Yes, pink is pretty. But cancer isn’t.

Like me, I’m sure many of you noticed all the recent Facebook posts in which women declared “where I like it.” These posters were referring to where they place their purses at home. Their alleged intent in making these flirtatious announcements was to “raise awareness of breast cancer.” (If you’ll recall, last year’s ever-so-helpful Facebook “breast cancer awareness” maneuver involved announcing the color of one’s bra.”

I was appalled.

A woman I admire greatly, a two-time survivor of inflammatory breast cancer, just wrote a letter to Salon about these stupid Facebook memes. I think she said it perfectly:

This viral effort does nothing to fight breast cancer. Like the last one, without an explicit link to information or a request for action, it is simply a game. As a double mastectomy two-time cancer survivor, I was deeply hurt by the last meme. (It was not a harmless game. It was a slap in the face for some of us who no longer need bras because of breast cancer.)

And now I’m angry. Playing games in the name of breast cancer, or purchasing pink products that donate a penny to the cause, is just insulting.

Cancer is not pretty. It’s not pink. And it’s definitely not flirty. It’s a deadly, bloody, nasty disease, and it’s killing me.

Don’t play games while I die. If you want to raise awareness, talk about the signs of cancer. If you want to support research, donate directly to an organization like the American Cancer Society. If you think the government should fund more cancer research, call your Senator.

Flirting in the name of cancer is not just ineffective; it makes people believe they’ve done something to make a difference, instead of inspiring them to actually go out there and say something, donate, and speak up for those of us who are dying out here.

Please. Make a difference. For reals this time.

—Susan Niebur

A few days, later, Susan wrote a post for her blog, Toddler Planet, that made me pause and really think:

Dear President Obama: Thank you for your support of the fight against breast cancer.  By turning the White House pink last week and issuing a proclamation October 1, you joined so many in America (and the previous administration) wishing us well, thanking our caregivers, and approving of the research that gives us hope.  I’m sure it was beautiful.

I didn’t see the pink White House, because while you and your staff were lighting your house pink, I was just a few miles up the road, explaining to my little boys that Mommy was too tired to play after dinner because the chemotherapy I take is fighting the cancer cells spread throughout my body.  That I couldn’t pick them up from school because the chemo takes so much energy that I had to nap instead.  That I was fighting as hard as I could, and that it would get better, but for now, Mommy had to rest.  Because Mommy has cancer.

Susan went on to write about the need for more research into the most deadly of breast cancers — inflammatory breast cancer, known as IBC. For more information about this little-known, fast-moving cancer, go here. She added:

Cancer is not pretty.  It’s not pink.  And it doesn’t really care about all the games being played in its name during breast cancer awareness month.  Cancer is a deadly, bloody, life-taking disease that has killed too many of my friends and is trying to kill me as well.

This year, I walked alone in Race for the Cure’s 5k event. None of my friends were participating. And with Susan’s words fresh on my mind, I saw the race and all its pinkness through her eyes — the feather boas, the sequined hats, the goofing around for photos …

… and I thought of Susan, and her hope to survive just a few more years, long enough to see her two young sons through elementary school.

It made my heart hurt. And I could see how all the revelry, the fake pink eyelashes, the pink fishnets and silly hats are a slap in the face to someone involved in a fight for her life.

And because I walked alone, with Susan’s words still echoing in my thoughts, I thought of the race differently this year.

I still believe in it. I will continue to walk each year, with the hope that such fundraising will eventually find a cure for IBC, which is overlooked all too often. And I understand that survivors should be honored and celebrated.

But I will encourage my fellow Race participants to see this event not as a big, pink party, but a reminder that too many of our sisters continue to die.

This week, a children’s book about breast cancer landed on my desk. It’s called You Are the Best Medicine, and is written for children whose mothers are fighting this disease.

If you know someone who could use such a book, please email me at I have only one copy, but you can also find it on Amazon.

Here’s a sample:

For a while, I will have to take medicine that makes me feel bad, and this medicine will make all my hair fall out. I will look different. But I will laugh when I remember your own sweet little baby head, how round and bald it was, and how warm it was on my lips when I kissed it every day. I will remember how the fuzzy parts grew silky on the top, sticking straight up like little feathers, and how you laughed when I blew raspberries on your round baby belly. I will hope that my new hair grows in as beautifully as yours did.

3 thoughts on “Yes, pink is pretty. But cancer isn’t.

  1. I get pretty tired of all the pink too, but many of the people having so much fun are survivors themselves. If they want a pink parade let them have it. She doesn’t speak for all survivors.


  2. Hey there….trying to get IBC ruled out for myself- wondering who diagnosed you, and where were they? Seems like everyone I talk to has never heard of it, or they think they are experts in breast cancer and that it’s pretty much the same thing. Thinking of going to fox chase in phili, pa where dr cristofanilli (the best IBC doc in the world) is at…but insurance probably won’t cover it.


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