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Then she died two months ago and I didn't know what to do.
I couldn't take it off.
I couldn't bear the sight of it.
I nearly kicked down the display of pink I saw in the grocery store only a week after her death, more than a month before the kickoff of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I wanted it gone. Pink made me angry.
A symbol of false hope.
A cash-cow for certain companies that dupe buyers into believing they are donating to the cause.
A month when simply wearing a color makes people feel like they've done something when they've done nothing at all.
All the pink in the world couldn't save my sister.
Pink was a constant reminder of what I'd lost, what her children and husband had lost, what my siblings and her friends had lost, and it was unbearable.
Until last week.
I was at the grocery store again, the same grocery store with the premature display. The clerk was ringing up my groceries when she asked me about the bracelet. I told her about my sister, Kathy Riley. She offered condolences.
"That's why," she said, "I never skip a mammogram."
For a moment, I was furious. How dare she assume my sister didn't heed the same advice? Our mother is a survivor. Our grandmother died of breast cancer. We were vigilant, my three sisters and I. My sister's breast cancer was detected a month after her mammogram. Her then 2-year-old son leaned against her breast and it hurt. She checked and felt a lump.
Then, through my anger, I glimpsed opportunity.
I told her my sister's story and stressed the importance of monthly self-checks. I explained that mammograms can miss cancer in people with dense tissue and that further, more sensitive tests, can sometimes be necessary.
She expressed surprise that anyone could be diagnosed so soon after a mammogram and admitted she never did self-checks. She would from then on, she promised, and suddenly, pink didn't make me so angry anymore.
I am still bothered by the commercialization of Breast Cancer Awareness Month and by those people who seem to revel in the color itself rather than in the meaning behind it. But I am no longer torn when I look at my bracelet.
Pink started that conversation, and who knows? Maybe the insight she gained through our talk will someday save a life. Maybe she'll find a lump early enough for a cure, or maybe she'll tell a friend who will tell a friend, and the conversation will keep going, moving others to do self-checks regularly.
So that's what I ask this month of anyone who reads this.
Don't just wear pink.
Wear it with a purpose.
Wear it as a reminder, as motivation to educate, as a conversation starter. Buy it from companies that donate to research, education or support. Wear while you send a note to someone who is battling the disease or make a meal for a cancer patient or participate in a fundraiser.
It doesn't have to be bold and brilliant.
It can be small and subtle.
Sometimes, it's the little things that catch people's attention.
Little things like the bracelet on my wrist.