The Unpink Post

My favorite month

In late August of 1994, my mom died. Today is her birthday. It’s also the birthday of my cousin Suzann, who is the daughter of my mom’s sister Mary, who was my godmother. Since Suzann was born on my mom’s birthday, the four of us, Mom, Auntie Mary, Suzann and I, have always had this lovely interconnectedness, something that remains to this day. Naturally, Suzann had a special place in Mom’s heart for arriving on her birthday, and Mary was always my favorite aunt, and probably would have been even if she wasn’t my godmother. Earlier this year, I went to my Auntie Mary’s funeral. Suzann and I have a lot of remembering to do today.

After I buried my mom in September of 1994, awash in grief, I had to face the heartbreaking details of dealing with her estate. I spent her birthday and the October that followed flying to Florida to arrange for the renovation and sale of her condo, closing her bank accounts, talking to her lawyer, crying, and dealing with being a newly-minted physical therapist in my first PT job. Thanks to my mom, who gave me an enormous check to help pay for graduate school, it wasn’t going to take me as long as it might have to pay off my student loans. Thanks to my wonderful new boss, I didn’t have to worry about taking time off to deal with all this, even though I’d only been working for her for a few months.

When I got back from Florida that October, one of my best friends from grad school was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkins Lymphoma. For the second time in her life. The first time was when she was 16, twenty years earlier. I was gobsmacked. She was gobsmacked. Her oncologist was gobsmacked. After twenty years in remission, it was practically unheard of for HL to return. Her only recourse was chemo, because she’d already been fried by radiation the first time around. Thus began my first up-close and personal experience with the realities of chemotherapy and cancer treatment. I’m astonished and grateful that my friend actually survived, and her cancer is still in remission to this day. But you never know with the Beast. So, she continues to watch out for the ever-looming Mets Monster.

All in all, it was a pretty shitty October that year. But at least it was October, an indisputably beautiful month in New England, and if I occasionally resented the colorfully poignant symbols of death and winter that were fluttering down from the trees and popping up in pumpkin patches, most of the time, it was oddly comforting that my favorite month so aptly represented life’s contradictions and ambiguities. It’s hard to be completely miserable around so much orange. I grieved for my mom and feared for my friend, but October was still October, glorious, messy, rife with incongruous beauty and uncanny lessons.

Three years ago this October, I had just finished acute treatment for breast cancer. And fell into the post-treatment fatigue pit that would impact my life every day thereafter. And experienced the ubiquitous evidence of corporate merchandising I came to dub the Pink Peril. Once again, my favorite month kinda sucked. I did my best. I was relieved to be alive, to have a job and a home and friends and health insurance and paid sick leave. But just when I most needed to revel in the color orange, this other color threatened to saturate my consciousness. And I didn’t like it, not one bit.

P is for Pumpkin

Since then, a lot of ordinary things in my life have been on hold. My yard and flowerbeds have been neglected. My lawn is overdue for another haircut. And while my house does not, at least, look like it’s been laid waste by lunatics searching for a microchip, it does look like some kind of hurricane hit it, a Category One hurricane perhaps, but still a hurricane. I’ve never exactly been a neatfreak, but at any given time, most of the rooms in my house were at least presentable most of the time, and I usually didn’t have to wonder if I had enough clean underwear. Since cancer and cancer fatigue, all bets have been off. When you spend every work day wondering whether you need to take your neurostim drugs to get past ten o’clock in the morning, and collapse in a heap as soon as you get home at the end of the day, housework just isn’t the priority it once might have been. When you can’t lift your right arm without pain from treatment scar tissue, you don’t rush to grab the vacuum cleaner. When you spend most of your days off being unable to get out of bed from soul-sucking, all-consuming fatigue, you let a lot of things go. Thank goodness I have automatic bill-paying set up with my bank, or I might never get around to paying the electric bill either. Whatever. That’s life in the aftermath of the Big C.

