Middle school was when I decided pink was no longer my favorite color. I was 11 years old on April 1st, 2009. I got home from school and thought I was being pranked when my mom looked at me and told me she had breast cancer…. I look back on that moment now and can recognize how scared I was—but at the moment I was furious.
I did not know how to feel about the emotions that my mom might not survive. I was angry because, as a kid, you have no idea what is going on. You don’t understand the conversations between insurance companies and doctors or what their terms and diagnoses mean. So you become scared.
My mom was connected through Facebook at the time to breast cancer groups. Through her, I learned to hate all those breast cancer organizations. I didn’t think they understood the severity of the situation—that I could lose my mother. It was all events and walks and empowerment for those who were deemed fighters and survivors. It was around then that I realized they didn’t recognize stage IV.
They did not fight for those who were dead or those dying.
My mom came home one day to sit me down and told me our neighbor, Carla, a mentor to me, and a family friend also had cancer. She had stage IV and she was going to die. I again was scared. I didn’t understand why these wonderful people around me were being stripped of so much and unable to be cured. I was angry when I would go over to Carla’s house and see her giving me her clothes or shoes (as she did her makeup and put on her wig) knowing she would no longer need those possessions. I was angry when I found out what death was.
In high school, my mom was still fighting pain that never seemed to leave her. The conversation within the breast cancer organizations about Carla, who passed, slowly faded as she was not deemed a survivor. This was false. I knew she fought hard for every second.
My “Pretty and Pink” Poem
I was still so angry that I took up slam poem writing because I had no other outlet.
I wrote this poem called “Pretty and Pink”…
They make it pretty and pink
That’s how it’s portrayed, and tied with a little pink bow.
It’s celebrated for one month a year.
But it took over my life for four years and counting!
And consumed the lives of others’ completely!
How can you tell me it’s just pink?
When it’s mommy being moved from hospital to hospital.
Trying to tape the stitches into place and pulling the tubes from her chest.
Watching them burn mommy every day for 31 days.
It’s Daddy being mad because mommy can’t work anymore to pay her medical bills.
It’s watching strangers pull tubes from her unconscious body and screaming,
“Don’t kill her! You’re killing her!”
It’s not pretty and pink….
It’s blood red.
It’s the steel plates implanted into their chest.
It’s the cold hospitals and burned bodies.
It’s the fallen hair and guinea pig experiments they are put through.
It is the unaware doctors trying to cure them by killing them with their drugs!
It’s the lady up the street who is fighting stage IV because she was once told she was too young to worry!
And now she’s dying!
It’s the mother that is stuck in her bed scarred and cut, her three-year-old boy sitting at her side.
It’s the scared families, the broken families, the dead families, the families that are trying so hard to smile.
Knowing this could all come back.
And to say it’s pink, and that, oh you understand because you’ve seen the commercials on TV,
Well, you’ve just seen the previews! I used to only see that too, but now I’ve been put into the movie.
That’s when you see the scars and the pain that holds onto every cell until it brings their bodies into a graveyard!
But…they make it pretty and pink.
Post-“Pretty and Pink”
Now as a college senior, I look back at that poem and I can still feel that anger…that misunderstanding. There was just no way for someone to explain to me what was happening. I felt helpless. My mom continues her fight, deemed a survivor. But her story, my story, the story of all those children who know someone going through cancer, all the parents, neighbors, and friends—your story does not end with the conclusion or outcome of a diagnosis.
My family was left with a warning that there could be complications or the cancer could return, but my mom was given more time. That alone is something I treasure. I know my family and I were lucky to receive that time. Things never fully went back to “normal”. Our life still revolved around this disease in many ways—but it is not consuming.
Over time, we learned how to educate and learn without getting overwhelmed. We learned what we could do for our mom and what we could do for others. My family did its best to heal the scars cancer left internally and externally. I eventually mended the relationship with my dad, knowing that when I was younger I did not understand the complexity of the situation.
I forgave the world knowing that cancer didn’t pick my mom out of the crowd and curse her. It doesn’t discriminate. I forgave a lot of things in learning how to cope with cancer being part of life. I still worry, of course, at times because that is a perfectly normal thing to worry about.
My New Take on Pink
Cancer is scary. It can be damaging, and you are allowed to feel sad, mad, hurt…..but now pink is once again my favorite color. At the time I felt helpless, but now I know that not everyone is against you. Others feel and understand what you are going through, there are outlets. If anything, I can be an outlet and a listening ear. I can try to extend a helping hand just so someone else does not feel so alone in this.
It was as a college junior I started working for The Side-Out Foundation as an intern. A foundation that promises to do all it can through its research to extend the lives of those living with stage IV. Lives like Carla’s. Giving power to young volleyball athletes to fundraise and have a chance to do something monumental is what I love the most.
I like to think this foundation can make one girl who was like me feel less helpless, being an organization that shows that girl she can do something and that there are entities that truly understand.