Think PINK – Freedom Rock

I have been to two funerals as a teacher. I do not want to go to another funeral again. Ever.

Both funerals I attended were in my first two years as a teacher. Actually, the first funeral was in the summer of between my first and second years of teaching. It was awful. The second was less than a year later. It was just as awful. I have not been to another funeral since though one of students lost their dad last spring. The teachers were not invited and I wanted to go, but I couldn’t; I had my own family funeral to attend to last spring.

one of my favorite teacher gifts ever. Cherished.
one of my favorite teacher gifts ever. Cherished.

At the time, there were not words in my vocabulary to express the feeling of awfulness I had when I looked into the eyes of my twelve year-old student and told him and her that I was sorry that their mother had passed away. I think I fumbled with some words like “I am so sorry for your loss.” Or maybe I said, “I have been praying for you and your family, please let me know what I can do to help you.” No matter what I said, it didn’t take away the pain of losing their mother. Or the uncertainty of what the future held for them. Those kids – Melinda and Jeremiah – are now in their twenties and out of college and have jobs like me. Occasionally, I get to visit the high school and I ran into Melinda on my way in one time, we had a nice conversation and then we parted. I had Jeremiah’s sister two years after their mom passed away and she wrote an amazing essay about how her mother’s passing was an important event in her life. I remember the essay well, it was good, thoughtful, well written; it was head and shoulders above her peer’s papers. I followed them along in high school occasionally asking high school teachers or counselors whom I knew how they were doing and then they graduated high school and I lost touch. They’re grown now, or as grown as someone is when they are in the second half of their twenties.

Fourteen years later, I still don’t believe I have the right words.

Both moms were felled by breast cancer.

I believe I have had other kids in my classes since then, whose moms were living with or being treated for breast cancer; some of the families shared the information with us and others keep it private. But, knowing what was happening at home helped me better understand why a kid was struggling in my class. School was probably the only ‘normal’ place in their lives. The fact is 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lives.

But, the good news is – if there is good news about breast cancer – is that with early detection and treatment, breast cancer is survivable.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month; I cannot watch a football game without seeing pink of some sort. Last night at W’s football game the opposing student section was in pink for PINK OUT. It looked good. Lately it seems we have a month, a week, or a day for every disease and cause, but cancer awareness should be every month and every day. I’ve picked a few and support where and when I can – Susan G. Komen, Men’s Health, and Pediatric Cancer are a few of the causes I support. Last November I grew and cultivated a mustache for Movember. It was fun and the ‘stache lasted until mid-May when I shaved it off. I’ve been clean-shaven since.

worldsbestpencil'This year, I decided to go beyond simply wearing pink in October. It was the first couple of days of school and O came home with a pencil. It was a Ticonderoga pencil – the world’s best pencil. Most Ticonderoga pencils are the same dark mustardy yellow, except this pencil was a neon pink. O said she’d found it in the hallway and picked it up and a friend of O’s said she bought them at Target. So, when I walked in the door that night O bombarded me and she begged me to take her to Target to find them. Before we left, I looked it up and discovered that Ticonderoga offers the neon pencils in a ten pack with five colors – pink, yellow, green, orange, and purple – all vibrantly neon. I also discovered that Ticonderoga makes pink pencils for Breast Cancer Awareness month and donates a portion of the proceeds to Breast Cancer Research. We could not find them at Target or Office Depot and came home empty handed. But, I was determined to find those neon pencils and found them at Staples; I also found an idea for October.

