My favorite color is pink – it has been since I was a little girl. This passion for pink has been documented over the years, including several school photos: my second grade shag haircut was complemented by a pink mix-and-match Garanimals outfit; fifth grade has me sporting a hot pink jumpsuit (very stylish for a ten-year-old in 1977).
One of my favorite things to do at that age was visit my grandparents’ house outside Seattle. My mother had two much-younger sisters, and it was always fun to explore the things they left behind when they moved out, looking for cool clothing or jewelry. I’ll never forget the time I pulled open a drawer and found a padded bra. This was not your typical bra: it was extremely padded, complete with a marble-like sphere in each cup, presumably to make it more natural looking. This discovery occurred around the time I was reading “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” by Judy Blume, so naturally I assumed it belonged to my 19-year-old aunt, K.
That memory faded until six years later, when I brought up my discovery during a conversation with my mother. It took her a moment to realize what I was talking about before she said “Lisa, that wasn’t K’s. That belonged to Grandma.” My grandmother had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 1962, and underwent a double radical mastectomy. I had found her prosthesis.
I was stunned, and then a little upset that this was the first I had heard about Grandma’s cancer. My mom told me that it was something they didn’t really talk about.
Information on breast cancer wasn’t widely available at that time (1983), but I began to pay attention when I came across anything related to the disease, especially if it mentioned family history. In 1995 I entered the second annual Komen Seattle Race for the Cure, a 5K run and walk that serves as both a fundraiser for breast cancer programs, and a way to honor those who’ve fought breast cancer. Participants wear signs on their back with the words “In memory of” or “In celebration of” their loved ones, and breast cancer survivors are given pink t-shirts and hats to wear during the event. I will never forget the wave of bittersweet emotion I felt as I witnessed the pink sea of a thousand survivors gathered together for the annual survivor photo.
I also became more diligent about doing self-exams, and in 1997 I found a lump. I had a scare in the past, so I wasn’t particularly concerned as I called my doctor to schedule a mammogram. The radiologist recommended an ultrasound, which resulted in a meeting with a breast surgeon. One week later I had surgery to remove two tumors. Thankfully, they were benign.
A couple of months later, an old friend who was involved with Komen asked if I’d like to join the committee that produced the Race for the Cure. Her timing couldn’t have been better! My involvement grew each year, and in 2000 I was asked to take on a larger role with the Foundation, joining the Board of Directors and chairing the Race.
That fall, one of my mother’s older sisters was diagnosed with breast cancer. The Race for the Cure the next summer was also a celebration of her successful treatment.
In November of 2002, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. At one of her early appointments, her oncologist said that our family is either experiencing some “freakish coincidence” or that we had a genetic tie to breast cancer. The reality of his comment hit me: My sisters and I were now in the highest risk group for breast cancer.
Mom’s radiation treatments wrapped up in February. I had to fight back tears as I watched her put on her pink survivor shirt at the 2003 Race that June.
My sisters, cousins and I are very aware of the likelihood one of us will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in our lives. In a way, we’re lucky: 80% of women who develop this terrible disease will have no family history. Breast cancer doesn’t discriminate by ethnicity, sexual orientation or social status – the top two risks are being female and growing older.
Pink is still my favorite color, but it carries much more meaning than it did when I found that padded bra thirty years ago. Now, it represents the cancer survival of my mom, aunt and grandmother, and far too many friends. It represents my commitment to Komen and to ensuring women have access to breast health information and care.
My pink tattoo represents my absolute belief that we can end breast cancer as a life threatening disease.