The Story of Pink
The Story of Pink Judy Bolton-Fasman It’s time to reclaim the color pink for our daughters and sons. What was once the defining color of babies and tutus is now a poignant reminder that we are still without a definitive cure for breast cancer. One out of every nine women will get breast cancer. That’s a highly personal statistic—breast cancer is a woman that you know, a woman that you love. Breast cancer could be you, it could be me. The fear of breast cancer is real. For me it goes back to my grandmothers—one of whom survived in the days of cobalt radiation. It goes back to Megan who died when she was forty. Her brother and I were dating. When I met her, her sons were younger than my children are now. I saw Megan two weeks before she died. She was bloated, bald, bruised and gracefully carrying on with the daily business of early motherhood. Her four-year-old son called for her from the bathroom. “They always need you at this age.” The tragic subtext of her comment was that children need you at any age. At her memorial service Megan was remembered as a mother, wife, sister, friend, architect. The small fact that struck me most among the sweet remembrances was that she cheerfully gobbled peanut butter sandwiches on the subway as a trade-off for more time with her children. The first time I wolfed down my own peanut butter sandwich in the car I remembered Megan. It was a private moment, a moment of Kaddish—of honoring her as a mother. It’s been twenty years since Megan died and still we walk and run after a cure for breast cancer. When my best friend found a lump in her breast five years ago she simply said, “It’s cancer, darling.” The radiologist who read her mammogram told her she had an “architectural distortion,” suddenly turning my sixty-something friend—a mother, wife, sister, grandmother, mentor and teacher—into a building with a structural problem. Three weeks later she had a lumpectomy. Then came the mastectomy, followed by chemotherapy and radiation. When I accompanied my friend to a post-treatment examination it was the first time I had seen her chest after the mastectomy. The scar in place of a breast was as the poet Alicia Ostriker describes, a “scarlet letter lacking meaning.” Ostriker wrote a sequence called the “Mastectomy Poems” in which she charted her own experience with the disease. It’s a poetry of feeling made concrete and devastating by Ostriker’s forceful, blunt language. “Guess what it is/It is nothing,” Ostriker writes of her flattened chest. I willed myself to look at my friend’s chest to convey to her there is nothing there to hurt her anymore. The cancer is over. And when I looked I was also oddly transported back to my adolescence—to a chest on the verge of blooming. As my friend dressed I told her that I read about a woman who tattooed roses on her scar so that it looked like a climbing vine. My friend told me about the radiation tattoos that a technician drew to target to the right area. A target, a surgical strike on the cancer. This is the body at war with itself. This is the patient at war with herself. What if she had done things differently? Was it the estrogen, the underwire bras, stress? As if it were not tragic enough to have caner, now women feel a sense of responsibility about it. We’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t. I suspect that women like me in early middle age think of our breasts as somewhere between lactation and deadly lumps. To breast feed or bottle feed, to bear or not to bear children. Every personal choice that we make is fair game for someone else’s value judgment. Twenty-five years from now the politics of breast cancer will be looked upon as discriminatory. The breast cancer that rages around us is integral to the glorious complicated history of women. So much of our history is still unspoken, undetected. So much of it has yet to be acknowledged. “If one woman told the truth about her life,” said the poet Muriel Rukeyser, “the world would split open.” When our history is completely recouped what we will say, what we will reveal as mothers and daughters and teachers and healthcare providers will be as illuminating as the shards of light that will ultimately repair the world and make it whole. That day I was with my friend, the doctor took six tubes of blood. I watched her red blood flow through the narrow tube wondering if the cancer still lurked in her body. Results in a week. No news is good news. And so I prayed for silence. Pink is a mixture of red blood and white hope. Let’s tap into the collective strength of our sisters who are healing, the sacred memory of our sisters who have died so that pink is once again a color exclusively for our children.

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