Throughout the month of October, I shared a series of stories. Of people. Of lives. I shared a little piece of the PINK.
How fortunate it is that Breast Cancer garners so much awareness and publicity. And yes, I mean it when I say that. How lucky that people know what breast cancer is. How wonderfully fabulous that there are so many raising funds for the cause. How very important the PINK is.
But truly, if I had one grumble, it would be where some of the funds go. Not all PINK raisers are created equal. And not all have altruistic goals. If I could give a smidge of advice, it would be to check out how much of the proceeds actually benefit breast cancer patients and how much is lining the pockets of the company who is washed in pink.
Additionally, I, personally, think it is most important to give to organizations or people who are raising funds for two major things:
- Patient advocacy/support
Here’s my .02 on why these are the two most important objectives.
- Research: There is currently no “silver bullet” for Metastatic Disease (Stage 4). This means that once the breast cancer has traveled out of the breast/lymph nodes, it is considered that the patient will be on palliative treatment. This means that likely, the patient will be on some sort of therapy or drug for the duration of their life. We need better research specifically for Metavivors. And also for the rest of the people who are diagnosed with early stage disease to make sure it does not advance and also to make treatments that do less harm to the patient receiving them. Research dollars are imperative.
- Patient advocacy/support: If we can’t help raise funds for these organizations, there will be less survivors. This is just a fact. Those patients who have a way to receive treatment need to be able to deal while they are in it in order to get through it and out of it. People who can’t pay bills, don’t have childcare, don’t have funds for all of the “external burdens” of cancer, will have a harder time healing because of the stress and the weight of those things. The more people we can help get through treatment successfully, the more patients are able to THRIVE.
This brings me to my final “This is PINK” story.
And this is one I reached out on because it is another true testament to just what PINK is.
This is PINK.
Meet Cynthia. And Kelly.
In 2007, on her 40th birthday, Cynthia’s world was rocked with her diagnosis: Breast Cancer.
In May of 2011, Kelly’s life changed in an instant when she received the news that she had Breast Cancer. At the time of her diagnosis, she was 38. She was a wife of almost thirteen years to her constant supporter, Brad. She was the mother of two young children who, at the time, were in Kindergarten and 2nd grade. And she. was. terrified.
Two women. In the same city. Different lives. Breast cancer. 4 years apart.
Before Kelly met Cynthia, she was struggling with what her identity would look like. She’d always been a mom, a wife, a woman who was smashing her career. She had left her career a week prior to diagnosis. She went through treatment. And then. Then she found herself, a breast cancer survivor, thankful. But lost.
She was completing radiation when she received a packet in the mail. In it, a calendar and an invite to a benefit. Both branded: Project Pink’d. She was extremely hesitant to attend the banquet. She didn’t think she’d feel comfortable with a bunch of sad talk about the disease she was trying to heal from. Because cancer had ripped her life apart and into something she’d never been before. And she felt scarred from the fight.
But she went. And that was the night that her heart began to heal. Because she walked in the door of the event and immediately — tears. She felt love in that room. She felt like she fit. And she felt like there was a like-minded tribe for her to navigate survivorship with.
She was crying during the Survivor Ceremony — the time where Survivors take to the center stage to have their one shining moment — and a woman grabbed her hand.
It was Cynthia.
Cynthia. The woman who had sent the invitation and the calendar. You see, Cynthia’s Daughter-in-law taught Kelly’s son. And Cynthia sent Kelly the packet to reach out. To extend a hug via mail. And Kelly was so thankful she had.
Cynthia had started Project Pink’d after her own personal battle with breast cancer in 2007. It was then that she saw the need. The need for an organization that would assist patients during their treatment. It would help patients thrive during treatment and after treatment. And give these people the gift of a tribe who could help them heal all parts of them throughout and after their journey. She saw that women in Omaha and the surrounding areas needed a Survivor Tribe. A happy place. A place where each person could feel more whole again after losing a piece of themselves to cancer.
And the night that Cynthia grabbed Kelly’s hand, a friendship began.
Kelly told Cynthia at the end of the night that she believed Pink’d is where she belonged. She began working with Cynthia and others doing what she had needed in her emotional treatment: helping thrivers. Cynthia inspired her every time they were together. Kelly says that while early detection saved her life, Project Pink’d healed her heart. And continues to do so with each passing year as a thriver.
Two women. Two different diagnoses. One organization. Thousands of thrivers.
Project Pink’d helps thousands not only endure treatment, but thrive in it. Project Pink’d connects patients with people who have been there/done that. Project Pink’d provides meals to families for Thanksgiving. Project Pink’d offers yoga, cooking classes, and more for women and men who have heard the words, “You have breast cancer.” Project Pink’d offers a Renewal Retreat. And a chance for those diagnosed to have a tribe of people who understand the REAL issues and challenges survivors face after a diagnosis.
