In light of Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s recent decision, now reversed,* to stop funding Planned Parenthood’s program providing breast cancer screenings to low income women, this post was going to be about how much I dislike pink —especially the pink ribbons that have come to symbolize breast cancer.
I was going to insert the following quote from Barbara Ehrenreich’s article, “Welcome to Cancer Land,” in which she describes her “induction into breast cancer,” and eloquently documents how the color pink and teddy bears associated with it infantilize women diagnosed with this deadly and dead-serious disease. (And by the way, men get it too.)
For me at least, breast cancer will never be a source of identity or pride. As my dying correspondent Gerri wrote: “IT IS NOT O.K.!” What it is, along with cancer generally or any slow and painful way of dying, is an abomination, and, to the extent that it’s manmade, also a crime. This is the one great truth that I bring out of the breast-cancer experience, which did not, I can now report, make me prettier or stronger, more feminine or spiritual — only more deeply angry. What sustained me through the “treatments” is a purifying rage, a resolve, framed in the sleepless nights of chemotherapy, to see the last polluter, along with, say, the last smug health insurance operative, strangled with the last pink ribbon. Cancer or no cancer, I will not live that long of course. But I know this much right now for sure: I will not go into that last good night with a teddy bear tucked under my arm.
I was going to talk about how the pink ribbons, teddy bears, product placement, and corporate cancer-related branding strategies go hand-in-hand with our inhumane health care system, where the need to throw a bake sale to help pay for an uninsured neighbor’s heart surgery or a child’s leukemia treatments is considered acceptable.
But I’m not going to write about any of that. Why should I let those annoying pink ribbons spoil my appreciation of a perfectly good color? Instead, I’m going to take back the pink by sharing a few of my favorite rosy-hued objects.
First, a painting that hangs on my bedroom wall. It was a birthday gift from my grandfather, Jacob Scheinfein. It was probably my last gift from him as he died shortly before my 11th birthday.
Then earlier this week my friend, Jane Ward, published a post about birthday cakes that included this memory from me.
My father was born on February 13. Every year on that day, my mother would pull out her heart-shaped cake pans, purchased just for that occasion. Being the 1960s, we opened a box of Duncan Hines cake mix, added an egg and water, poured the batter into the pans, and put them in the oven. The frosting was always pink.
In fact, it has been a week filled with pink. Yesterday, I came home with this bouquet of tulips. What’s not to like?
And just this morning, I had to make an emergency trip to CVS to pick up this item for my son.
He’d eaten something that made him extremely and violently ill. The fact that he is now well enough to sit up, drink some ginger ale, and eat a few crackers makes me appreciate this particular shade of pink most of all.
*This short clip on NPR includes an interview with Dr. Susan Love, a pioneer in breast cancer treatment. Dr. Love emphasizes the importance of funding research into the causes of breast cancer.