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Beyond the Pink Ribbons

Enforced time at home gives extra time to do crafts and think about the people you are making them for. The original pocket prayer shawl ministry (named by someone before my time) was designed for military and first responder recipients. During the Gulf War era the cross design was chosen as a Christian symbol appropriate for American troops in the Middle East. During the 911 time period police and fire fighters were added to the list of recipients. Only dark wool yarns which matched their uniforms were used for many years. In late November of 2018 I was asked to make some that could be used in local churches for shut ins, Grief Share, nursing homes and any type of greeting card. The yarn on hand was rarely dark colors, and within certain guide lines I could use my own designs adding fun and challenge to the project.

Then a younger friend died of cancer. She liked blue so the little shawl in her sympathy card was blue with a butterfly to symbolize the resurrection. However, other early recipients were not exactly shy about wanting “their own colors”. Some wanted a color they liked, school or team colors they favored, or increasingly a color associated with an illness. By riding the bus with people going for chemo or radiation, I knew cancer patients had a long history of “their color” – a good reminder of the day long ago when Terri Gustafson, who might have been the greeter at church, pinned ribbons on the ladies as they arrived and told them to wear the pink ribbon because October was Breast Cancer Awareness month. As it happened, several of the ladies in that group were breast cancer survivors and would go on to live into their nineties and eventually die of some other cause.

Research is simple when you have access to a computer, but when you try to do the same searching by phone, it can get complicated. The computers of friends were described as “only opening to Facebook”. But four friends sent me lists of cancer ribbon colors and cancer awareness months. All their lists were a bit different and along with the lists came suggestions about sharing some of the information included. Just for the record, as we talked, all of us had cancer experiences in our families, and some of the people offering their lists and stories are themselves cancer survivors.

Growing up most of us did not know there were different kinds of cancer. It was, for the most part, an inside your body illness, and people did not talk about private illnesses. A lifelong friend of my mother's, who had been my Sunday School teacher, died of cancer which was all we knew about her illness. Then when I was maybe in 7th grade an aunt living in Fargo had a mole on her back which was removed. She retired from her job in the laundry room at the hospital because she was no longer strong enough to do the lifting the job required. Neither chemo nor radiation were commonly used at that time. She lived with relatives for a year or two and then entered the hospital at Langdon until her death in the fall of 1949. We visited her each day, and her sisters took turns staying with her at night because the night time staff was limited. We never knew the name of her cancer, but today it would probably be listed as melanoma.

Or family got a crash course in dealing with cancer when my mother had a stubborn sinus problem that did not respond to a new medicine (recalled as penicillin). Local doctors sent her to a specialist at Fargo who sent her on to Mayo Clinic which pronounced the illness cancer with only a short life expectancy. My college roommate at that time moved out of our room upset because she firmly believed cancer in my family was contagious. That was the first question I had for my mother’s oncology doctor! His answer was NO. Other relatives later diagnosed with cancer all had different forms of the disease, and none were considered contagious. In spite of those known statistics, cancer is a disease which affects us all so the following information located by others is passed on to readers listing the ribbon colors and months designated for fundraising and continued efforts made to raise awareness and find cures.

The history of the colorful ribbons is that they became associated with some cancers in the 1970s and have been assigned to others as the need for awareness arose. The three leading cancers in terms of type are skin cancer (melanoma), lung cancer and prostate cancer. Readers will know not only people who have had one of those three but probably also know breast cancer patients down through the years who may now be survivors.

The generally known months and colors follow: January is the month assigned to cervical cancer with the colors teal and white. Teal is also used in other months for related gyncological cancers. February focuses on ball bladder and bile duct cancers and that color is green Green is also the color designated as a ribbon worn by both donors and recipients of bone marrow transplants.

March has some cancers that could be related: dark blue is the color reserved for colon and colorectal cancers, orange designates kidney cancer and burgundy myeloma.

April focuses on several different cancers that are located in the head and neck area and are generally identified by burgundy and white ribbons. Those include throat, oral, laryngeal and pharangeal cancers. Another listing identifies some of the head and neck cancers as red and white and are listed later with skin cancers. April also has orchid ribbons for testicular cancer and periwinkle for cancer of the esophagus. Periwinkle is a dusty blue shade.

May has yellow ribbons for bladder cancer (multi-color on other lists), gray for all types of brain cancers, and black for melanoma and other skin cancers. Other common skin cancers are squamous and basal cell which also use red and white in their ribbons.

June is National Survivor Month and background information suggests decorating in shades of purple. The overall ribbon color for survivors is lavender, and frequently community cancer fundraising is done in that month. If no color has been assigned for a particular form of cancer, a purple ribbon is always a good choice.

July’s color is yellow, and the forms of cancer listed are all related: bone cancer, osteosarcoma, Ewing’s sarcoma and leiomyosarcoma. The last listed usually has a purple ribbon.

To date no form of cancer has asked for the months of August and December, but quite a large group are listed for September. These include red for blood cancer, gold for childhood cancers, light blue for prostate cancer, orange for leukemia, lime green for lymphoma, violet for Hodgkin's lymphoma, teal for ovarian cancer, peach for uterine cancer, and a combination ribbon of pink, blue and teal for thyroid cancer. Readers may be mentally saying they have heard of all of the above.

October may be Halloween for stores and businesses but has been Breast Cancer Awareness Month so long that even sports teams wear the pink color most years. There are four listed types of breast cancer with different shades of pink or combinations of pink and teal or pink and blue. Besides the regular pink there is hot pink for a temperature related form and another shade for hereditary breast cancer. Breast cancer for men uses the blue of the prostate cancer plus pink. Also mentioned for October is liver cancer with green ribbons.

November honors caregivers with purple or plum ribbons, periwinkle for gastric or stomach cancers and some intestine areas, white for lung cancer, purple for pancreatic cancer and a very creative color called zebra (black and white) worn to designate rare cancers, neuroendocrine cancers, and carcinoid syndromes. Zebras are cancers which do not fall into the categories already known but hopefully can be treated by some of the known treatments. A color also used in November is turquoise, a color chosen by the American Lung Association. Lung cancer patients might prefer to have both white and turquoise or teal ribbons worn together.

The four lists sent to me were located on different websites, and I was told all four had typed in “colors of cancer” when doing their searching so we know there is a wealth of information available on the internet. Two lists had references to a site known as Choose Hope whose motto is “We’re in Business to End Cancer.” So is the Cavalier County Cancer Crusade, which welcomes your gifts all year long.

Last year we made some of the prayer shawls for the Cancer Crusade to use and are working on a supply for this year. While I don’t see well enough to work with black or zebra colors, if you need a specific bright color, I may already have one on-hand or know someone else who also makes them. Just ask.

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