The email almost slipped through the cracks of my inbox, but something in the header caught my eye. "You've been invited to attend a virtual walk for breast cancer," it said. Virtual walk, yeah, right. Everything has suddenly turned virtual it seems because of this pandemic.
The calendar reveals we're almost at the end of September and what I knew was coming arrived a little earlier than last year. My inbox is quickly filling with breast cancer awareness messages in preparation for this October, or should I say "Pinktober?"
Until I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I'd always thought of October as the month ushering in cooler weather. My family and I would enjoy all things Fall related - hay rides, trips to the mountains, visits to pumpkin farms, mugs of steamy hot cocoa filled with mini-marshmallows. October didn't remind me of breast cancer, that is, until that fateful day in 2014 when I'd heard my doctor dub me a statistic. I was one of the one in in eight diagnosed with cancer.
My first Pinktober was fun. I embraced it wholeheartedly. I bought into the commercialism of pink ribbons and found myself enveloped in it. It felt good to sport my breast cancer hoodie. It felt like I was part of a special sorority, how naive I was back then. But lots of newbies make the same mistake. It's only natural to be all in, afterall, it makes one feel as if one belongs especially when cancer can make a person feel extremely isolated and alone.
I'd also participated in a 5K walk for breast cancer. It had been an challenge, in more ways than one. Physically, I fought for each step forward. I'd just completed 28 rounds of radiation and that 3.1 mile walk just about did me in, but I made it and I was extremely proud of myself.
But the next October that rolled around, I passed up the races. I wasn't as keen to buy pink ribboned products. I'd done some research and had found some organizations didn't allocate funds appropriately. More money was going toward administrative fees than toward breast cancer research and that made me angry.
Then, I discovered a tell it like it is website called "Think Before You Pink." It presented the harsh reality behind some breast cancer campaigns and organizations. The goal of the site wasn't to demean those companies but to inform the under educated and debunk misinformation. I appreciated their devotion and found the information helpful.
This October, the big breast cancer awareness push will still be on albeit differently. Because of the Covid 19 pandemic, many cities are opting for virtual walks. Participants can register and keep a record of miles walked then submit their total at the end of the race period to be counted toward fundraising goals. Monetary submissions can be solicited through websites. Contactless collections will help prevent the spread of disease, or so they say.
While it would be easier to participate in a virtual walk, doing it "my way," I don't think I will and here's why.
Instead of having friends and family sponsor the number miles I could walk, I'd rather use the money toward helping provide gift cards for meals or other well timed gifts to friends currently fighting their own cancer battles right now.
Forgive me for my negative attitude toward breast cancer walks of any kind - real or virtual. This survivor is over it. October is more than pink ribbons.
I do appreciate the awareness "Pinktober" brings toward breast cancer but let's get real. The beribboned pink paraphernalia lines many pockets but it doesn't do much for providing new means of fighting cancer.
Cancer is ugly and trying to tie it up with a pretty pink bow can't change that.
Those affected by cancer want more. We want answers and we desperately want a cure.
A virtual walk may prove to be a good thing for those wishing to participate this year. There may even be a few small cities who organize actual walks for mask laden walkers, but I won't be joining either.
What I will choose to do is make phone calls, write letters, send texts, and make visits expressing my love and concern to those who've just learned about an uncertain future. I'll make myself available and I won't be throwing any pink ribbons around in the process.
Call me cynical if you must, but I'd rather be truthful about a disease that continues to destroy lives.
Pink ribbons can't change statistics, but maybe one day something will.