Breast Cancer Awareness month is upon us and as one having been through the illness – as well as my mother, my maternal aunt and recently my sister – I am feeling ever so aware of this beast. I’m certain you too have felt its cold hand either directly or indirectly with friends or family. And although I am always keen to carve out a positive approach to life (indeed my Bowen Island based fitness company is aptly named Positively Fit), and acutely aware of expressing gratitude wherever, whenever possible, I’m having trouble with the upbeat marketing and language surrounding breast cancer. The language and symbolism that now defines breast cancer rubs me the wrong way – like a scratchy label on my clothing. I understand we need to create stories, narrative and symbols around issues and challenges to help us make sense of the world. It creates a conversation that unites us. I get it. The problem is the language and symbolism don’t reflect how I see the disease. How I experienced it.
It’s not pink. Breast cancer is the colour of the paint brush water after you have dipped and rinsed your brush a dozen times during a water colour painting. Murky mud. Sludgy yuck. I have always loved pink, the bright clear fuscia hue that embraces the warmth and scents of the tropics. It lifts me. I’m irked that the colour is used to sell blenders, tic tacs, watermelons (Melon Up campaign), pens and paper. You name it, breast cancer is selling it. All wrapped up in a pretty bow promising funds to cure the disease. Try picking any product in the shops this month sporting the cheery ribbon and try and track down how much and exactly to whom the funds are going. I’ve tried. It’s impossible.
It’s not a journey. Journeys to me are epic adventures punctuated with unexpected pleasures. Like my trip to Paris and Cornwall last May/ June. Two different journeys with two dear friends full to brimming with everything wonderful, and seasoned with happy challenges. If I may be so articulate as to say that enduring the full-meal-deal cancer treatment really, really, really sucks. I’ll take a journey any day. Just not that one. We also seem compelled to re-package the lessons in life learned from experiencing a cancer “journey”: stop and smell the roses, value life in its tiny beautiful moments, do what you love, love what you do. But cancer doesn’t teach us that. We teach ourselves that. It’s a choice we make after facing any life threatening situation, accident or tragedy.
I’m not a survivor. Yes, I am alive and thriving, and I am ever so grateful for that. But if I call myself a breast cancer survivor, then the disease defines me. And I am not that. I am partner, mother, sister, friend, business owner, community member. Survivor also nestles nicely with the war language of cancer – battling, fighting, bravery. I didn’t feel any of that either.
Don’t get me wrong. I am ever so grateful for the medical advances that saved my life. And recently my sister’s life. I just don’t fit into the breast cancer language, symbolism, rhetoric that surrounds me this month. I am perhaps a little suspect of the rampant use of pink and ribbons to sell products promising to cure the disease. And lastly, maybe it’s time we graduated from Breast Cancer Awareness Month and spearhead Breast Cancer Prevention Month.
I live and work in paradise, Bowen Island. I am passionate about sharing, inspiring and embracing a happy life that includes among other fun stuff epic athletic travel, singing in our local choir, walking my son's dog in the woods, and a whole lot of exercise balanced with the right amount of rest.