Your Smiles Make Me Smile

If you really want to get the most out of my blog, it's best to start with the first post written in July to the present since some blogs refer back to earlier posts; but any order is just fine... Thanks for visiting! Now scroll on down to the good news! ~Renae~

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Behind The Pink Ribbon

Recently, I came across an article in The Huffington Post that hit the core of one of my emotions about having just been diagnosed with breast cancer.  How I feel now is completely different then how I ever thought I would feel under these circumstances, not that I ever put much thought into it.  In my little world of defense mechanisms and naivety, cancer only happens to other people.  But having a family of cancer losses and cancer survivors, I thought I knew the disease well.  I was wrong.  I have learned that no matter what ails a person’s life, whether it is physical or emotional, until we have walked in their shoes, we simply cannot truly know.  Even if we have walked in their shoes, we still can’t fully realize the profound impact that each person experiences because no two people share the same experience on even the most similar of journeys.

Before I go on, let me qualify what I am about to say with a statement I strongly believe, so as not to have my words misunderstood.  If not for the pink ribbons, hats and t-shirts, Susan G. Komen, long days of dedicated, relentless, and determined people raising money and walking for the cause, a full month dedicated to breast cancer, and all the awareness that goes with it, I would simply not have the options that I have before me now.  If not for the advocacy, I may be destined to plan my own funeral, just as my cousin Rosina did in her early 40’s, some twenty-five years ago.  On that grievous day, “The Greatest Love of All” by Whitney Houston was dedicated by my cousin to her two young daughters, while they wailed and clung desperately to her casket before it was lowered into the ground.  It was a day, a cruel day, that is forever etched into the sorrow of my heart.  Thus, for all the people that have fought to make changes in the world of breast cancer, so that my survival rate and those of others would be greater, and so the loss of my cousin and the grief of her family and that of others  would not be in vain, I am truly indebted.

With that being said, let me be frank.  As contradictory as this seems, after learning of my diagnosis, for the first time ever, and to the shock of many, I abhor the pink ribbons that have come to represent breast cancer. I know that’s hard to digest.  Clearly because you, probably like I, have supported the pink ribbons with every ounce of passion and heartfelt emotion while donating money or cheerleading the “Power to the Pink.” Please know that I don’t blame you for questioning my extreme hypocrisy in what I saw once as and still clearly is, an honorable and progressive cause….which leads me back to the Huffington Post article that brought me relief to know that I am not alone in my sentiments, or lack thereof.

Fashion photographer, David Jay, after witnessing one of his regular subjects having been diagnosed at the young age of 32, decided it was time to give a face to breast cancer.  The thought that so many women were being diagnosed at such a young age, motivated David to make a decision to reflect, through his art, the raw reality, the suffering, and the unglossed version of breast cancer to the public.*

For the first time after reading the article about David’s mission, I felt a tremendous sigh of relief. Someone on the outside got what I’d been feeling deeply for the last month, and expressed it in a way that I could never have done myself.  Pink ribbons in all of their nobility, make me feel…minimized.  My journey has only just begun and yet I have already found there is nothing pretty about this ugly disease, no matter how we try to dress it.

As my cousin calls it, "The double edged sword," I feel there is no way of escaping the pink ribbons that are there to help me, but a painful reminder at every turn I take.  Short of staying locked behind closed doors and watching Netflix (as my surgeon recommended to "get my mind off things") there is no escape from the blasted pink that is supposed to 

Sooner or later most of us in our lifetime will find out that breast cancer is not a pink ribbon, but a harsh reality of fear, suffering, grief, surgeries, treatment, recurrences, financial worries, and an incomprehensible list of emotion and exhaustion; hopefully one day leading to self-acceptance, no matter how badly our bodies have been deformed while fighting for survival.  I pray those of you reading this never have to find this out, but it is in fact, the raw truth behind the ribbon.

Hence, David Jay, through his photography, created a project, an exhibit of photographs to bring awareness above and beyond the pink ribbon.  After David's exhibit “The SCAR (Surviving Cancer Absolute Reality) Project was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, he went on to publish a stand-alone hardcover book depicting 50 women who had been scarred by breast cancer -- The SCAR Project: Breast Cancer Is Not a Pink Ribbon, Volume 1.

David states in an article in The Huffington Post*, what I believe to be so true and so unrealized;  “…certainly in the West, a huge part of a woman’s identity is her breasts, which is unfortunate…if all you have to offer is your breasts and a nice $600 handbag – that’s sad.  Because both can be taken away as we see in The SCAR Project.

I am not saying that I would judge anyone who has the money to buy a $600 handbag or place an order for the breast size of their choice (although personally I would rather buy wheelchairs for those in need than own a $600 handbag).  What I’m saying is that these young women in David’s project who have gone through hell and back, are beautiful, just as they are.  In fact they are more beautiful in my eyes, for the hardship and loss they’ve endured while simultaneously fighting to hold onto their dignity.

The scars these women bare are a reflection of their courage while facing some of the most lonely, fearful circumstances, and harrowing challenges they may ever have to endure….and will continue to endure for a lifetime.

And so, I end this post on the note that I am not a fan of pink ribbons, pink hats, or the pink teddy bears that attempt with good purpose to represent breast cancer; not because they haven’t brought unprecedented awareness and money for research, but because they simply don’t tell the whole story.  And maybe for the millions of people that don’t want the raw truth in their face, pink is a pretty way to digest the indigestible; but in my humble opinion, the real truth is that breast cancer cannot hide behind a pink ribbon, which minimizes the suffering that truly exists, not just by the patient, but their loved ones as well. 

In fact, if I dare take my opinion one step further, pink cannot even begin to compete with, reflect, or hold a candle to the beauty of a woman who has had to endure breast cancer, who holds her head up high and claims her dignity and her womanhood -- with or without her breasts.  Now that is beautiful.

Sweet Dreams and Always, GOOD Dreams,

** Photo by David Jay