by Rebecca Barnes
When I was a child, like most girls my age, my bedroom was pink. The bed, the curtains, the walls were all different shades of pink. The problem was, I was a tomboy. In most of my childhood photos, my mother shoved me into a dress, but she couldn’t hide the scabbed elbows or the fact that my hair always looked like it needed to be brushed just minutes after brushing it.
I spent a great deal of time outdoors. I lived on a street with mostly boys, and I was right out there in it. Football, kickball, “space war,” and running through the creek were how we spent most of our summers and weekends. In high school, I was the medical trainer for the football team. And yet, I slept in a feminine room. It was probably then that I decided I didn’t like pink.
You see, pink was for girls. And while it was OK to be a girl, it was harder to be one of the boys if you were a girl. And this conveyed into adulthood.
In business, when I started on the board at the Chamber of Commerce, there were only a handful of women. When I became Chairman, well, I was the Chairman. In trucking, where I owned a business for 12 years, I was one of the very few women in a male-dominated industry. In fire and rescue, the term “fireman” had only changed to “firefighter” in the years prior. Even in publishing and marketing, there were more men than women. So, in every aspect of my life, I was a woman in a masculine environment.
And then came pink, barreling back into my life.
A colleague, a firefighter in my volunteer fire department, had died of breast cancer. It was a devastating blow to all of us. And at her viewing, as we decked out the fire engine in black, I remembered I had missed my annual mammogram. So the next day, I scheduled my appointment and thought nothing of it.
But after my mammogram was done, they didn’t tell me to get dressed and leave; they told me to get dressed and come into another room. In my ten years of getting mammograms, that had never happened before. I knew what that meant: cancer.
The next two years were filled with procedures and surgeries and trauma to my body, mental health, and financial well-being. And they were absolutely filled with pink. Suddenly pink was thrust upon me like a giant badge of courage. People were calling me brave and strong and asking me to be a spokesperson for a cause I didn’t sign up for. I already was the PIO for my volunteer fire department and my own business. I didn’t WANT to wear pink. I didn’t WANT to speak up for another cause.
But I knew I didn’t have a choice. I could either embrace it and help others or run. So, we developed a campaign — #savelefty — to get the word out about mammograms. (While it started in my left breast, we would later learn I had cancer in both breasts.) At every event, I explained how my cancer would not have been detected by self-exam (however, you should be doing them every month at any age!) and if I had waited another four months until my usual annual date (thereby missing a year), the cancer would have grown to a point where it would have been MUCH harder to fight. Since I own a media company, we used our platform to spread health information, encourage self-checks and mammograms, and support breast cancer awareness and charities.
Now pink is no longer a color of weakness for me, but instead a color of strength. It shows me that I am fierce and a warrior, and a servant leader who can make a difference in the lives of others. Through our #savelefty campaign, more than 200 women have gotten first-time mammograms or overdue mammograms, and four have found and recovered from cancer.
I wear pink with pride and encourage you to do the same. And go get those MAMMOGRAMS!
Rebecca Barnes is the Publisher of Prince William Living magazine and Brides & Weddings magazine. She is a lifelong resident of Prince William County and a volunteer with OWL VFD. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family, being a Grandma, visiting Walt Disney World, reading, and sleeping.