It happens a little after dawn, the way most assaults usually do. It’s not joyful: Since last year’s Pink Army flag-raising in front of Flagler County’s Government Services Building, some 40,000 women in America died of breast cancer, 232,000 new cases were diagnosed, adding to the 2.8 million women with a history of breast cancer, and millions more were affected by the desolation, physical and psychological, that touches the families and friends, and particularly the children, of those besieged by cancer.
Adding the numbers of all cancers’ casualties would make the body counts of even the grimmest wars in history dim in comparison: the nearly 8 million people who die worldwide each year from cancer is a larger number than either world wars’ annual tallies. And for cancer, there’s yet to be an armistice day.
“Who has not had a loved one or themselves impacted by cancer? Anyone, friends, family,” Colleen Conklin, the school board member, said this morning. “That has to change. And it will take an army.”
But it’s never a white flag that Florida Hospital Flagler’s Pink Army raises each year, however gloomy the sky, as it was this morning. Rather, it’s the way Frank Meeker, the chairman of the Flagler County Commission, described it.
Meeker was diagnosed with colon cancer earlier this year. He went through surgery and chemotherapy, lost 20 pounds (couldn’t keep them off, he said ruefully), lost his sense of taste, experienced the anxieties and uncertainties of the diagnosis, and stood in front of this morning’s small crowd, his scalp still barely a fuzz of returning silver that stood out against the pink radiating everywhere, to say what it takes to make it through: “All I want to emphasize is cancer is a lot of attitude, and a positive attitude I believe is what is necessary in order to counter it. Yes, scientific studies are right, yes, great people like Florida Hospital Flagler are right, yes, the support personnel are right, but for those who are going to survive, it’s the positive attitudes that will get you through it. If you start crying oh, why me, why me, you’re not going to get through it. If you go out saying you’re going to lick it, you’re going to lick it.”
Of course, untold thousands each year have as strong and as positive an attitude as anyone, and die: they don’t get to describe their experience at any ceremony. It’s also, if not mostly, for them that the flag is raised and the battle waged: The Florida Hospital network schedules a couple of dozen events around the state that raise money through October to help underwrite the cost of mammograms and other cancer screenings.
The signature event in Flagler is Sunday’s 5k Pink Army run that starts and ends in front of Florida Hospital Flagler. Last year that event alone raised $13,152 for the local hospital’s breast cancer fund. The run usually draws upwards of a thousand runners and walkers and strollers—the youngest is often a matter of a few weeks old, pushed in a stroller, the oldest is just as often old enough to remember President Roosevelt hiding his polio behind podiums or other devices, back when polio was ravaging victims of its own. But polio was licked. The hope, the intention, is that cancer’s turn will come one of these days. It’ll take a few more runs.
“It is an extraordinary opportunity for us to draw awareness about breast cancer, and that’s the whole attempt of what we’re trying to accomplish with this Pink Army,” Ken Mattison, Florida Hospital Flagler’s CEO, said this morning. “This is one of many flag-raisings that we will do around our community. And since last year, we have been able to raise awareness and donations, and those donations have allowed us to do screenings and diagnostic mammograms and ultrasound procedures. Together we are saving lives.”