Breast Cancer, Mad Men and a Pink Ruby

I do not like clothing or accessories in the color pink. Hot pink is tolerable on me, but that soft pastel baby pink or little girl candy pink is dreadful. With reluctance I have accepted that pink will always be part of my world as a breast cancer survivor. Even though I’m not a pink fan, I’ve purchased everything from wine to sneakers in varying degrees of pinkishness in support of breast cancer fundraising efforts. There is only one arena where the color pink is utterly fabulous all the time. I’m talking flowers here, of course.

Outside my office window is a stunning old pink rhododendron. I was looking at it this morning when my Mom e-mailed me to say her sister has breast cancer. Again. This is not the side of my family where our BRCA gene defect comes from. Only 5% to 10% of all breast cancer is genetic in origin. Most cancer is sporadic. Either way, each time I learn a friend, colleague or relative has joined me as a member of that stinking pink ribbon club, I share their pain.

Pink as it should be.

In one aspect both sides of my family are similar. I come from a long line of strong, no-nonsense women. My aunt had early stage breast cancer in her late seventies. Now in her mid-eighties, she has a new primary tumor. She lives alone and uses a walker full-time since hip replacement surgery a few years ago. Just as with her previous cancer episode, she requires no assistance from far-flung family. Neighbors and friends will help as needed. Auntie might appear to be a fragile little old lady but she’s made from tough stuff and demonstrates a quality that I admire. Resilience.

Ever watched the television series Mad Men? The insanity of the advertising agency world of Madison Avenue in the sixties is the show’s setting. My Aunt Vivian was there on Madison Avenue, working in the trenches at a world-class agency called Dancer Fitzgerald Sample. She retired in the late eighties after they were gobbled up by the Saatchi and Saatchi empire. I imagine if she could take the heat in that environment, this new diagnosis of breast cancer is more like a minor car wreck to her. A bit scary, quite inconvenient and an unplanned expense.

Aunt Vivian

I think it is time to start wearing an old ring from a collection of her jewelry that she gave me last year when I turned fifty. It’s a pink ruby. How appropriate.