It was Cynthia’s dream of helping Thrivers that helped Kelly learn how to find herself after cancer. And their friendship has held strong ever since that evening.
Even through the waves. Even through the storms. Even through Kelly having a few scares of possible reocurrence (which were false alarms — phew!!). Even through Cynthia’s re-diagnosis.
In 2016, Cynthia discovered that not only had her cancer returned but it had migrated throughout her body, setting up camp in her spine… and then her hips, femur, and pelvis. She is now treatment-resistant.
The Project Pink’d family is a tight-knit one. And all those who Cynthia has inspired to be brave, courageous, and hopeful, are now backing up their fearless leader and doing all things possible to love her through her fight.
Kelly is still inspired daily by her friend. She believes that anyone who gets to know Cynthia has no choice but to THRIVE. She is a friend that anyone would dream to have. One who Kelly can laugh with, cry with, and celebrate with. Together with a wonderful team of people, this organization — they are PINK. In fact, they are PINK’d.
This beautiful friendship came out of ruins. Out of the spoils. Out of the ashes of of a fire in lives, rose the goodness. Cynthia’s dream was to help others like herself. And in doing that, she’s gained a family of THRIVERS. And Kelly is so happy to be a part of it.
Their friendship — it is the spirit of Pink to me. It is these women who were totally their own people. One who loves fall. Ellen Degeneres. And Swedish Fish. The other who adores dogs. Nature. And anything that is “as seen on TV.” These women who had plenty of family, friends, and support, but realized that magic of having people who have walked the path you have walked is some special kind of a gift to have. These women who took a totally shitty word and turned it on its head. Each in their own way.
They each can’t say enough adoring things about one another. Kelly says that Cyn’s compassion is contagious. That she’s a shining example of the best gift being the gift you give. And that she is 100% determined. Even against her Metastatic diagnsosis. Cyn loves Kelly’s kindness. Her genuine happiness. And her positivity. She says that in meeting Kelly, initially it could feel like she’s too good to be true when in fact, she is as wonderful as she seems. They both love God. Their husbands — who are dynamite. And their families. They both feel blessed.
Even after breast cancer.
Of course they do. Because they ARE PINK.
These two women and their Pink’d family are helping all who share the pink ribbon to thrive. And to give that Pink Ribbon an identity. And a legacy.
These two women… they are pink.
Powerful. Possible. Pink’d.
And instead of the PINK taking them down, it has made them rise up. And make an impact on people’s lives. And hearts. Because that is what PINK can do, I think.
I knew I wanted to close out my month of features with this story of friendship. This story of heroes. And this story of true warriors. Because just like every single person I’ve known who has become a part of PINK, Kelly and Cynthia’s friendship is PINK personified. It’s two women who have faith. Who have resolve. And who have a goal to LIVE the crap out of every day they get. And who became friends through their disease. But stayed friends because of their spirit.
Throughout the entire month, as I read the emails, I continuously read the same words over and over: strong, inspiring, beautiful, warrior, grace, and faithful. These words are not used to describe PINK because they are cliches. They are the words used because no one has created words that say more about a person than some of those can. They are words that people do not use lightly. They are words that are used for the fighters, the changers, and the doers. They are the words that are PINK.
Cynthia and Kelly share the sisterhood of PINK together. And they are hopeful that Pink’d will keep changing the idea of simply “surviving” to thriving. And they are winning at that goal every day.
PINK is not just in October.
PINK is not just a pretty ribbon.
PINK is not simply awareness and a cool tshirt.
PINK is each and every person who has received a breast cancer diagnosis. And according to Breastcancer.org, “252,710 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in women in the U.S., along with 63,410 new cases of non-invasive (in situ) breast cancer.” This is just in 2017.
1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. Cyn and Kelly are two of them. They are PINK. And a piece of PINK’D. To learn more about Project Pink’d and how you can get involved (as a Thriver or volunteer) or donate, check out the website.
And every time you see a Pink Ribbon, I can only hope you recall one of the stories I shared this month. I hope that you see strength, courage, and badasses. I hope that you know that these people all fought, no matter what the outcome was. And that every single diagnosis is different. Every treatment plan is a smidge different. And every person who is PINK is unique.
Please. Please. Please. Start doing #feelitonthefirst. Do a Self Breast Exam every single month. Have a doctor that you trust. Get regular well-checks. Not just for your breast health but for your overall health. Because if you’re too busy now, you may not have a later. And that would be tragic.
I am 1 in 8. But I am only 1.
He is PINK. She is PINK. Pink is a person.
And I will write about it until I am blue in the face. Or until the day when we see a PINK ribbon and know that instead of another diagnosis… for all patients, PINK means CURE.