Last Monday, before class began. I told the story of O’s pencils. Most of my students could relate to O’s angst – someone had something cool and she wanted one or some of it – fads are like that – silly bands, LiveSTRONG bracelets, and so many more. It happens at all ages but middle school is a special time for learning to follow the crowd. Then I told them about Melinda and her mom. I showed them a gift Melinda had given me for Christmas or at the end of the year – I forgotten which occasion. It was a rock with FREEDOM carved into it. It sits on my desk as a reminder of the possibilities, and every time I look at it or hold it, I think of teaching her that first year – I hope she learned as much from me as I learned from her. We were both teachers that year. I passed out the pencils to my classes and they got to work on the lesson. I heard many ‘thank yous’ that morning, but the real thank you is taking that story and making personal meaning of it or using the pencil as a stepping-stone to thinking beyond ourselves. I hope they go home and talk to their moms and dads; and I hope that when they see pink on a football player it means that 1 in 8 will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lives. It’s all about being aware and being ahead.pinkpencils_stripSince Monday, I have seen those pink pencils at work in my class and my teammates remarked that they noticed them being used in their classes, too. I have been wearing pink and re-decorating my blog with as much pink as I could. The pink pencils are my header until Movember sets in and after Movember, they’ll cycle through the other headers I have as a reminder of the one in eight. I made a donation to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation and I encourage you to make a donation, if you are able. I also encourage you to be aware and know that “early detection is the best protection” as one of the messages on the pencils says.

This has been a difficult post to write – I started ten days ago and began writing and life got in the way – busy schedule, family and work responsibilities and so many more big rocks and various sized pebbles with more than a few distractions worked in. I could not have written this without thinking of Melinda or Jeremiah but also other heroes come to mind – one is Susie Lindau from Susie Lindau’s Wild Ride. She has dealt with breast cancer head on with a double mastectomy and blogged about it with her remarkably courageous and candid blog posts entitled – Boob Reports. She is amazing and inspirational. Another blogger comes to mind – Renée A. Schuls-Jacobson and her blog post on pencils. The post as one of the first blog posts I read of hers and it was a humorous post about pencils, specifically Ticonderoga Pencils. But she also rights courageously, too. She’s another hero. There are so many heroes out there and I am certain you know a few as well.


I have been busy THINKING PINK and even purchased my first bow tie for the month of October and beyond. Yes, it’s pink and the kids loved it when I wore it to school Wednesday. It seems everywhere I look I see PINK and POSSIBILITIES. That’s why I write Making the Days Count and I hope that’s why you read and follow. Today is going to be a great day and every day beyond looks to be a million and six times better, but first I have today. So, I had better jump up, jump in, and seize the day. Making the Days Count, one day at a time, one story at a time, and one hero at a time.

What is your story? 


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10 thoughts on “Think PINK – Freedom Rock

  1. Hi Clay, I’m sure this post brought back so many memories and feelings about your students -especially the 2 who lost their moms. Cancer touches all our lives in one way or another, and it’s good to keep the awareness growing.
    My grandmother and all 6 of her sisters had breast cancer, though they all survived it. It keeps me and other women in my family on our toes.

  2. Yes, thank you. Our family is living with cancer hanging over us just now: neither me nor my husband nor my own children, but someone very close. It’s not breast cancer either. It’s perhaps only now I realise how much this disease can change the lives not just of the sufferer, but their family and their whole community. Everything we can do to raise funds for reearch to beat it, and to raise awareness is so worthwhile. So thank you for this post, and for what you are doing in your own community to help people think about this disease and its effects.

    1. Cancer is a vicious disease and it knows no bounds, that’s why awareness is so important. The first year the NFL (American football league) did their ‘Crucial Catch’ campaign, the teams looked a little odd with the players wearing pink shoes, socks, towels and such – but now I look forward to it and helping to spread the awareness of early detection and awareness. I will keep my thoughts on your family – take care and I am glad you are close to home, where you need to be!

  3. Thanks for the inclusion!!!
    Breast cancer is very survivable. That has been the biggest change in the last 20 years. 1/26 who are diagnosed, survive. Whereas 1/3 of women will die of heart disease. I’ll be blogging an Open Letter from My Boobs this week!
    Thanks again Clay. Have a blast of a Sunday!

    1. It was a fun Sunday – I got to just ‘hang and I am going to pay for it today! i saw your ‘boobs’ in my e-mail box – i am gonna read and laugh a little in a minute. I appreciate your humor and your courage. I took your suggestion and switched to the American Cancer Society – I am looking ahead to a ‘hairy’ Movember! have a great week!

      1. That’s so great Clay!
        Komen is a corporation and only gives around 26% of donations to research. I also was pissed when somehow they found out about my surgeries and didn’t ask to see how they could help, but asked for a monthly donation at a time when we were still reeling from the shock and the bills. Nerve.
        I love that the NFL endorsed ACS! Go Movember!

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