By Shelby Anderson
As a little girl I never looked at my Nana any differently. Now that I look back and reminisce at all of these old memories, I finally understand what a strong-willed, God-fearing, ‘never give up’ type of survivor my Nana truly is. Cancer. It is a word that we have all been taught to fear. A word that can be so discouraging and terrifying. But a word that some have no choice but to face head on. Survivor. A word that carries hope. A word that, for so many, means so much. A word that can tell a whole story; a story of suffering, pain, and, finally, a story of conquering. She was diagnosed at the age of 51, I wasn’t even born yet, but still I felt the lingering pain that she and my family felt during this time of sickness and even after it was over. It was stage 1 with no lymph node involvement, not too bad but still terrifying. At the time, being a young girl, I could have never guessed the medical hardship she had been through. Multiple treatments of radiation and even surgeries to help treat her cancer. From a young age my Nana and my mom taught me all about breast cancer. My mom told me that my Nana had been personally affected by this cancer. I remember hearing my Nana speak of her “negligent” breast all of the time. When I got older my Nana explained to me that she had breast surgery to remove cancerous tissue that the radiation hadn’t killed. At the time when my Nana had her surgery, mastectomies (full breast removal surgery) were very rare and hardly ever performed on breast cancer patients unless they were on the verge of death. Due to the lack of mastectomies performed during this time period, my Nana still has her breasts; however, they are not the same size, and there is little to no salvaged breast tissue in her right breast. After her breast cancer surgery, from then on she referred to that breast as her ‘negligent’ breast. One thing that I love about my Nana, is that no matter how rough her life got, she never complained. She never used her cancer experience as a crutch, even when she felt sick, she kept going, even when she felt weak she kept on moving forward. As a 22 year cancer-free survivor of breast cancer, my Nana absolutely hates the color pink and has since the day she was proclaimed cancer free. From then on, she started a healthier lifestyle and even dedicated herself to a fully mediterranean diet. She stopped eating red meat and pork, she also quit consuming milk products, all of which certain research foundations have shown are cancer inhibiting foods. She says the hardest part of facing cancer is that everyone treats you differently, and while battling breast cancer some people question your femininity. My Nana fully and wholeheartedly supports breast cancer but this is what she says about the color pink; the designated ‘color’ of a grueling cancer:
“Pink is NOT just a pretty color. It symbolizes so much more than just a disease. It is the face of survivors and the face of suffering. Chemo treatments, radiation, and multiple removal and reconstruction surgeries reside with the color pink. It symbolizes the pain that every woman experiences when they are diagnosed with this cancer, it is not just a color for marketing ploys and support. I will never need the color pink to feel like a woman.”
The pain this cancer causes is more than words can describe. It tears families apart, it kills mothers, wives, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, women who all matter to someone. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and this month is not only dedicated to women who are survivors of the disease, but also the women currently fighting, and the countless number of women that weren’t as lucky and eventually succumbed to the disease. October is a month of hope, a month of love and support, a month fully devoted to support and raise money for every organization that has set out to find a cure. The next time someone offers you a fluffy pink skirt, or a bright pink Susan G. Comen shirt to support breast cancer, try to remember that the color is not what matters, the women that stand behind that color are the true reason for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Encourage all of these beautiful women. Tell them to keep fighting. Encourage them to be proud of their battle scars. Tell them that breasts don’t define what a woman is, and tell them they are beautiful and unique. Tell them that they matter to you, I promise that is more than any color alone could say to a woman.