getting it wasn’t exactly a bolt out of the blue. The closeness of these losses is not reassuring. It will be too late for me, but I’m sure there are many undiscovered genetic links to be found. They are evident in family histories, including mine. Eventually, these connections will be discovered and I hope research money is being spent on this type of genetic research. Being able to predict and prevent cancer would be much better than trying to make it go away.

I hate the “Pink” culture. I resent it. Glorifying breast cancer as if it were a kind of gift — which it isn’t — is unfair. Treating it as if it’s a “test” that if we pass, makes us heroines is equally ridiculous.

I am entitled to be pissed off. Frustrated with endless round of ill-health. I can’t afford denial. That’s a direct route to early death, or at least earlier than need be. Denying reality and pretending everything is fine when everything is NOT fine is unhealthy. No one with a serious illness can afford it. One way or the other, the problem is not my (or anyone’s) attitude, positive or otherwise. The problem is cancer.

Absolutely no evidence of any kind exists to confirm the widespread belief that a positive attitude results in a higher survival rate.

That’s a myth perpetuated by people who are threatened by your cancer. If you have a positive attitude, maybe it means that the boogie man won’t get them.

Reality bites. Cancer is sinister and sneaky. It profoundly changes your life, even if it doesn’t kill you. It casts a long shadow under which you will always live.

I resent sappy postings on Facebook telling me that all cancer patients care about is living another day, that we have abjured selfish desires like money. Really? Personally, I would be delighted to get an infusion of money. I’d love to have a new car. Pay down the mortgage. Fix the driveway. So, please feel free to send your checks. Cash, personal checks and money orders are all accepted and if you want information for direct transfer into my account, I’m sure we can work it out. No donation is too small. Please encourage friends and family to donate too. Unlike regular charities, I promise to send you a personalized thank you note.

Cancer is a financial disaster for many, if not most people. Depending on what insurance you have and where you live, it can deplete your resources and leave you with nothing. It’s part of why maintaining that smiling face everyone wants to see can be so hard. Bad enough you’re sick. Bad enough they’re removing body parts. But you’re also broke and may never recover.

I remind myself that all of us are here on a temporary guest permit, that no one gets out of this world alive. Any one of us could be felled by a speeding car or hit by a meteor. No one gets a guarantee. Cancer adds another layer, a ticking clock you hear inside your head. You know that the odds of  getting cancer again are high, even if your surgery went perfectly and everything looks clean. As one of my more realistic oncologists said: “It just take one cell. Just one.”

One single undetectable cell finding a compatible place to land and grow is all it takes. You won’t find it until it’s big enough to produce symptoms. If the original organ(s) has been removed, the cell will have to find a new home in a different organ and no one can predict where that might be. Or how long in the future it may become large enough to notice. It could be a long time, long enough to give you a full life … and it could have already started somewhere and you just don’t know. Not knowing, wondering, alternating ups and down of hope and fear are damaging to your mental health and esprit de corps.

You want to be fine, you plan to be fine yet you find yourself always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

A positive attitude will not alter the course of the disease in any way, though it will make you more fun to have around. Pretending to be positive makes others less afraid. It will make your family and friends feel better. To some degree, we do it because what’s the point of spreading gloom? If it doesn’t help you, maybe will help them. The “acquaintances” and other people who impose the obligation to smile regardless of your real feelings are not concerned with your welfare. Most of them could care less how you feel. They just  don’t want to deal with your pain or the threat you represent to their peace of mind. They want you to be okay so they can feel okay.

The culture of positivity that has developed around a bad and painful experience is phony and unfair. Living a lie is not solving any problems. Forcing women to smile when they want to scream is an old, old story: we’ve been doing it for centuries. It’s another version of the Happy Face … housewives with fake smiles taking care of everything while no one considers how they feel. It’s the 1950s redux.

The offensive pink trash bin.

I do not buy into it .

There a reason you can never get a straight answer from an oncologist. Ask them if taking tamoxifen or whatever nasty concoction they are giving you will improve your long-term survival and they will quote statistics. You know and they know a statistic is a numerical average built on a volume of data. It has nothing to do with you as an individual, nor with your history, or genetic package.

When big bright pink trash bins imprinted with that infernal pink ribbon began showing up around town, I blew a small gasket. PINK TRASH BINS? We are celebrating breast cancer with trash bins? You’re kidding, right?

I understand people think they are doing the right thing by telling you how lucky you are to have “caught it in time,” to be alive. Not dying isn’t lucky. If I were lucky, I would still have breasts. Not getting cancer would be lucky. Mostly, just be nice. Unless you’ve been there, you don’t get to offer advice. If you’ve been there, you can share. Otherwise, say something polite, then shut up.

Surviving is grueling and exhausting. We get tired, we have good days and bad. If we are suffering, we want commiseration. If we aren’t in physical distress, laughter is a great medicine. I don’t need friends to tell me not to worry — I know I shouldn’t and we all know I will — but humor is the best gift you can give. It’s free, too. I love to laugh. On the other hand, if this is one of those days during which I want to bitch at the unfairness of life, that should be okay. Friends don’t tell friends how to feel. Cancer is scary: if I have to cope with it, so do you.

If you want my address to send your check or money order, let me know!

Here’s a link that might help give perspective and maybe give someone a chuckle, too. Laughter is good for the soul. It isn’t going to cure anything, but it feels so good!

6 thoughts on “Make Mine Maroon

  1. Pingback: I Am Not Cancer | SERENDIPITY

  2. Marilyn, I truly respect you for airing your experiences. I have a very dear friend battling cancer and just found out it has spread. She has already undergone so much treatment that the idea of more is devastating. I feel the ‘pink’ crusade is for a good cause but it, like anything, can go overboard. Too much emphasis is all to often put in the wrong places. I have not seen the ‘pink’ garbage cans and do hope they don’t spread like a cancer.

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    • A lot of people who don’t understand what they are talking about have a lot of advice to offer. It varies from merely annoying and slightly offensive to unrealistic and hurtful. People who are suffering don’t need to hear how they should think positive. Some people are inherently optimistic and if they are able to maintain it, that’s fine. It won’t affect the course of the disease one way or the other, but maybe it will help them deal with it … if it’s real and not faked for the benefit of others. Not allowing people who have lethal illnesses feel bad is cruel. Making us feel worse by accusing us of failing because our attitude is bad is at best thoughtless. Common sense has (again) been lost, this time in a mistaken belief that positive thinking solves all ills. It doesn’t. We used to know that.

      EVERYONE knows about breast cancer, at least here in the U.S. Awareness has been achieved. It’s a pink bonanza for merchandisers. They make fortunes selling everything pink. That money is lining pockets, NOT going to a worthy cause. People who need money don’t get it, but a lot of people get rich off their suffering. How about raising some money for people who can’t afford the medical care they need? Or are corporate entities the only groups entitled to support while everyone else is a statistic? Not a penny of those multi-millions of dollars spent on “pink gear” came to a real person in need. The glorification of pink does NOT help those in need.

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  3. Pingback: Make Mine Maroon | Forty Two: Life and Other Important Things | Scoop.it

  4. Obviously my ‘like’ is for the great post, and I love the way you have shared your feelings. Pink trash bins are not something I have seen, maybe the UK haven’t caught up with this craze yet.

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    • It’s … awful. Last month, all my medications came from the pharmacy with pink tops on the containers. I am trapped in a giant pink bubble! Help!

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