It’s impossible to miss the October marketing campaigns for the color pink during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Pink products are everywhere. Socks, screwdrivers and even pink ribbon bagels.
On high-definition television, the pink shoes and penalty flags at National Football League games leap off the screen.
All of that pink raised questions: How much good does it really do? Many of the products do, in fact, benefit organizations that raise awareness or search for a cure, among them the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
But just as importantly, what about the people touched by the disease — cancer survivors, patients and loved ones. What do they think of the attention, and the marketing?
I saw a Facebook post from a high school friend who had lost a sister to breast cancer. She wanted people to make sure they knew where their money was going. She wants money to go to research for a cure.
And I thought of my friend, Kendra Majors.
I thought about her saying she “shouldn’t be alive today.”
The West Akron woman is a survivor of three types of cancer — breast, bone and brain.
Her brain cancer has resurfaced in the last six months. She is a mother of two teenage daughters and has a strong support system with a husband, relatives and friends.
Kendra and I met a few years ago through our daughters’ dance studio. We connected, we said, because our personalities are similar. We get things done — at home, at school, at church.
Kendra has never been shy about her cancer trials and successes, individually or to groups.
She happened to call on another matter last week, so I told her I had been thinking about her and that I was working on a consumer column about pink marketing.
She said she wanted to share, because “I’m alive. That’s what I am. I’m grateful. When I have yucky days, I still have to call you and tell you what God wants me to tell you. Every day is an awesome day because I’m here.”
Kendra found a lump on her breast when she was 16. It was removed and not cancerous. Then in 2001, as a 34-year-old mother, breast cancer was discovered. She had a mastectomy and reconstruction. The cancer went into remission.
In 2009, at 42, brain and bone cancer were found. She endured 14 rounds of radiation and lost her hair.
This year, Kendra could tell something was wrong again. Near Easter, it was determined that new brain tumors had surfaced. They’re being controlled with treatments. The bone cancer has mildly diminished but she said it never fully goes away.
Her vision was impaired as a side effect of nerves being singed from treatments. She also has issues with stability and fatigue. She had to stop driving because, coming home from her daughter’s dance class, she suddenly couldn’t remember the way.
I tried to imagine not driving to a child’s activity or the store. It would be devastating.
Kendra looks at it differently.
She says she had to become “the New Kendra” — accepting help from others as she loses independence. The new Kendra also sees herself as a positive influence in the world.
She said she went through periods of anger and frustration this summer as the “New Kendra” took over and her bubbly personality returned.
However, the treatment has been difficult. Medication side effects added 46 pounds and brought other ailments.
But her attitude is gratefulness. For every day.
“I shouldn’t be here,” she said. “It just shows me I have a job to do. God trusts me to continue to do what I’m doing with you. To share what’s out there and what he can do for you.
“Those who aren’t spiritual; that’s OK. I believe everybody believes in something higher than themselves, but understand that you have a purpose.
“With every statistic, you look at me and I should not be here. All the way from the beginning. It is to teach people to live until they die.
“You have a journey and it’s up to you how you’re going to run your journey and touch someone else’s life,” said Kendra, now 46.
She knows all about pink.
For years, she has received well-intentioned pink gifts and has given most away.
In the nicest way possible, she says she doesn’t want them.
“I had one lady with those Pink Yoplait lids (which can be redeemed for donations). She gave me 400 lids,” she said. “That was a lot of effort and I was grateful, but when she gave me that bag, I thought, ‘Now what am I supposed to do with this?’ I went to the post office to mail them out.”
She appreciates the national campaigns. People trying to do good work for the larger cause. But for her, she’d rather people donate to local causes, such as Stewart’s Caring Place in Fairlawn, which has helped her and her family in many ways.
The organization depends solely on donations from individuals, corporations and foundations. It provides free education, services, support groups and items such as wigs to cancer patients, their relatives and friends.
Executive Director Hope Bradley said the organization serves Summit, Stark, Medina, Wayne and Portage counties. It was founded by the family and friends of the late Dr. Stewart Surloff.
“We’re the one place during a very traumatic time of your life where no one is picking at you, poking you, asking you questions. We want to be the one place where you can exhale during one of the most stressful parts of a person’s life,” said Bradley.
Kendra, who serves on a fundraising committee for Stewart’s, says donating “is not just one answer. You try to create more of a balance. I’m not the pink ribbon wearer of Summit County. Those are beneficial when I speak or do certain things.”
I asked what she thought of pink socks, like those worn by my 10-year-son’s sports team.
We both know 10-year-old boys don’t want to wear pink.
Kendra said, “It’s extremely uplifting to be informed at 10 years old. Because when Betty or Aunt Betty or Aunt Kendra or Mommy Kendra has to sit them down at the table and tell them I have breast cancer, they already have some type of information about why he had those pink socks on.
“Information is the key. It makes them a little more comfortable and less shocked.
“I love it. I love that part of it. It might also be representing someone who might have passed in their lives.”
Awareness is one thing. But there’s more, Kendra said.
“Take care of yourself. Do your breast exams. For me as a survivor, I’d rather have that than a T-shirt. We can be the first line of defense. You can educate yourself and pass it on to your daughter and save a life.”