Finally, this autumn, there are some days when I have some energy. Not the ol’ ball-of-fire stuff I used to take for granted three years ago, but some. Enough to move a few of the items I’d shoved to the bottom of my To-do list closer to the top. This morning, the first day of a two-week vacation, I had my plumber in to figure out the specs to replace my kitchen sink, and install the dishwasher, and replace the bathroom sink and vanity, and put in a new toilet. Six months ago, I couldn’t have even contemplated dealing with all this. Three months ago, I started to do a little planning, but it still seemed like a long-shot to see it through. Now, somehow, I’m going to get it done. It’s still a slow process, and when the plumber was here earlier, I had to keep my focus on the purpose of his visit, and not fret about how badly the floor needs washing, and how much crap is spread out on the kitchen table, and how much laundry I still need to catch up on now that I fixed my dryer, and how I need to mow the lawn tomorrow while the sun is out, and how I simply have to run the vacuum cleaner over the rugs now that I’ve cleaned out the wad of cat fur that was clogging up the cleaner head. Once again, I had to forgive myself for not feeling normal anymore, for not feeling equal to so many of life’s maintenance tasks, for not being able to live like ‘other people.’


Meanwhile, the onslaught of Pinktober lurks on the horizon. And if there is a color that represents metastatic breast cancer — hell, metastatic cancer in general — I haven’t heard what that is. But some of my friends are afflicted with it, newly diagnosed with it, trying to deal with it, trying to live in spite of it, looking for answers that aren’t there. And too many have already died of it. Yeah, yeah, some of the pink shit raises money for research — and a whopping 2% of that research money goes to researching mets. Two percent. And out of the thirty-one days in October, only one of them is specifically devoted to metastatic breast cancer.

So, forgive me if I’m having a hard time getting worked up about Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I’m tired of swimming against the pink tide. I’m tired of having arguments with people who think all the pink merchandise, and all the misinformation, and all the trivialization and sexualizing of the boob disease, and all the trite mythology of brave She-ro-ism, is accomplishing what needs to be accomplished. I’m tired of effing breast cancer, tired, aggrieved, overwhelmed, and disheartened. I’m tired of trying to get some semblance of normal life back. After having ‘early’ breast cancer, the putative ‘good’ kind of breast cancer. After three years of long and late-term treatment side affects. After too many people I know have been newly diagnosed or have developed mets or have died.

This October, my own awareness campaign is far too personal to be represented by a ribbon. My personal awareness campaign is about getting my life back, supporting my friends, remembering those I have lost, reclaiming what used to be my favorite month, finding some joy and fulfillment in the ordinary. It’s about choosing a path that is not saturated in a color that never looked good on me anyway, but one that is strewn with autumn leaves, and bursting with chrysanthemums and goldenrod and ripe pumpkins. And I’m taking it one step at a time. And pink is going to have to get the hell out of my way.

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This entry was written by Kathi, posted on Tuesday, September 27, 2011 at 02:09 pm, filed under Art & Music, Attitude, Life & Mortality, Metastastatic Breast Cancer, Survivorship and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

14 Responses to “The Unpink Post”

  1. Great Post!
    I too love October, it is my favorite month not only because my birthday is in it, but because for me it has always signified a rebirth and a new year ahead. I love the smells of decay and the colors of the leaves. Even here in the PNW we get some nice colors too. I also am so sick and tired of pink everywhere, especially in this month (my favorite month also). I am also choosing not to look, I like the leaves better anyway.

  2. Well-said and thank you. My husband is going to guest post on my blog in October about his own issues with the pink business. We don’t buy into any of it and the reality is that anyone dealing with this kind of crap needs a hot meal, a fun day out or just a nice cup of coffee with a friend. They don’t need more pink junk (especially the plastic junk) and certainly don’t need you eating yogurt (or all the other junk food that “contributes”) that’s nasty and bad for you, just so you feel like you are helping. Ugh…thank God for the DVR…if only they could get rid of all the awful radio commercials, too.

  3. Beautiful post. Sums up October perfectly — in all it’s gloom and glory.

    PS: “Personal awareness campaign” is a terrific term!


  4. Agree with so much of what you wrote. I grew up in New England and miss autumn so much. Pink is not an autumn color. I am an 11 year survivor and have lost so many friends to the beast, including both parents.

    The color for metastatic BC? No color. The whole color thing is kind of an insult to the reality of cancer and specifically, metastatic cancer. 2% Seriously, where is the rage? This is probably why I align with NBCC and the effort to address metastatic BC.

    Love your blog. Just discovered it.

  5. Thanks, everyone. Nice to see you all here. I think this is the year that a lot of us need to draw the line in the sand.

  6. Brilliant post, Kathi!! Good for you to bring out all the colors that October naturally puts forth, none of them pink, as I recall. I’m so sorry for all you’ve been through, and the fatigue is, indeed, horrendous.

