Dear Fellow Walker,
I love that you, like me signed up to walk in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. You were in the walk with me. That tells me that you had done all the fundraising necessary, that you had accepted the challenge to walk. It also means that I can assume at some point breast cancer has touched your life.
I know, I know. We aren't supposed to assume, but as I've walked and talked to people, I've quickly learned people are here because breast cancer touched them in some way. I've met people who walk for their grandma, their mom, their daughter, their sister, a friend's aunt, a teacher who inspired them. I've met walkers, who like me, walk because they had or have breast cancer.
We are all here, in the same spirit: breast cancer has touched us, we want to make a difference so we walk!
I also know, like me, you were tired when we met. We met at mile 22, where we both chose to stop walking and get on the van to drive us to the end. You didn't know it, but I had just been hit by someone else walking on the sidewalk. I was tired, I was in a bit of pain (that, let's be honest, wasn't too bad, but I had just walked 22 miles and so at that point little things felt big).
You came on the bus. You looked tired, like me. You looked hot, like me. You looked like you had worked hard to get those 22 miles and were now ready for a break. You were a young woman like me. We wearily smiled at each other. I noticed the big sticker you had on your shirt. A pink sticker. It was hard to miss. And it said on it "Survivor Chic" among several pink ribbons.
I instantly wanted to meet you. Another young woman with breast cancer. I don't pretend to think I'm the only one, but at that moment, I wanted to reach out. I wanted to say hi. I wanted to know your story. It's part of the reason to walk - to hear other people's stories. And I wondered how much we had in common. So I asked politely "When were you diagnosed?"
The look of shock that came across your face, well, it kind of shocked me! "I've never been diagnosed with anything!" You informed me. You wondered why I asked. So I told you, as I pointed (even though I know pointing is not polite) "your sticker" as I double checked to make sure I read it right.
Yep, all pink. With SURVIVOR CHIC printed on it.
"Oh this!" You said, looking down, "Yeah, I just put on because I thought it was cute!"
Wait. What? Did I just hear you right? I'm pretty sure that's when my mouth dropped open. You thought it was cute. I nodded and then turned to look out the window of the van. The woman next to me, who I think sensed that this was not going over well for me, patted my hand.
I stared out that window. Too stunned to talk. You thought it was cute? I was half tempted to lift my shirt, show my scars, make you really look and ask if they were cute as well.
I wondered, why if you haven't had breast cancer, why at a breast cancer walk, you would put a sticker on identifying you as a survivor. Why would you want to be in the same group as me? It wasn't fun. It wasn't cute.
Maybe I'm over-reacting. I had been walking all day. I was tired. I had just been hit by a random pedestrian who clearly didn't think that any of us walking that day were cute.
Maybe you didn't know. My friends, upon hearing about this, offered up excuses for you: maybe you thought it related to some band's song. Or to the television show. Or maybe you were in such awe of survivors you wanted to be like them.
I'm not sure what happened. I'd like to think you really thought the sticker was cute and that you put it on without thinking. I'd like to think you didn't know it would feel like a slap in the face to me. That it would make me want to cry, when I was already at a point in which I was holding back tears. That maybe you didn't realize that cancer isn't cute. It isn't something to long for. Or a club you ever want to be a part of. It's hard. It's painful. It changed me - and not in some glorious I-had-an-epiphany-and-am-now-a-better-person-so-make-a-cheesy-movie-about-me-in-which-the-world-can-think-cancer-was-a-gift kind of way.
I didn't talk to you then. I wasn't sure of how the words would come out. But what I wish I had to said to you is this: As cute as the sticker may be, cancer is not. It's not something you want to be a part of it. It hurts me to see you wear that sticker so casually - like a fun accessory - after all that cancer did to me. I'm sure you aren't trying to be hurtful, but I really don't think that you should wear a sticker that implies you are a breast cancer survivor here, or maybe anywhere, but especially not here and not today.
And maybe we could have become friends. Maybe you would have seen it from my side, and I would have seen it from your side. Maybe we would have both learned something. That would have been good. But I sat, silent, staring out the window, biting my lip to keep from crying. I was just too tired to tell you all of this.
I know it's pretty unlikely you will read this. But if by some weird stroke of luck, you do, I hope you will see where I'm coming from. That I'm not mad. I was then, in that moment, but not now. Now, I hope that you never have an actual reason to wear a sticker similar again.
A fellow walker and breast cancer survivor