Charlotte Hayley, whose daughter and sister had battled breast cancer, introduced the concept of a peach-colored breast cancer awareness ribbon. Peach was Charlotte Hayley’s favorite color. In the early 1990’s, the sixty eight year old Haley began making peach ribbons by hand at home in SimI Valley, California. She distributed thousands of ribbons at supermarkets with cards that read: “The National Cancer Institute budget is $1.8 billion, only 5 percent goes for cancer prevention. Help us wake up our legislators and America by wearing this ribbon.” Charlotte wanted better funding for research, and to promote self-exams and testing.
As the word spread, executives from Estee Lauder and Self magazine asked Haley for permission to use her ribbon. Haley refused saying the companies were too commercial. Self magazine really wanted to have her peach ribbon. Lawyers were consulted and Self was advised to choose another color. It chose pink, a color that focus groups say is comforting and healing—a far cry from what breast cancer really is. Soon, Haley’s grassroots peach ribbon was history, and her original idea became the pink ribbon that has come to be known as the worldwide symbol for breast cancer.
Kathy, my neighbor, introduced herself to me as the movers were unpacking my furniture upon my arrival in Honolulu in 1979. She and I quickly became close friends, we would swim at the pool then drink gin and tonics at the Pearl Harbor Naval Officers Club at Happy Hour on Fridays. Kathy found a lump, had a biopsy, and was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1980. Kathy had a difficult time bouncing back from her double mastectomy, she rarely left her house. We would drink gin and tonics on Fridays at her house as Kathy was too weak to swim. The last time I saw Kathy, I brought chocolate cake. We sat on her lanai and she had two bites of cake and several sips of her drink. Kathy hadn’t eaten in a week as she was suffering with ascites (painful swelling of the belly, due to end stage cancer). Kathy was thirty years old.
Before the Susan G. Komen “pink washing controversy” I ran in a Race for the Cure for my friend, Kathy. It was my first with my running group. My youngest was in preschool three mornings a week and a fellow Navy wife suggested we join an organized running group. The group met at the base of Diamond head every Wednesday morning to run/walk the almost two mile round trip. The Diamond Head ascent is a combination of dirt paths, steep stairs (ninety nine stairs close to the top), switchbacks, a lighted tunnel, and World War Two bunkers. Reaching the summit of Diamond Head was the gift of a three hundred sixty degree postcard view of Oahu, Waikiki, and passing humpback whales. The descent was the most challenging part of the work-out.
It was pitch black outside the morning of The Susan G. Komen race. I watched with interest as my fellow runners were slathering Vaseline on their legs, underarms, and all over their feet. I had “carbo loaded” at the previous night’s spaghetti dinner but had missed the Vaseline part of pre-race requirements. The race was uneventful and fun except that my running partner and I were so non-competitive that a group of elderly race-walkers crossed the finish line before us. Upon removing my shoes at the end of the race, I understood the importance of the Vaseline, I had blisters on my heels and toes. I kept my Race for the Cure t-shirt all these years as a memento of my first race and my eldest daughter wears it now and then.
My running partner and I continued to run in races for a good cause/fund raisers. We eventually moved on to bi-athalons; open water swimming at Waikiki then running a 5K. My first half marathon was a challenge, the course was a gorgeous run through the hills of the waterfront town and golf course of Hawaii Kai. A group of tiny Japanese women who were running behind us the entire race, picked up their pace and crossed the finish line ahead of us. After the race, we treated ourselves to a relaxing afternoon of swimming and “plate lunch” (Huli Huli Chicken, two scoops of white rice, and a scoop of macaroni salad) at the food truck on Sandy Beach.
Upon moving to Maryland, I began attending annual walks for Cancer Awareness. My first was held at Cambridge South Dorchester High School. We walked for hours through that October evening on a track lined with luminarias honoring loved ones with cancer. Due to the COVID -19 pandemic, many annual walks have been virtual. This year there are three “Walks for Wellness” in St. Michaels, Denton, and Easton this month sponsored by the YMCA of the Chesapeake.
In 2008, a friend and I joined a knitting group and began knitting soft, pink hats for Breast Cancer patients. That friend was diagnosed with colon cancer a month after joining the knitting group so I began knitting hats for my darling friend as she had lost her hair to chemotherapy. She died quietly in Hospice care, a week before Thanksgiving, a year after being diagnosed.
I have since had three friends diagnosed with breast cancer who never made it to remission. Stage Four Lung cancer was another dear friend’s diagnosis, she was in her fifties and died within months.
It was October of 2021 that Susan, my mother-in-law was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. My husband and I were in total shock as Susan was the healthiest person we knew, she was thin, exercised daily, abstained from alcohol, and was a vegetarian. Susan debated about going through the treatment with its long list of side effects. At the strong urging of her oncologist, Susan chose chemotherapy and her battle was a brutal one that involved a colostomy bag and eight months of debilitating infusions. Her beautiful long hair fell out in huge clumps, her diet was restrictive, and she suffered from foot neuropathy. A month after the last chemo treatment, Susan had her colostomy bag removed only to learn that the surgeon had found another tiny spot of cancer on her colon.
After two months of chemotherapy for the colon cancer, Susan’s health began to decline and she was hospitalized. Susan would have good days when she spoke of going home and bad days of excruciating pain. It wasn’t until Susan agreed to Hospice Care that my husband and I learned how serious Susan’s cancer diagnosis had really been. Susan died on June 10, 2023 after an almost two year battle with cancer.
Every Monday I would text my most recent story to my mother in law, Susan, she would send me a heart emoji to let me know that she had read my story. Once or twice, Susan commented on my story and I felt so honored. I really miss Susan and those heart emoji’s.
It’s been forty three years since my friend, Kathy died of breast cancer and close friends continue to be diagnosed. I was so naive the day I ran my first “Race for the Cure,“ I thought my getting hundreds of dollars in donations and running the race would help end breast cancer. According to Web MD, cancer cells can move to nearby tissue, lymph nodes, or the bloodstream before surgery. These weakened cancer cells can remain in your body after treatment. They start to grow and multiply again.
Web MD suggests eating a diet filled with cancer fighting foods such as green veggies, beans, and nuts. Get outside and take your Vitamin D, as a Harvard study reports that patients who took vitamin D had a 56% five year cancer survival rate. Patients with low vitamin D intake had only a 23% survival rate.