I hate pink. Haven’t been much of a fan since I was a little girl. And I’m tired of seeing it everywhere now—in the form of pink ribbons, pink robes, quilts on the doctor’s office wall, lettering on support group fliers.
I know the pink ribbon is the “brand” for breast cancer awareness. And I get that pink was chosen because women are the ones most affected, and pink is the traditional color for girls/women (in the pink vs. blue context). I’ve even read that pink is the color of hope or compassion. But pink has other associations in my mind that just don’t make sense when related to breast cancer.
Pink, in most of its shades, is a demure color. There is nothing demure about going through breast cancer treatment. It stinks. It’s tough. And women have to muster all sorts of emotional and physical strength to do what needs to be done to kick cancer’s butt—whether that’s undergoing an uncomplicated lumpectomy and radiation only, or a double mastectomy + chemo + radiation.
Then there’s the phrase “tickled pink,” indicating one is extremely pleased or filled with joy. I don’t know a single woman who feels that way about having breast cancer. Nor any sane person who feels that way about breast cancer in general.
And what about the idiomatic “pink slip,” meaning you’ve lost your job? Unfortunately, that may well be a reality for some women going through breast cancer treatment. Many of us struggle to keep up with our jobs, many have to take a leave of absence, and some find themselves out of a job if their employer doesn’t offer disability benefits or a generous sick leave package. Even for women who don’t work for pay, they often have to back away from other responsibilities—duties of a mother or spouse, volunteer roles, and helping to run the home.
Pink is associated with femininity. And so are breasts. Faced with the loss of one or both breasts, or disfigurement of a breast resulting from partial mastectomy, women going through breast cancer treatment may not feel particularly feminine as they try to make peace with the changes to their body. A well-meaning guy friend said to me, “At least the cancer’s in a part of the body you can live without.” While I know what he meant—a breast, in contrast to, say, the brain or lungs—I am willing to bet there’s not a woman alive who thinks her breasts are optional equipment.
PINK is a Victoria’s Secret subsidiary aimed at selling sexy lingerie to young women and teens (many of whom, frankly, are likely too young to be thinking about sexy lingerie, but I digress). Like the issues with femininity, women fighting breast cancer often struggle with issues of sexuality. Having my breast poked at, cut into, and inspected over and over by countless people in purple nitrile gloves, I really just want to build a fence around my body at all times that don’t require me to bare all for a doctor or technician. And then there’s the issue of wondering how a spouse or partner will react to the post-surgical body. Whether one’s chest has undergone a full reconstruction, or it appears as though part of one breast was gnawed off by a small shark, there is some insecurity associated with revealing our “new look” and anticipating its effect on our desirability.
And finally, pink associates breast cancer with being a women’s disease, but women are not the only ones who get breast cancer. Men do, too. Admittedly, it’s in much smaller numbers, but it happens. Men are less likely than women to seek health care to begin with (wives know this and studies confirm it), and I’m guessing that if the health issue involves their breast, they’re even MORE likely to ignore it because, well, it’s a breast and they’re a guy. A man I know had a breast lump investigated, and he felt highly out of place in a waiting room saturated with pink and wearing the pink gown for his mammogram. By making breast cancer a “pink” disease, we sort of leave men out of the equation.
Surely my disdain for the color pink is directed more at the disease than at the color itself. One day I will be finished with treatments, I will have gone through various scans and rechecks, and be able to say I’m cancer-free—for a year, 2 years, 10 years. Hopefully, forever. Maybe then I’ll have a better appreciation of pink and some of its intended positive connotations where breast cancer is concerned. For now, I hate pink.