By: Mary Fran Bontempo

pink ribbonsI’m beginning to hate October.

It used to be one of my favorite months, all crisp air, blue sky and brightly colored leaves. But now the main color I see anymore during October is pink, and it’s starting to drive me a little crazy.

In case you’ve been living in a cave, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I don’t know if you’re supposed to capitalize all of the words, but as the message has been banging me over the head for the past several weeks, I figured I’d give it its due.

Now, before you get all righteously indignant, let me explain. I don’t hate the message because I think it’s unimportant or overdone. I hate the message because it scares me to death.

Of all of the things we women have to be scared of—getting fat, getting old, not having enough money, getting fat—breast cancer is the granddaddy, or should I say grandmommy of them all. Nothing, and I mean nothing, not even bathing suit shopping, puts the fear of the Lord into a woman like the words “breast cancer.”

If I had my druthers, I’d pull a Scarlett O’Hara and “think about it tomorrow.” I’m masterful at ignorance, and I’ll bet I could pull it off, if it weren’t for these two things on my chest.

As it is, up until a few years ago in October, I was fairly oblivious. Sure, I went for the yearly mammogram, did the self-exams, but other than that, I didn’t really think about it. No familial risk factors, I eat pretty well, exercise, love blueberries (anti-oxidants); I thought I was flying way under the radar.

Then they called me back after an annual mammogram.

Oh, there was nothing to worry about, they said. There was just some dense tissue on the one side and they wanted to take a closer look. They might as well have handed me a shovel and told me to start digging.

Now, I realize I’m a drama queen, but I don’t know a woman in the world who would be able to blow off getting called back for a second mammogram, especially in October, when every other sentence seems to contain the phrase “Breast Cancer Awareness Month.” I went back; they said I was fine and they told me not to worry and they’d see me next year.

Don’t worry. Yeah, right.

So, in the ensuing year, I tried not to worry (pointless) did my exams (daily) and generally drove myself insane, especially after I started to experience some pain in the very breast they re-examined.

I returned for my annual check-up, where I told my doctor about the discomfort and the call back from last year. After my exam, he said, “Well, I’m not overly concerned about your breast exam. We’ll just get an ultrasound this time, too.” And I was back to shoveling. I thought, you’re not “overly concerned?” Why the word “overly?” Why not just skip that word?

Then I looked at the prescription for my mammogram. It had the words “breast lump” on it. “Okay,” I said to myself, “they have to put a reason down if they want to do a test like an ultrasound. It doesn’t mean anything.”

So I went for the tests. And thank God, there was nothing to find. With loads of additional reassurance from very kind health care workers, I put away the shovel, for now. Yet every October, the fear, along with those damn pink ribbons, returns.

I guess what it comes down to is this: Be aware. Take care of yourself, do what you’re supposed to do, and for heaven’s sake, let’s find a cure.

So we can finally get the pink out of October.

(And while you’re at it, do read this wonderful article by Dr. Christine Northrup about avoiding the scare tactics and keeping your breasts and body healthy. It’s fabulous!)