Out of the Pink — The Color of Breast Cancer by Judy Bolton-Fasman

It’s time to give pink back to little girls and boys. The truth is that breast cancer—any cancer—is a hot angry bloody red, undiluted by white.

Last year my younger sister was treated for breast cancer. The cancer’s progression was caught early, but because of her relatively young age the protocol was horrific. I hope and pray for the day when the medical community will look back on these bald, brutal days—days when a mane of hair is gone and eyelashes fall away—as completely unnecessary. Every day of my sister’s treatment, she’d tell me through sharp, stinging tears how much she wanted to live. And through my own tears, I would tell her that I was certain she would.

Breast cancer is a muddied swirl of dark fear mixed in with light hope. When did pink intrude as the emblematic color of fighting for survival?

Pink is the color of the shag carpeting in the bedroom I once shared with my sister. It was a small room with just enough space for two twin beds and matching dressers. We’d frequently engage in sibling rivalry by running masking tape down the middle of the room.

When my sister had the chicken pox, I thought, at 11-years old, that my sticky border would establish a boundary that kept me safe from the disease. It didn’t. I was blotchy and itchy two weeks later. That was the beginning of the end of magical thinking for me. Now in this gritty, very unpink world of ours, I’m impatient. Hurry up, I shout to someone, anyone with a hospital research lab, and find the definitive cure for all cancers.

Pink is the color of the flowers that mysteriously bloomed alongside our driveway. Every spring my sister and I, in matching outfits, were posed in front of those floppy flowers whose name I still don’t know. Back then it was unimaginable to us that someday we’d be older than our parents when the picture was snapped. As for breast cancer, it only happened in the distance of long generations, to our grandmothers.

Breast cancer was once the odd flesh color of a grandmother’s prosthetic breast. The rubber breast was built into her bra and my grandmother was forever adjusting herself. Grandma was diagnosed and treated for her breast cancer in the 1950s. My grandmother never said a word to me about her bout with breast cancer. My aunt told me about the mastectomy when I was a teenager.

When the buzz cut was over my sister was startled that our late father looked back at her in the mirror. Genetics can be shocking. And there wasn’t a note of pink when her steel gray wisps grew back like young shoots.

Breast cancer can lurk in the intense blank white margins where I’ve scribbled my mad notes about the disease. But cancer margins need to be wide and clear. After the lumpectomy my sister had a second surgery to broaden that protective border of symbolic white space. No masking tape this time.

When my sister told me that her lymph nodes were clean, I was struck by how filthy cancer is.

Pink is a color. Breast cancer is a disease. It’s time to stop confusing the two and return the color pink to little girls and boys.

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5 thoughts on “Out of the Pink — The Color of Breast Cancer by Judy Bolton-Fasman

  1. Interesting explorations. Have you read Barbara Ehrenreich’s piece from a decade or so ago about :The Cult of Pink Kitsch?” If I remember correctly, she also mentioned the infantilizing nature of teddy bears with pink ribbons…

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