By Wade Coggeshall
INDIANAPOLIS — October got a brilliant splash of color Friday for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
A group that included Indianapolis First Lady Winnie Ballard and Colts Vice Chair and Co-Owner Kalen Irsay poured pink dye into the downtown canal Friday afternoon to kick off the month-long celebration.
“Pinking of the Canal” was organized by the National Football League’s “Crucial Catch” campaign along with the American Cancer Society to commemorate Breast Cancer Awareness Month and encourage women over age 40 to get annual screenings.
Other highlights included live music by Dave and Rae and pink ribbons courtesy of the Zeta Tau Alpha sorority. Attendees also could sign a pink Colts flag that mascot Blue carried onto the field Sunday when the Colts faced the Seattle Seahawks.
Jeanne Craig of Noblesville was one breast cancer survivor who spoke at the event. She was diagnosed with stage-two cancer just over two years ago and was treated at the IU Health Simon Cancer Center. Craig is doing great now.
“I don’t use the term ‘remission,’ but doctors have told me there are no signs of cancer in my body,” she said.
Naturally, her first emotion upon being diagnosed with cancer was fear.
“The first couple weeks you don’t really remember much,” Craig said. “Your mind doesn’t allow you to.”
Fortunately her husband was able to run interference for her. He served as Craig’s interpreter of sorts at all her doctor appointments. She had trouble comprehending what was happening, and didn’t like thinking about it anyway.
But after a couple weeks, “I just decided I wasn’t dead, so I was going to keep living,” Craig said.
Ultimately the cancer diagnosis didn’t really change her perspective. Craig has always considered herself an optimist.
“God puts us here for a purpose,” she said. “If this is part of His plan, then I have to figure out the purpose in it.”
For now that seems to be changing the negative tone of conversations about cancer. Craig noticed how everyone seemed to feel sorry for her after her diagnosis. Every person she saw at the infusion ward was slumped in a chair.
“That’s not the way I’m going to live,” Craig said. “I don’t know whether I have weeks, months, or years, but there’s a better chance of me dying in a car accident than there is of me dying from cancer. I’m just going to keep living.”
She doesn’t like hearing those who’ve died of cancer being described as having “lost their battle” to the disease either.
“In my head, that person won the battle with life,” Craig said. “I’m living with cancer, not dying from it.”
Beverley Austin, a senior community representative for the American Cancer Society, understands that frustration. But with events like the Pinking of the Canal, she’s seeing more community involvement in the fight against cancer, and renewed idealism among survivors.
“People can get down and think we’re not making progress. But overall there’s been a 20-percent drop in cancer-related deaths since 1991,” Austin said. “So there is progress, and now’s the time to make some noise and get even more people to join us.”
Craig is definitely onboard. She volunteers at the IU Health Simon Cancer Center and participates in events like this when asked.
“Cancer doesn’t define me, it’s just part of my life,” Craig said. “It always will be. You just have to live with it. I don’t look at it like I’m dying of cancer. I’m living with it. I’d love to see the conversation change that way.
“Even if I die of cancer, it’s OK. I could die from something else. But while I’m here, I’m going to keep living and helping as much as I can.”