Monday, September 26, 2011

Left Behind

Many of you know about the recent loss of a lovely friend and family member to metastatic breast cancer.  She was 55.  Her first grandchild is due this January.
        The cruelty of cancer is relentless.
        My friend had access to great care and the mind-bogglingly expensive 'designer drugs' that did little to stem the tide of her cancer. They didn't improve her quality of life, either.  In fact, treatment further weakened an already impaired immune system and ultimately she died of pneumonia after three weeks in the hospital.
        At her memorial service this past Friday the Seattle sky was cloudless.  Many of us were too warm in fall clothes but there was a lovely patio adjoining the reception area so we stood out there, remembering, laughing, letting tears flow, talking about our dogs and the weather.
        There was a box with programs and next to that, another one with pink ribbons and pins.
        I hesitated.
        The hesitation, in and of itself, infuriated me. I didn't want the politics of cancer to intrude on this quiet, private evening. But that is what a pink ribbon has become: a mixed signal. Where it may have once stood for hope and advancement, it now also represents commercialization and 'branding' (a term I've come to dislike) that has absolutely nothing to do with or for cancer.  That simple ribbon, which I wore proudly when diagnosed in 1998, is now seen to mask the darker realities of cancer: treatments that don't work, the sorrow of lives cut short.
        But the people who put the ribbons out had no idea about mixed messages or health culture.  So I put one on my collar.  And as soon as the service was over I left it behind.
Monday, September 26, 2011


Gayle said...

Jody, you have just shown how heavy culture can be, how much it can intrude upon the personal. The pink ribbon has gotten very weighty over the years, still serving some but also "masking the darker realities of cancer" and intruding upon the freedom to choose how to show not only our support but also our grief. It's a heavy, heavy ribbon.

Nancy's Point said...

Sometimes it's so exhausting isn't it? So many mixed messages are still out there. I'm sorry you had to deal with that too. It was, as you said, such an intrusion into your grief, your privacy, your loss, your life. Like Gayle said, it's becoming a very heavy ribbon at times isn't it?

kntspl said...

The Pink Ribbon. I would have never known the full impact of this symbol without following you and the other Ladies I so respect #BCSM.

If you had not placed the Pink Ribbon on your clothing you would have been Right but Wrong. It's too bad this symbol has become so tainted.

katie ford hall said...


I'm so sorry -- it sounds like such an emotional weekend.

What really angers me is that had you NOT worn it, you would have been the a-hole. You know?

Love and hugs to you, my friend.


Jody said...

Yes, to all of you and thanks for your support and comments.

You're right, Katie. I googled pink ribbon and was immediately directed stuff where I could buy a pink ribbon golf bag.

When all I truly wanted/want/wish/work for is more progress against cancer.

Love to all of you,

Nora Miller said...

Your great post reminded me of two things:

When my husband was dying of lung cancer, Lance Armstrong had just come back from testicular cancer and was the toast of the TV talk shows. The idea that "I beat cancer and you can to" hit my husband very hard. If he wasn't winning, was he a loser? Not trying hard enough. I've never forgiven Armstrong for that, frankly.

Barbara Ehrenreich talks about the social pressures around breast cancer in her book Bright-Sided. There's loads more in the book beside that, but I was very sympathetic to her stories about dealing with the whole pink ribbon thing. It is a shame that something so meaningful gets so distorted.

I will also admit that your blog title, Left Behind, produced an expectation about subject that you totally overthrew, and I thank you for that! Nice multiple entendre!

Jody said...


I was aware that the title would put some thinking upside down:)

I'm also discouraged that your husband felt that if Lance was winning the rest of us were losers. I get that. It was only later that I read that testicular cancer CAN be readily addressed in healthy adult males. Lung cancer has always been something else.

That said, Lance's message message meant a lot to me personally. I think this tells all of us so much:

where ever we are on the cancer trajectory = what we read and when can make a significant (and sometimes) incorrect impression.

Lance would have been the first to offer your husband support. Some cancers truly can be brought into submission. Is it luck? Fate? Weird genetic combinations? Some can't. That's all I can say. Some cancers can not be arrested and tamed and no one understands why.

That is the God's honest truth. And I am so glad you wrote me.

Thank you,

CancerCultureChronicles said...

Jody - sending love to you with the loss of your dear friend. This post is so simple in it's message, and yet so layered in the emotion it conveys and for the heavy hearts that so many of us are dealing with in the messed up world of cancer. Thank you for your words here, their importance is not lost on me.

