It’s October, and while stores are traditionally decked in autumnal orange and brown, for years now they’ve also been sporting a spring-like pink. October, as you no doubt know, is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. No doubt you know this because NBCAM has been more successful than many special months, right up there with Black History Month and Women’s History Month (the only other months I can think of without having to Google them). I’m guessing awareness of breast cancer is pretty widespread in North America. There’s no need for a special announcement: the stores just turn pink and you know.

I do not always approach the Month of Pink with the solemnity that its subject matter suggests. Pink is one of my favorite colors, the result being that I own a lot of pink clothing, have ample amounts of pink yarn in my stash, and own a pink home accessory or two. My first thought when I see a pink display at a store is usually more along the lines of “Ooh, pink. Pretty!” rather than remembering why such a display exists in the first place. This is probably not what all the people  who’ve worked so hard to promote breast cancer awareness had in mind. I know I should be more mindful of the context. I’m female and I’ve reached the early mammogram stage of life: it’s probably in my own best interest that NCBAM has been so successful.

I can guess at some of the reasons pink was chosen as the color of the cause. It’s the “girl” color (men can get breast cancer, but I’m guessing it doesn’t loom as a threat the way it does for women). It suggests spring and new beginnings (remember Herod’s “rosy-fingered Dawn”?). It’s calming as long as it doesn’t get either too icy or too magenta-y. Plus, using it has that little fillip of irony: that delicate color symbolizing a tough fight to get breast cancer more noticed and better funded, not to mention the fight for survival itself. (The anti-war group Code Pink’s use of the color has similar associations for me.) But when you’re thinking about all these positive life-affirming connotations, it doesn’t really encourage thinking about the reason pink is in the national consciousness to begin with.

There is, of course, another major observance in October: Halloween/Samhain. Halloween leans toward candy, mischief, costumes, and scary fun. Samhain, to put it bluntly, has death as a theme. I think of Samhain as October goes on and the season becomes most definitely fall, with shorter days, colder winds, and piles of leaves. Fall is lovely, yes, but much of its beauty is tied to death. It is not a pink season.

In the past month, I’ve learned that two friends of mine have .  . . um . . . something. As I write this, neither has received an official diagnosis of breast cancer—it’s still early on in the diagnostic process and both have atypical symptoms—but definitely something breast-related is seriously wrong for both of them. We’re barely into October, but I’ve seen a few pink displays already, and this year they’re giving me some serious cognitive dissonance. It’s still pink, it’s still pretty, but now there’s a chill to the color that wasn’t there for me last year.

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