In the spring of 2016, having just lived through two disfiguring surgeries and six taxing rounds of chemotherapy for breast cancer, I didn’t think I wanted to wear a pink ribbon — or anything else pink for that matter. But when Komen’s race director personally invited me and my family to participate in the Race for the Cure, we obligingly accepted.
The morning of the race, I reluctantly donned the bright pink shirt of a survivor and figured that after four long months of coming to terms with my baldness, I truly had nothing left to lose. I was used to the spotlight of pity that comes along with being “sick” in a sea of seemingly healthy people.
Any lingering hesitation I held onto at the starting line quickly evaporated as other women in survivor shirts approached me with benevolence and words of encouragement. That’s when I realized that I was surrounded by beacons of empathy. Each bright pink shirt represented a priceless understanding of what I had endured both physically and emotionally. The acceptance I felt from these women was equal and opposite to the isolation I felt on the day my doctor said, “The biopsies show cancer.”
It has now been almost three years since I heard those fateful words and I have turned to my tribe of survivors time and again — sometimes laughing, sometimes crying — for advice, compassion, knowledge, experience and (greatest of all) empathy.
I didn’t used to understand the need for all of the organizations for all of the causes, but now I see them as the most important thing in the world, for each is a lighthouse signaling to those wayward people who are seeking a safe harbor of comfort and understanding. I didn’t realize just how important this support would be for me after my treatments were complete and I was left to return to my life after being so deeply altered by my experience.
So, if you find yourself frustrated by another road closure for another race or if another friend is asking for another donation to their cause, maybe you’ll stop and think twice about those people who truly need that support. Donate or don’t, but please remember: There is no substitute for empathy, and empathy is priceless.
Diane Hughes volunteers with Susan G. Komen Idaho Montana, sits on the board of Expedition Inspiration, and founded the Boise Cancer Bosses support group on Facebook.