Cupcakes and Pink Ribbons

“Hey, I’m going to the W. bakery.  Want to come with?” I asked G this morning.

” No. Why are you going there?”

“I’m going to get cupcakes for Jackie’s last day at work.”

“I thought she called out yesterday. What if she calls out again today?”

“Jackie or no Jackie, I just want the cupcakes.”

” If you want you can get me something, a plain cupcake, no weird stuff.”

“Ok. then”

I’m a little annoyed to be going by myself, as I hunt for my sunglasses.

At the bakery

I stand in front of the glass cases and pick out cupcakes from the unfamiliar girl waiting on me. This bakery is a small local business that we try to patronize but haven’t lately because of the construction outside. They are widening the road. It’s probably been almost two months since I’ve been in here.

I pick out maple bacon, chocolate peanut butter, red velvet and chocolate pumpkin. Plain vanilla for G and a big brownie for E when he gets home from school. I’m feeling cheerier just from the aroma of sugar in the air and the pleasant spectacle of pastries lined up prettily in the cases .

At the register there is a photo in a black frame of a familiar face. It’s the woman who usually waits on me. “In loving memory.” the frame says.  I stare at it while my brain tries to make right this obvious mistake. I look up toward the doorway that leads back to the kitchen, willing her to come walking out to welcome me as she has since this place opened several years ago. “Wait.” I think. No, wait.”

“What happened?” I eventually stammer to the two behind the counter.

The young man looks up at me.

“She passed away two weeks ago. Breast cancer.”

” I didn’t even know she was sick.” and then finally think to say ‘Im so sorry.”

“Thank you. It’s been a tough few weeks around here.”

The girl is boxing up the cupcakes while this all sinks in. Sinks being the key word.

For me, she was the face of this little bakery and one of the reasons we kept going back. In our box restaurant world of eyes-glazed-over customer service, a familiar face who recognizes you back is worth a lot to me.  G had done the taxes for her and her husband one year and he would always joke around with her. I can’t remember her ever being less than cheerful and kind and helpful. She was my age and had kids in the same age bracket as mine.

And then I remember a couple of weeks ago a shaken phlebotomist telling me she’d been called to get some blood from a woman in her 40s with breast cancer who had come in to the ER with uncontrollable bleeding, an apparent complication from her first round of chemo. She had barely started her fight against this shitty disease. And then it was over.

I give the girl my credit card hoping to leave quickly but the tears have already started. The two seem startled by my reaction. I am too, a little.

“Aw, I’m sorry”, the girl says. I’m glad I’m the only customer in here.

I’m all about the pink ribbons. One of my best lifelong friends is a two year survivor and I have t-shirts and a pink ribbon badge holder for work. We all know someone. Several someones, in my case. But sometimes, the other day in fact, when I walked into the breakroom to see a football game on TV and the players were all wearing pink armbands or socks or something, I think maybe we are overdoing it. It’s almost as if breast cancer has become, and please forgive me for even saying it, “the cool cancer” and there seems to be an almost party atmosphere about all the pink ribbon this, that and the other products: pink ribbon pasta, and chocolate and jewelry and underwear, in a way you don’t see with any other kind of cancer. Why is that? Somebody somewhere is profiting from all this I’m sure, but I’m not convinced it’s my friend or the other people with the disease.

I just don’t want all the pink ribbons to ever obscure or trivialize the real suffering cancer causes.

In addition to wearing ribbons, here is something else people can do: