My Cancer Rainbow

I remember the first time I became aware of Blood Cancer Awareness Month: 2010. I knew other cancers had their own months. It felt good to know I was part of something bigger. It also started my long, confusing relationship with Blood Cancer Awareness ribbons. You’ve seen the ribbons, I’m sure. You may own one, or own a shirt or car magnet with a ribbon on it. Maybe you use it as a profile picture on social media during this month (I do).

For my first Blood Cancer Awareness month, I wanted to display a ribbon on my blog and my Facebook account. You know – spread some awareness. I searched online for an image I could use. For me, as a follicular lymphoma patient, I found the ribbon for non-Hodgkin lymphoma. It’s lime green.1

Or is it?

Lymphoma awareness ribbons: A confusing history

Soon after that first Blood Cancer Awareness Month, I started to wonder just why “our color” was lime green. I did some research, and what I found was a fascinating, confusing history. Apparently, at one time, lime green was the color used for all lymphomas. But then a Hodgkin lymphoma advocate thought his cancer should have its own color, and he chose violet. Eventually, the two colors were merged into one ribbon, half lime green and half violet2.

But then the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society created its own ribbon. Lymphoma had been represented by lime green (or maybe lime green and violet), while leukemia used orange. The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society decided to use red, since it is the color of blood, and they represent a bunch of different blood cancer subtypes.1 At that time, apparently one of the suggestions for the new ribbon was red and white. Red was for leukemia and white was for lymphoma. But they went with just red. (Oh, by the way, the LLS has a fundraising team of runners, walkers, cyclers, and triathletes. Their uniform colors are purple and green. With a drop of red.3)

I also found an online forum where someone asked what the ribbon color for non-Hodgkin lymphoma was. The responses included: lime green or peridot green is for NHL, red is for lymphoma, and purple usually represents all cancers. 1 Also, I remember reading somewhere that when the LLS chose red, some local chapters were upset because they had always used goldenrod yellow.

So, what color is the lymphoma awareness ribbon?

Are you following all of this?

I’ll sum it up: as someone with follicular non-Hodgkin lymphoma, my ribbon color, at some point in the last 10 years, could have been lime green, lime green and violet, red, white, red and white, purple, or goldenrod yellow.

I like to think of it as my cancer rainbow.

Does ribbon color really matter?

Well, yes and no.

Yes, because when we get cancer, it (unfortunately) becomes a part of our identity. We choose colors all the time to show who we are. Our political party. Our country’s flag. Our favorite sports team. Choosing a color for our cancer is no different. It’s a club that none of us wanted to join, but gosh darn it, it’s OUR club. But in other ways, no, the color of our ribbon doesn’t really matter. Some of the best experiences I have had as a cancer patient have been talking with other cancer patients – people with breast, or testicular, or prostate, or, of course, blood cancer. It’s amazing how connected we are just because we’ve all heard the same words: “You have cancer.” Stressing over ribbon colors seems silly at that point.

The important thing is, whatever color you wear, wear it proudly. And if someone asks what the ribbon is for, smile and say, “Have a seat. There’s something I want to make you aware of…”

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