Grandma In Waiting said...

I have been dreading October, and your poignant blog captures my sentiments eloquently.
I am so sorry for your loss, but grateful for your willingness to share your grief in such an enlightening way.
Bless you,

jkhewett said...

Thank you for sharing and for making me think this morning.

A fellow woman with cancer ... said...

At times like the funeral of your friend, those of us who've had breast cancer and don't openly support the pink movement are the ones who come across as ungrateful to the very public machine that's "cured us." We have a long way to go to educate the general populous. Your friend was the one who got "left behind" because in the end, Pinktober had nothing to offer her. So sad.

Julie Goodale said...

Jody, sorry for the loss of your friend. You write so simply and poignantly about that conflict so many of us feel. The commercialization of our disease ends up robbing us of the support and comfort we hope for - and that is the supposed purpose of the pink.

Debbie said...

Beautifully written Jody. I can feel all your emotion pouring out through the words and in between the lines. I look at that ribbon that day as a sign of respect for your dear friend and a show of support to her, no one else, nothing more, and in that view it is beautiful too.
xo Deb

The Accidental Amazon said...

Powerful post, Jody. I love what everyone has said. The ambiguity you had to feel in the midst of such personal grief captures what we all know has gone so wrong with the pink ribbon. And your title says it all. Sending lots of love to you, my friend.

Stacey said...

Hi Jody, I'm so sorry for your loss and I completely understand your feelings about the ribbon. I'm getting that same sense everytime I see it myself. It's hard not to feel let down when the cure is still no where to be found. I'm grateful for the awareness the ribbon has raised, but it's past time we moved on.

Jody said...

Thank you all for your lovely comments.

I really like what Stacey said: "I'm grateful for the awareness the ribbon raised, but it's time to move on."

And it is: for all of us.

Welcome to new readers, too:) That's always exciting and a blogger ego boost!

Anonymous said...

I am so sorry for your loss. What a poignant post. Thank you for sharing this with all of us.
Thinking of you,

AnneMarie said...

I am so sorry for your loss. The ribbon has become a burden for so many of us. We are all appreciative that we are shown support by so many. I have so many thoughts in my head right now. Trying to punch a hole into the darkness of the pink shroud so the world can look at this from our side. I send love to you and to your friend's family.


Annemieke said...

Dear Jody, so sorry for you loss and for the fact a "simple" thing as the pink ribbon causes these mixed feelings. The intention was right at first I guess, too bad that got lost. You were right putting it on, it was your brother's wish and you had to stand with him in this celebration of his wifes live. Keeping you and your family in my heart and prayers

Beth L. Gainer said...

Beautiful post, Jody. I am so sorry for the loss of your beloved friend. Your post really hit home the culture of the pink ribbon, and it's sad that you had to think of this at a time of utter grief.

So many people think they are doing good by sporting the pink ribbon. However, it's not doing anyone any good....well maybe to give people a sense of solidarity.

Alli said...

Dear Jody
The loss of a friend is always difficult especially to these circumstances.
Given the situation I would have done the same thing..... Pink has lost its sheen.....

Alli XOX

Anonymous said...

Jody. I am sorry for the loss of friend.
This is an incredibly powerful post. I find myself thinking about it for days now. The symbolism of the pink ribbon.... how it was wrong to not wear it and yet wrong to wear it... you've captured it perfectly. Thank you.
Best, Sarah

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Jody. I am sorry for the loss of friend.
This is an incredibly powerful post. I find myself thinking about it for days now. The symbolism of the pink ribbon.... how it was wrong to not wear it and yet wrong to wear it... you've captured it perfectly. Thank you.
Best, Sarah

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Unknown said...

Personally, I'm finding that while the ribbon itself drives me nuts, including pink accents along with my LIVESTRONG yellow is an acknowledgement. Like the LIVESTRONG band, color, etc. automatically says, "Cancer Survivorship" and the pink accent says, "Yes, it was breast cancer," without screaming, "KOMEN-PINK-RIBBONVILLE!

Brenda Bell said...

I came to this post from a link to your description of Clare M's case. While many of you with breast cancer have (legitimate) concerns about pinkification, we in the diabetes community would love to have the level public awareness of our condition that pink ribbons, red ribbons, and red dresses bring to breast cancer, AIDS, and women's heart disease. Unfortunately for us, relatively few people know of, support, or wear, the blue circle. (OTOH, we do live with something for which diet and exercise can sometimes mitigate the condition.)

Anonymous said...

Some interesting thoughts here