When I sat in the dental hygienist chair last week, she attached what I call the “bib” around my neck as they all do. The paper bib was adorned with a pattern of pink breast cancer ribbons scattered across its surface.
I have been so consumed with worry over COVID, fires raging throughout the west coast, political upheaval, and protest, the pink ribbon suddenly startled me. My mind flew back to an October nine years ago, when my daughter celebrated her 38th birthday.
The family trip was planned to coincide with her big day. All of us gathered at the beach where we rented a house to accommodate a slew of folks. On my desk is a photograph of my child hugging her 6-year-old daughter as the coastal sunset threw a pink cast across the beach behind them. It is one of my favorite pictures taken that October evening, but it comes with a story like many snapshots.
Earlier that day, shortly before the photograph was taken, I walked into the bathroom, where my daughter had just washed her hair. As we chatted, I noticed strands of blond hair lying over a good portion of the cold white tile. My heart jumped with alarm as I grabbed a cloth to clean them up.
“Guess it’s time to get my head shaved, Mom,” she announced with such resolute calm the lump in my throat disappeared. “Unless you want to keep cleaning this mess up, I would say you are right!” We both laughed a bit, but to this day I still get a lump in my throat when I recall that day.
When I see pink ribbons, a jar for donations at the convenience store, football players wearing October pink, or anyone who is the throes of chemotherapy, the heartache is just beneath the surface of my soul. For me, it is a reminder of a disease that attempted to take my precious child from all of us.
There is an old saying that pretty much applies to many life events: “You don’t know anything about it until you have lived through it.” The “it” can be a disease, poverty, hunger, or racism. The “it” can be what it is like to lose your home to a fire or a hurricane, lose your loved one to suicide, or lose your job because of a killing virus.
Until then, I certainly never knew what breast cancer can do to a family other than what I read. I did not understand the despair, the uncertainty, or the raw courage required to withstand such pain. I watched as my daughter underwent a year of physically struggling and fighting to return to wellness. Yes, we do not understand until we have lived through it.
It has been nine years, but I still remember the medical teams, the doctors and nurses who compassionately walked with us through 2011 and 2012. I vividly see the chemo room where women gathered with their magazines as they watched chemicals slowly flow into their bodies. It was as if they were casually sitting under a hairdryer at the salon. The scene belies the fatigue and desperation that are hidden behind their masks of raw, unadulterated bravery. I was astounded at their sisterhood, their spirit, and determination.
No, unless you have been through it, you do not understand. Nor would anyone who has experienced such grief want you to. However, we must recognize that we need to acquire empathy even though we may not personally endure such hardship. It is compassion for others, the gifts to others, the desire to aid another, is what will heal us all.
There are so many who are living through extreme heartache this year. Breast cancer and other cancers will continue to claim lives, and so will coronavirus, fires, illnesses, accidents, and violence. Those families who are grieving and struggling to survive, trust me, need our help in prayers, donations, and tangible aid.
My adopted hometown in Georgia is like most of small-town America. They are reeling from dropped income because of the pandemic and watch as their friends and family suffer. Yet, LaGrange citizens still wrap the town square with a vibrant pink ribbon around its perimeter. The large fountain in the middle cascades ribbons of pink water that arcs into a pool of rose. It is a wonderful sight to behold, bringing hope home. Storefronts attach pink ribbons on their doors because there is compassion for breast cancer victims. Theirs is a reminder to all that the “it” can still happen to those who once simply did not understand.
Many diseases have no cures, but donations and prayers get us closer to one every day. Give what you can to those who are living only to see a beautiful pink sunset once more.