Embracing the Pink Ribbon for my Daughters

A patient with breast cancer discovers that going pink isn’t all that bad.

When I received an advanced breast cancer diagnosis at 38 years old, my mother wanted to buy everyone matching T-shirts that said “Hope for Jami” with a giant pink ribbon in place of the “O.” I cringed and told her, “No pink ribbons!” For me, that saccharine pink ribbon represented sympathy and shameless marketing, and I wanted no part of it.

But that pink ribbon wouldn't stop following me around. You never realize how many cars have “Drive Pink” license plate frames until you have cancer. I received a flurry of girl power-themed cards and gifts. My daughters, aged 6 and 2, fought over a sheet of sparkly pink ribbon stickers, slapping them on their arms like badges of honor and running around the house like little pink superheroes.

Throughout five months of chemotherapy, I tried to model strength and resiliency for my daughters. They embraced the message and tied a big pink ribbon around it. They wanted me clad in pink sequins 24/7. Every time they spied a pink product in a store, they would say, “Oh Mommy, you should get this!”

I forced myself to join a local support group for young women with breast cancer. They called themselves the Pink Ribbon Cowgirls. While I rolled my eyes, my 6-year-old daughter took it upon herself to design a logo for them: a pink ribbon wearing a cowboy hat and tiny cowboy boots. She put it in my purse and made me promise to give it to the head cowgirl.

By the time I finished chemotherapy, my daughters had won me over. My end-of-chemotherapy party featured pink balloons, pink confetti poppers and cupcakes topped with fondant pink ribbons (and some profanity for good measure). I even wore an antique pink wig. Breast cancer isn't pretty — the bald head, the scars, the drains, the loose toenails — so if draping myself in pink made my daughters feel better, then I could look past my own feelings about an overused symbol.

After my mastectomy, I slept in a recliner for several weeks. I would often wake up and find encouraging artwork taped to me: “fight like a girl” in rainbow letters, a misshapen pink ribbon cut out of pink construction paper, a mound of glue with an entire jar of pink glitter poured on top. My daughters weren't allowed to hug me, so they showed their affection by celebrating breast cancer awareness.

Two months into my recovery, I teamed up with my mother for a kayak race benefitting a local breast cancer charity. My mother finally ordered the sappy pink ribbon baseball hat she’d been eyeing, and I wore a pink sweatband and a rhinestone pink ribbon tattoo on my arm. My husband and daughters cheered us on from the pedestrian bridge overlooking the lake, holding up pink handmade signs that read, “Go Mommy!”

My last day of radiation, and the end of my active treatment, is scheduled for mid-October. It will be my first Pinktober since being diagnosed in January. In the past, the sea of pink products had seemed meaningless, perhaps mildly annoying. This year, I hope my pink cereal box will remind me of my daughters — support from the people who matter most.

Jami Bonyun earned an M.S. in Mathematical Finance in preparation for her career as a humor writer.

She lives in Austin, TX and blogs about her breast cancer journey at www.mommymoondragon.blogspot.com.