I pinch myself when I see enormous pink ribbons on the municipal offices in downtown Tulum, Mexico for October: breast cancer awareness month. Awareness of women’s health issues isn’t exactly Mexico’s forte. I almost appreciated being here before since no one even discussed breast cancer, regardless of the month. October reminded me that I might have cancer still or again so I never wore pink. I resented the color and those pink ribbon reminders. After 5 years cancer free, when I saw the pink ribbons, dusty memories of the wigs still in my closet would surface and cause me this nostalgic concern that was difficult from which to disconnect. Now I smile. After 13 years cancer free, I am considered cured. But after I pinch myself over the pink ribbons in disbelief that I see them here, I pinch myself to make sure I am not dreaming this dream of a life.
Sure, I have had some crazy hard times. (read about them in my memoir Map of Life and Beauty) Who hasn’t? I cry a lot these days. Who doesn’t? But I didn’t find out I had breast cancer because of a pink ribbon. I found out I had breast cancer because of one excellent gynecologist. I found out I had breast cancer because I had the privilege to go to a competent doctor and was privileged to take the time to do it for myself. I survived breast cancer because I had amazing people behind me encouraging me and working with me to cure myself. And I am, as my byline read, “thriving not just surviving”, because I had the background and the safety net of education, profession, confidence and family and friends.
So excuse me if I don’t take that pink ribbon too seriously. Especially since here in Tulum, and probably many other parts of this hemisphere, if you realize you have breast cancer your best bet is to drink more wheat grass. As October draws to a close, rather than putting on a different color ribbon, why not encourage a friend to check her / his health care. Invite your girlfriend to go with you for a mammogram. Write your politicians about the healthcare system in your country. If you can, try to get health insurance that can cover you when things go wrong. If it takes a pink ribbon for you to do that, I’ll put one on. But perhaps all it takes is caring and sharing: time, stories, concerns, dreams and resources.