“We should make our hair pink!” The enthusiasm in my daughter’s voice was equaled by the excitement in her brown eyes.
It felt like an elephant had stepped on my chest. How could I tell my teenager that I wanted to blend in, not draw attention to myself?
Ciara bounced on my bed. “Mom, come on. It’ll be fun.”
Ciara and I signed up for the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer of Wyoming walk. Last year, Ron, Cooper and I walked in the one-mile fundraising event in Cheyenne to celebrate breast cancer survivors, pay tribute to loved ones lost and help raise awareness and funds to end breast cancer. I walked in the back, behind my husband, creating a safe distance from the fold. I was scheduled for surgery, but my diagnosis wasn’t confirmed. There was still hope.
This year, Ron and Coop will be on a soccer field when the walk begins. Ciara was at her father’s house last year and missed the event. Her energy about this year’s walk was palpable.
“You get to wear a pink survivor sash,” she said.
I didn’t know how to explain my mixed emotions. From the onset of my diagnosis with lobular carcinoma in situ, I’ve been told there’s a 65.3 percent lifetime risk that it could develop into invasive breast cancer.
While my LCIS has remained contained, it is responsible for two surgeries and three procedures. How do I wear a “survivor” sash when I’m still fumbling to find my footing as one? What if my LCIS becomes invasive? What if I still lose my breasts? Can a survivor be scared?
“See, Mom, there’s hair chalk, and it’s not permanent.” Ciara handed me her phone.
I read an online description about the hair color, a “beautiful way to add pastel highlights” to any hair. Good thing, too, because since taking Tamoxifen, a daily chemo prevention medication, my hair has thinned so much along my crown that it looks like I’m auditioning for Friar Tuck.
“Let’s buy some.” Ciara jumped off my bed. “Let’s do it. You and me – pink hair.”
Ciara is not a girly-girl. Her go-to outfit is straight jeans and a band T-shirt. The fact that she wanted to sport pink anything was monumental.
Last weekend we headed to the beauty supply store — another first with my daughter. We found hair chalk, but if we wanted pink we had to buy a rainbow kit. Ciara combed the aisles until she happened upon a row of spray cans.
I slowly shook my head. “This does not look good.”
Ciara knelt, grabbed a can and read the description for the explosively cool hair color. “To remove product, wash it out with shampoo.” She looked up at me. “It’s temporary, and it’s buy two get one free. It’s on sale!”
It was the most excited I’ve seen Ciara about breast cancer since my diagnosis. Spraying my hair pink was a small price to pay to see my teenager act like a teen.
In that moment, my focus shifted. My daughter is a co-survivor. A co-survivor is anyone who is there to lend support from diagnosis through treatment and beyond. This walk was her celebration as a survivor, too. There was no way I would dampen that for her.
We left the store with two cans of “Air Head Pink” and one can of “Plum Perfect” because Ciara convinced me that we should ombre our hair. Ombre hair refers to color that fades from dark to light, or vice versa. Ciara envisioned plum covering our roots that would gradually fade to pink toward the ends.
I envisioned looking like Strawberry Shortcake, but again, Ciara was over the moon, so pink and purple it would be.
“Let’s find matching outfits.” She grabbed my hand and headed toward the department store.
“Who are you, and what did you do with my daughter?”
Ciara is also not a shopper. To follow my daughter through a store while she hunted for anything bright, pink and in both our sizes was a real treat, though nothing met her standard for our mother-daughter walking attire.
Ciara scrolled through her phone online while I drove home. “A lot of women at these breast cancer walks wear tutus.”
I nodded, silently praying that she wouldn’t want us to wear pink tulle. With our pink hair and pink tutus, Ciara and I would be the belles of the walk. Except I’d be more like the Liberty Bell — old, rounded at the bottom and little bit cracked.
Thankfully, when we arrived home, I remembered two plain pink T-shirts I bought last October.
“I could wear the shirt with this skirt.” I pointed toward a flowing black floral skirt in my closet. It was fun, flirty and best of all, it wasn’t bell-shaped.
“Oh, my gosh! Hold on.” Ciara darted out of my room and returned with a skirt she had worn to a wedding — a skirt similar to mine. “We’ll match!”
I bought glittery pink iron-on letters and surprised Ciara by bedazzling our shirts.
Later that evening my sister, Suzanne, made an online donation to the American Cancer Society in honor of Team Billiter. Her single donation brought me to my fundraising goal.
The walk isn’t about me. It’s for everyone who supported and continues to rally around women with breast cancer. The “Survivor” sash is as much theirs as it is mine, which will make it a walk to remember.
If you’re in Cheyenne on Saturday, Oct. 8 — that’s today — the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer of Wyoming walk will be held at the Cheyenne Depot Plaza. The walk begins at 8 a.m. You’re welcome to join Team Billiter. Just look for the two purple- and pink-haired gals in matching attire.