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Monday, 27 May 2013

Guest Blog by MF. In the Pink – the story of a ‘Plucky Survivor’

In the Pink – the story of a ‘Plucky Survivor’

Charlotte recently blogged about how it is to have cancer and endure the brutality of treatment. A Facebook conversation followed, where I commented that it is “a far cry from the pink ribbon image”.
Further conversation leads us here, to my story of being a ‘plucky survivor’.

Can I tell you something? There are VERY few plucky survivors. Most of us are living with the occasional (but not all consuming) thought that cancer will find us, and that chemo, surgery and radiotherapy may just have been temporary fixes, holding it at bay for a non-defined period of time.

We all know the pink ribbon image of breast cancer: the one which gives us the smiley faces running in tu-tus and the night walkers wearing decorated bras, images of strong and courageous women not to be defeated by a mere terminal illness.  Now don’t get me wrong.  These are laudable campaigns to spread awareness of the importance of self-checking for breast changes.  They also raise much needed charitable funds to support ongoing research and offer help, in many forms, to those faced with a diagnosis. Believe me I really do feel that the efforts of fundraising campaigns and the women who walk, run, and launch themselves from aircraft for The Cause are all wonderful.

But for all the well meaning intentions, I also think that the pink ribbon is now a bit of a burden for us who have joined the ranks of the (seemingly ever increasing) number of  women who are diagnosed with breast cancer.

I was diagnosed just over 6 years ago.

So, plucky survivor? No, not at all. Far from it.

I feel damaged and afraid.

Yes, afraid that the cancer could still be lurking in my bones, liver, lungs or brain.

What, you say? After 6 years surely I’m ‘in the clear’?

A friend who was diagnosed 8 years ago discovered that hers had spread to her bones 18 months ago, it is now in her lungs and liver. 

In the clear? Who knows.

Chemo damaged bits of me that I did not know could be damaged. It stopped my ovaries from functioning, plunging me into menopause at the age of 38.  Combine this with the damage it did directly to my bones and I have the start of osteoporosis.  My gums are damaged.  My digestive system has never been the same.  My mental health is damaged.  The speed of diagnosis one minute, mastectomy the next, then being bald a few short weeks later, all contributed to PTSD.

And yet I walk around ‘being positive’, nodding when people ask “But you are ok now aren’t you?” because they don’t know how to deal with me when I say "No" or "I don’t know". Everyone wants me to be ‘positive’ . 

And yet, every woman that I have spoken to who has been through this, shares this same fear and lurking anxiety. We admit our fears to each other and that is it. We feel relieved when we find someone who has also been though this. We can share our true feelings without worrying that we are, as Charlotte puts it, “frightening the horses”.

So do we plucky survivors maintain the facade in order to shield ourselves from having to deal with the reactions of those who want it all to be rosy, and pink? Because we won’t like them to worry or be as afraid as we are? 

We play the role of ‘plucky survivor’ and run marathons, walk overnight and jump out of planes to raise funds in hope that, eventually, research will find a way to halt the cancer without the damage, to stop anyone else from ending up as we are.

And yet, as Charlotte said, this backfires, as every woman who goes through treatment has the plucky survivor image to live up to. We go through treatment thinking "Ruddy hell!  This is supposed to be bearable.  Why can’t I just put my head scarf on and go out like all those other women?”. And our families, ill prepared for the reality of a brutal treatment that takes it’s toll physically and mentally, are left with both types of scars.  

Let’s stop hiding behind pink ribbons pretending it is all ok and be honest; and then maybe, just maybe the pressure to be plucky will fade, and we can stop feeling inadequate for not living up to the sky diving marathon running image.

It’s time to talk. 

** I am immensely grateful to MF for sharing.


  1. MF, I hear you. I have come to the end of my current treatment and seem to be cancer free. Like you, I'm troubled by the question "but you're OK now, aren't you?" I annoy the question-asker by saying, "for now." They think that I'm being irresponsible by not announcing that my cancer is all behind me. They think that my hedging will make it come back. I just need to be realistic. If it returns I'll be prepared, if not I'll be pleasantly surprised.

    Charlotte, I haven't written any of these things anyplace else. Thanks for providing this forum.

  2. This is such a powerful post. My best friend passed away from secondary breast cancer last year and I really wish I could have shown her this wonderful (but true) post. xxx