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When pink and purple feel familiar

Categories: News, Opinion Editorials

Press Democrat Close to Home – October 6, 2014

Pink and purple, purple and pink; you may have noticed fall has a different color scheme these days. As children, we associated orange, brown, and even gold with the arrival of falling leaves, Halloween, and a fresh chill in the air. Today the arrival of fall is punctuated with the national awareness campaigns of breast cancer (pink) and domestic violence (purple).

Breast cancer campaigns were originally a peach color, but the Susan G. Komen Foundation turned it bright pink and the cosmetics industry — enter Estee Lauder and Self Magazine — added the ribbon. By contrast, the purple ribbon pays tribute to the victims of domestic violence, much as soldiers are awarded the Purple Heart for bravery in another kind of battle. Wrist bands, of course, have become trendier than ribbons today, for which we have Lance Armstrong to thank.

Last summer, when I discovered a lump in my own breast, I assumed it was a benign mass, which is what it turns out to be in 80 percent of cases. However, for me, I was in the other 20 percent and so began my journey toward healing and recovery from stage two breast cancer.  One of the toughest challenges was sharing the news with my two young boys, family, friends and business associates. Seems I couldn’t share my diagnosis without learning about someone else’s personal connection to the disease. Have you seen the multi-color cancer wrist bands? Get one, it covers them all.

Months later, as I recovered from breast surgery and endured changes to my appearance from the effects of chemotherapy, I thought about how different the conversations would have been had I told my friends I was suffering from the effects of domestic violence. Why is that?

We talk a lot about the pink ribbon, but not the purple one. Why has one become a fashion statement and the other a shameful badge? This much I know: survivors of domestic violence are no less heroic than the brave soldiers who wear the Purple Heart. According to the Allstate Insurance Foundation, domestic violence affects the lives of one in four women. That’s more than breast, ovarian and lung cancer in women combined.

I realize the staggering impact of this statement and, even as a breast cancer survivor, I am astonished by the pervasiveness of domestic violence. Nationally, 4.7 million women will be physically abused by their intimate partner. Of them, only 55 percent will report it to police, and we know that women ages 18 to 24 are most at risk.

Considering the 20 percent chance of my cancer mass being malignant, I quickly realized that for the one in four families affected by domestic violence, the odds are nearly the same, but the treatment and recovery are very different. And yet some things are quite familiar. Have I altered my appearance to cover the effects of the chemo treatment? You bet I have. Is the journey painful? You bet it is. Do I hope people won’t notice my new “hair,” my new shape or ask me about my health? Of course I do.  And how is it for the victim of domestic violence? Whether woman or man, how do you cover the bruises, the injury and the fear of being found out?

For the victims of domestic violence, my concern is to help them find a forceful response to their own version of cancer, a social disease that for just as many complex and inexplicable reasons develops in their lives in dangerous ways; the way cancer did in mine. And where do they find their strength?

Since 1975, the answer for our community has been YWCA Sonoma County. As the leading provider of domestic violence services, YWCA operates the county’s only 24-hour domestic violence crisis hotline (546-1234), the county’s only confidential shelter for victims of domestic violence and their children.

We also operate the county’s only therapeutic preschool offering counseling for children ages 3 to 5, many of whom are first-hand witnesses to violence in the place they should feel the safest — their own homes.

The mission of YWCA Sonoma County is to end domestic violence in our community through awareness, education and empowerment. Learn more and get your purple wristband at our website www.ywcasc.org.

Madeleine Keegan O’Connell, Chief Executive Officer, YWCA Sonoma County