What colour is breast cancer?

October is breast cancer awareness month and many in the sisterhood are commenting on the need to choose wisely when making a pink purchase. It’s good advice. Some pink transactions are better than others when it comes to the donation a breast cancer organisation will receive.  Improved breast cancer awareness even if it is through all things pink is a good thing and especially among communities and cultures where women’s health issues remain something of a taboo.   There is room for improvement on the awareness front closer to home too, not just in sub-Saharan Africa or Dulankhaan.

Breast cancer is not one disease, no two breast cancers are alike and whilst we’re wrapped up in pink ribbons more than 1.3 million will receive a breast cancer diagnosis and c.500,000 will die each year. Early breast cancer i.e. that which has not spread beyond the breast is easier to treat and I use the word treat deliberately. Even after treatment, breast cancer can recur up to 20 years down the line thus I will only use the word cure when 20 years have passed uneventfully.   Metastatic breast cancer, i.e. that which travels the blood or lymph superhighway is incurable.  Many women and a small number of men are living with secondary, metastatic breast cancer.  In general their condition is poorly understood as this excellent article explains:  http://blogs.independent.co.uk/2012/10/31/secondary-breast-cancer-but-youre-going-to-be-okay-arent-you/

So what colour is breast cancer?

The ribbons are pink but breast cancer doesn’t resemble candy floss, marshmallow or iced buns in any way, shape or form.  Colour psychology suggests that pink affirms physical tranquillity, femininity, sexuality and survival of the species.  There is nothing physically tranquil, feminine or remotely sexy about dealing with breast cancer.  It’s all about survival.

Red might be more appropriate. It symbolises physical courage, basic survival, defiance and war.  These are essential traits in hand-to-hand combat with breast cancer (or any other kind of cancer) when faced with the insubstantiality of our own mortality.  Red also signifies fury. Many who are challenged by cancer find themselves confronted by an uncharacteristic and unfettered primordial rage as they stare into the abyss.

Yellow is another option; the colour of emotion. Yellow embodies optimism, emotional strength and confidence. It’s impossible to travel the breast cancer boulevards without these qualities.  Yellow also denotes fear, depression and anxiety; rogue hitchhikers who want to strangle us if we give them half a chance.

Black is a possibility too.  All colours completely absorbed. Black portrays something evil, depressing or deathly, a black hole at the centre of the universe relentlessly drawing all light and beauty into its darkness. Black also symbolises class, elegance and exclusivity and women with breast cancer join a special sisterhood, men with this disease are welcomed too.  Raise an eyebrow to our black humour but know that it offers a champagne supernova for the soul.

A champagne supernova for the soul, courtesy of techknowbits.com


As anyone with kids will know, mixing all these colours will most likely produce a muddy shade of brown and perhaps that’s the answer to my question. Maybe breast cancer is muddy, murky brown.  Brown denotes seriousness and support; it’s also said to be sad and wistful.  Abundant in nature, brown is infrequently expressed as a favourite colour.  Is breast cancer brown?

I’ve given this some thought. Whilst it seems breast cancer brings something from each of these colours (mingling into that muddy brown again) I like to keep my prism handy. The journey is fraught with difficulties, there is no certainty about its ultimate direction and the duration is indeterminate too.  But I choose to walk each day under a brilliant rainbow sky and whether it’s few days or many, I am grateful, truly grateful, for every one of them.