Catherine McCormack is a Toronto-based communications professional.
Cancer is not fun. It is devastating. As a breast cancer survivor, I continue to live it. The scars both literal and figurative never truly go away. I have lost friends and family to this horrible disease, but I believe cancer and celebration can live in the same sentence.
Yet an argument arises during breast cancer awareness month – the one that says "pinkwashing" events such as popular fundraisers with participants in colourful costumes do not help the cause or take the disease seriously. This argument misses the point that, while raising awareness and money is important, hope for those afflicted is priceless.
I got through my battle by embracing the hope, energy and support of the "pink machine" that surrounded me. We breast cancer warriors developed initiatives that helped us give back while fighting this dreaded disease.
Here are just a few examples of how the pink machine was instrumental in my own efforts to beat the cancer "beast."
The day after every chemotherapy treatment, I kickboxed on what we called Pink Fridays. My friends literally fought with, and alongside, me. We wore pink and pink ribbon paraphernalia. It was our uniform, and that united and motivated us.
When I would arrive at the hospital for my chemo treatments, my support team and I were decked out in pink feather boas, with pink ribbon trinkets and garb. We would share cheese, crackers and grapes while I partook of the chemo cocktail that saved my life. We would laugh, and spend time together. Those chemo cocktail parties got me through treatment, helped rally the spirits of others in the ward, and created precious moments I will never forget.
Thinking pink allowed me to train, qualify for and compete in the Canadian Track and Field Championships, placing fourth in the 20-kilometre racewalk a mere three weeks after my eighth and final chemotherapy treatment.
After my radical double mastectomy, a small team of supporters and I conceived and organized a successful fundraising gala called Kickbox for the Cure. Our tag line was: "Let's kick cancer to the curb." There were no sad speeches, simply messages of hope.
Women wore ball gowns and sported pink boxing gloves, while men wore pink bow ties. All pulled together to generate awareness, support and optimism.
My diagnosis came just days before Christmas. My family and I did not take the Christmas tree down after the holidays, but turned it into the "pink tree of hope." Family and friends contributed pink ornaments and messages of hope to adorn the tree. At years' end, I was able to make them available to others who were fighting their own breast cancer battles, and to thank those who had supported me through mine.
After graduating from breast cancer (a term more fitting than survivor), I met the founder of After Breast Cancer. This organization gives back to thousands who continue to win breast cancer battles by providing complimentary prostheses and bras to women with limited means who have undergone a mastectomy or lumpectomy. Our bodies may be scarred, and our suffering palpable, but we can feel whole and beautiful again.
I have come to look at cancer as a gift leading to an understanding that it is what we do with our challenges that defines us: learning to live in the moment, embracing those you love every day, and shedding those things that take away joy and generate stress. Cancer has shown me how to make my existence truly count.
At the end of October, I will turn my efforts to supporting my dad through his battle with prostate cancer, with Movember – celebration and cancer in the same sentence.
I used to joke, as the mother of two boys, that there is not enough pink in my world. I did not know then just how important the colour would be in my cancer journey.