After the Pink Ribbons Have Faded…..

White House decorated pink in honor of Nationa...
White House decorated pink in honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The last day of October is upon us.  Pink month is almost over.

Last Wednesday we gathered to say goodbye and remember a sweet lady whose fight with breast cancer had ended.  Last night I thought about a sweet young mama whose fight also was over, ending a life so full way too soon.  I sat with her younger son as he talked about getting in a car and driving up to Heaven to see his Mama.  Way.  Too.  Soon.  I have an aunt and a cousin who have both fought and won (for lack of a better word) against this Giant.  I have one friend who fought and is cancer free and another who has just been diagnosed.  I’m guessing there are few of us if any who don’t know someone who has been devastated by this Giant of a disease.

This is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  The month when car wash fountains turn pink and people take their poodles to the groomers to be dyed pink for the Race for the Cure.  All in the name of awareness and support.  You can buy everything from soup to bread to paper towels to saltines and cheese carrying the pink ribbon of support.  It wasn’t until I read this article by a young woman fighting breast cancer that I began thinking through this whole pink thing.  All of those products we proudly add to our cart and generously pay a little extra for, knowing that the extra is going towards the fight?  What would it be like if we gave that whole amount towards research and prevention?

It seems that October 13 was National No Bra Day in support of women who are fighting or who have lost the battle to breast cancer.  In the words of my high school algebra teacher when she’d hear an answer that made no sense–“Do what?!” I mean, really?  What good is that supposed to serve?  Did people look at me and say, Oh she doesn’t support breast cancer awareness because she…..well, ahem, she didn’t forgo her own support?

No.  Just no.

Awareness only goes so far.  I am aware.  I’ve been “up close and personal” aware of what breast cancer could do to your body for over ten years, metastasizing and affecting other organs and it’s just AWFUL.  RAVAGING.  This awareness didn’t make me do what I should have done at least four years ago–be tested.  I was afraid.  Of so many things.  When you have autoimmune issues, it’s hard to trust that your body won’t betray you at every turn.  So fear was the motivating factor for NOT being checked.  I know, it makes no sense, but that’s the irrational way my mind was working.  It has only been in the past three weeks that I found an alternative test and had it done.  I’m very lucky.  And thankful.  All is well.

So what happens after the soup is all sold? When the pink beribboned bread is out of date?  The paper towels have all be used?  Where does all this support and cheering our sisters on through the fight go after October is over?  I know it doesn’t all go away, but it seems almost like a party in October, doesn’t it?  I wonder if the women fighting this have what equates to the January blues come November?  Breast cancer, check.  Moving on to the next cause du jour.

I had a call the other day from someone in the community who knows I volunteer with Daybreak and folks in need. She had a co-worker who is interested in doing something “to feed the homeless.”  She put her friend on the phone.  I asked her what she was interested in.  “I want to feed the homeless,” she said. “You know, now that it’s cold?  They must be hungry.”  Yes ma’am.  I’m sure they are.  Just like they were in July and September and will be in March and April.  No, I didn’t say that to her.  Instead I shared with her about the different soup kitchens and food pantries and clothing closets that I knew about who were seeking support and volunteers.  “Okay,” she said, “but is this where people stand in line and you fix their plates?”  Sigh.  I’m not sure what she was looking for, but I don’t think I was helping.  She seemed frustrated that the soup kitchen opportunity in our town wasn’t until next month.

The thing is I think we have this perception that certain folks are in need only when they are on our minds.  Of course it is natural for us to think of women (and men) with breast cancer during October.  But unfortunately, their fight doesn’t end when the pumpkin turns into a turkey at the strike of twelve on the 31st.  It is natural to think of folks without shelter when the weather turns cold.  But they are out there in the spring rains and the summer heat and when the mosquitoes swarm at sunset.  Who is there to feed them and hand out mosquito repellant and rain jackets then?

There are people who walk the walk all year long and for them I am thankful.  There are people who work for cancer prevention and awareness all year long.  And yes, I see the importance of taking time each year to share stories and ways to help.  But I think we need to be real careful what that support looks like.  And we also need to be aware that, for way too many people, cancer and being without a home, just two examples, are like a tv channel that nothing good is on.  Only they can’t turn it off or change to a better one.  For them, that is the only channel available.  A poor metaphor perhaps, but I hope you get my point.  After October is over, after the winter cold defrosts in spring, there are still people in need.  Of support.  And love.

I love these guys, but I  think it's really sad that this shirt will probably be on clearance by the middle of next month?  Why not offer them year-round?
I love these guys, but I think it’s really sad that this shirt will probably be on clearance by the weekend and off the shelves by the middle of next month.  Why not offer them year-round?

I mostly wanted to share what I learned this October.  At the beginning of November last year there was a cart of reduced and clearance items at our grocery store.  Among the things were dishtowels and aprons and potholders, all with the beautiful bright pink ribbons.  50% off.  Underneath there were even breast cancer awareness t-shirts and water bottles and socks.  75% off.  Awesome!  And yet, I’m realizing this year, not so much.  I didn’t need any of that.  Instead I should have come home and figured out how to support folks with cancer directly.  And I guess that’s my point.  Relationships.  I appreciate the folks that fund raise for cancer research and resources for people in need.  We need them and what they do.  But sometimes I think they might make it a little too easy for us to feel like “I’ve done good.”  I know the folks I volunteer with would rather have folks show up every week to build a relationship than just about anything else.  That’s what we all really want, isn’t it?  To have someone walking alongside us.  With love and respect, an ear to listen and a shoulder to lean on.  I think yes.

In the end it wasn’t awareness or education that made me get checked.  It was relationships.  As Sister put it recently, “I’ve got to take care of ME so I can take care of THEM.”  It was that and my sisterfriends who encouraged and nagged me, and it was my Aunt who guided me as well.  I did what I did because of the people I know and love who love me right back.  The people in my life helped me take care of my life.

If I meet someone in need, I hope to have the courage to reach out and change their life and mine for the better.  Wear pink if that’s your color but also brighten someone’s life by walking in and sitting with them, listening to their stories and promising to whoop them if they don’t take care of themselves.  Knowing someone cares can make all the difference.

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31 Ways to Help A Friend With Breast Cancer:  http://sarahthebarge.com/2013/10/31-ways-to-help-a-friend-with-breast-cancer/

National No Bra Day and Breast Cancer Awareness Month — OR — Please Put That Pink Can of Soup Down & Put Your Bra Back On: http://cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com/2012/10/13/national-no-bra-day-and-breast-cancer-awareness-month-or-please-put-that-pink-can-of-soup-down-put-your-bra-back-on/

The Color Pink: http://sarahthebarge.com/2013/10/the-color-pink/#more-605

I Won’t Tell You How to Help the Homeless: http://hughlh.com/help-homeless/

Love Wins: A Conversation with Hugh Hollowell http://homelessincarolina.wordpress.com/2012/12/06/love-wins-a-conversation-with-hugh-hollowell/

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