    I, too, am planning to reclaim October and ignore the pink parade — or should I say pink mob — of products that exploit breast cancer and those afflicted with it. And, I agree, that people with mets are often left by the wayside in our society that values the hero that smote cancer. Cancer is not overcome by heroism.

    Thank you, as always, for such an insightful posting.

  7. Kathi,
    First of all, I want to say I’m sorry you lost your mom back in 1994. I’m also sorry about the loss of your special aunt. It sounds like October has a lot of memories for you. It’s hard sometimes when those memories flood in over us isn’t it?

    I absolutely love your fall photos. They inspire me to get out and take some of my own. As I type, the pine needles are falling off the white pines in my yard, like it’s snowing. It’s incredible how they shed too. I had no idea until I moved to WI.

    I have mixed feelings about the coming month. Part of me wants to stay quiet. Part of me wants to really rev things up a notch. Guess I’ll just see what happens. I agree with you, sometimes we need to focus on our own personal awarneness campaigns. Lots of wisdom in doing that.

    Thanks for the great post and photos!

  8. Thankyou for your brilliant post Kathi. October is my birthday month, and I don’t like it being pinked for little or no benefit. Pink has not cured my breast cancer, nor stopped secondaries, nor made the journey easier. It has not funded research into why my life is under threat from mets. The whole breast awareness thing is overdone…..there would be very few that are not “breast aware”, and I don’t say to stop the promotion of awareness, but I truly believe that there needs to be more money/research/awareness of/for metastatic breast cancer. Breast cancer is not a fashion statement.

  9. agree agree agree.
    not doing the run for the cure this year, and i’m beyond caring to try and explain to people why. I’ve had cancer shoved down my throat and i want distance!
    I LOVE October and frankly…I never liked pink, get out of my sight!

  10. Nancy, thanks for the comments on the photos. The first two were taken last fall, the third during a visit to beautiful Block Island, which is a ferry ride from the southern shore here. I think I may have taken more seasonal photos in autumn than any other time of the year. With good reason. October light is the best.

    Happy Birthday to you birthday girls, Laura & Heather! Isn’t real awareness about really appreciating our birthdays, among other things, after cancer? I think so.

    October is also about harvest & renewal. What better time than October for each of us to focus on what those ideas mean in our lives after cancer? That’s what I’m focusing on this month. I might have to write a post about that. It’s certainly not about harvesting the bumper crop of pink tchotchkes.

    Love & ORANGE to you all. xx

  11. Kathi
    I used to love October, the acceptance that yeah summer is over. One day you look out your window the leaves have changed colour. You walk into the mall and you are flooded by a sea of PINK!! Pink Boas, Pink ribbons, Pink cup cake wrappers, Pink everything. Since when did Pink represent autumn? Breast Cancer has become the most politically incorrect party people seem to be OK with celebrating. Pardon me if I don’t join them. Our Thanksgiving is almost here in Canada, my birthday is on the 13th. Those who continue flogging their junk with emails….. Do so at your own peril! I’m grumpy and I hate Pink! Love Alli xox

  12. This is such a compelling essay, Kathi, along with the gorgeous photos. Pink pales in comparison to a New England Autumn.

    Unfortunately pink not only “threatens to saturate consciousness,” it detracts attention from the realities of cancer, siphons money and resources, carries with it misinformation, and gives a false impression that work is being done to end the epidemic. Some work is being done, for sure, but the tide of useless activity surrounding pink consumption is sure getting in the way of it.

  13. Oh, Gayle, I’ll tell you, I just hit the wall with it this year. Between what our friends are going through, and recent stresses of my own, I’ve been absolutely knackered. For years now, I’ve been taking a few weeks of vacation time around now, and this year, I really needed my fall vacation to be a vacation. There’s nothing restorative or purposeful about being surrounded by pink products whenever I go to the store to do an errand. It’s like the Pink Plague, and meanwhile, the real plague of breast cancer continues.

  14. If anything, my color for October is blue. My first non-wedding anniversary (in 36 years) will be in a few days. Should I wear black for mourning or vibrant colors for celebration? Then my birthday is a week later. Purple is my favorite color, hint, hint. And my good friend’s birthday (and late grandma’s as well) is a few days later. We’re celebrating by going to a great women’s conference with song and inspiration. My brother’s birthday and my dad’s death day is Oct. 30, and my Mom’s birthday (she’s deceased) is Halloween. So do I wear orange and black? Purple and blue? Anything but pink. I’m with you on the colorblind scale. Thanks for removing the scales from my eyes so I could see what I am actually facing as October unfolds.

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