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The ugliness of breast cancer should not be masked in the prettiness of pink

Last Sunday was Breast Cancer Awareness Day at the Giants game and the players wore pink socks and cleats. But the tragedy and pain that the disease causes should not be glossed over by some pretty colors and ribbons.

I have been avoiding Facebook during this election season. I will go on just about once a week to post game day pictures, and that's it. This week though, I went on Facebook to reach out to my cousin in London in advance on my trip this there this weekend to see the Giants take on the Rams. While strolling through my timeline I saw a picture of an old friend, Jen, at her brother’s wedding. But there was something very different about Jen. She was wearing a wig, which was strange because she has gorgeous, thick long blond hair. So I quickly combed through her page when I stumbled upon a picture that made me quite sad. Jen was out at a pumpkin patch with her two-year-old son. She was wearing a hat. There was no hair under the hat. My heart ached because I knew what that picture meant, though a part of me didn’t want to believe it. I texted her and we later talked.

Jen was our 15-year-old daughter’s first grade teacher. The three of us, Jen Jordan and I, hit it off and became quick friends and tea party buddies visiting some cool tea houses in South Jersey. We even attended her wedding almost five years ago. I called Jen and found out she’d been diagnosed with breast cancer, a disease that has already ravaged her family—her mother and her aunt died from it. We talked about how she handled the news of her diagnosis. Hearing the exhaustion in her voice, we planned our next lunch date which will have to be about two weeks after her next chemo session because the treatments leave her sick, exhausted and lifeless. We talked about life’s silver linings. I prayed with her. We laughed. After I hung up, I cried. I cried because cancer is a relentless terror. Jen is only 35.

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October is Breast Awareness month and the NFL’s “Crucial Catch” campaign is in full gear. Teams around the league wear pink on their uniforms at some point during the month. Last Sunday was Breast Cancer Awareness Day at the Giants game. The players wore pink socks and cleats. Breast cancer survivors were on the field before the game holding a massive pink ribbon flag. We applauded their presence and celebrated their survival. But this time it felt different for me. The pageantry was replaced with the pain in Jen’s voice. The lively first grade teacher was no longer herself, nor was she teaching. Fighting cancer is a full-time battle. The disease and the fight to live were evident in her voice.

Cancer isn’t pretty in pink. Cancer is not cute. Cancer is ugly. Breast cancer is a terrorizing disease that invades a woman’s body and steals her energy, strength, livelihood, and most importantly her life’s time. According to the American Cancer Society, 60,290 people were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015 and 40,290 people died of the disease the same year. Breast cancer wipes many women out physically and financially. Awareness is good but along with awareness, let’s raise compassion and action to find a cure and help women battling this disease to not lose their homes along with their livelihoods. Let’s do more to spread the word on the ugliness and devastation inherent with the disease.

On April 30th, the very brave breast cancer survivor, Paulette Leaphart, took a long walk from Biloxi, Mississippi to Washington DC topless after a double mastectomy to show the world her scars, that her body and her life were forever changed by breast cancer. She wanted to personalize and humanize the daily lives of women battling this disease, particularly for the many women who can’t afford expensive treatments. Like Leaphart, we need to deliver a powerful message of change, for a cure and for affordable treatment for all women battling breast cancer.  

I no longer see pink in October. I see pain. For the women who survive breast cancer, there’s always the fear that it will come back. Survivors with daughters are worried their daughters will suffer the same fate my friend Jen is suffering now. We need a cure. We also need to make sure no woman has to die because she cannot afford treatment. That’s how we start to win the fight against breast cancer by showing its true ugliness and devastation. Unlike the pink ribbons on the field throughout October, this is not a pretty fight.

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In lighter happenings around the NFL…

—The New York Giants snapped a three game losing streak with a win over the Ravens. Black Eli didn’t play, so honestly, the only family we had on the field was Joe Flacco. (In college, you’re used to your team feeling like one big family, because parents bond over their kids, but in the pros, it’s been every man for himself. All business, no family. It’s just the way it is). But when it comes to the Flaccos, Eli was a high school teammate of Joe’s youngest brother, Tommy, and our families are friends. The night before the game, we had dinner with his parents. This summer we spent time at Joe’s beach home. It was always great to have Eli around the Flaccos, a very grounded family.

—After the game, while walking to the parking lot, I hear a soft, southern voice call out to me. It was the one and only Mama Manning. “I’m the other Eli’s mom,” Olivia said with a smile on her face. “You’re white Eli’s mom. It’s so awesome to finally meet you,” I said wide-eyed. I didn’t bow before her Hall of Fame uterus but I did give her a hug as we walked and chatted. This was the first game the Mannings had been to all season.

—We got to experience our first game in a suite at MetLife when a friend’s husband had use of his company’s suite. So we spent the second half of the game living the suite life. His clients were kind people and lifelong Giants fans. They welcomed us with opened arms and were impressed I was Black Eli’s mom. I was impressed with the free grapes and foods I didn’t have to go broke buying. At the end of the game, an older gentleman approached me.

“Are you friends with Odell’s mom?” he asked.

“I’ve met her a few times. She’s a sweet lady,” I replied. 

“Could you tell her to grab him and shake him to stop that.

He said it as if someone anointed me to mind other people’s business. Plus moms are no longer allowed to shake their kids. I was just glad we got the much needed win and I got some free food. Onto London we go.