When the world turns pink.

It doesn’t take pink fountains, ribbons, t-shirts or even a special month to make me aware of breast cancer. I have my own set of scars from the disease (even though I’ve never had it.) Forty years ago, I remember my mother crying and yelling as I hid in my closet. I guess that was when she was diagnosed. I didn’t ask her. We didn’t talk about it much. I was just a kid who was scared he was going to lose his mother.

When I see the pink water shooting out of the fountains of Thalia Mara Hall, I joke that either Mr. Bubble met an ugly demise or Jackson’s water has gone from bad to worse. But those jokes aren’t out of lack of sensitivity. No, they’re because my stomach drops when I think of those dark days. It’s a fear I’ll never forget. Old scars burn this time of year.

Yet I’m very grateful for the pink fountains — and the ribbons, races, marches and the t-shirts that we see today. I’m grateful for the support groups and the research money being thrown at this horrible disease. I’m thankful that women don’t have to fight this battle alone. It was a different world back in the 1970s. No one talked about it publicly back then. And I think it drove my mother a little bit crazy.

The good news is that her cancer didn’t spread — she was blessed with another 40 years. This year, according to the American Cancer Society, 40,610 women won’t get that opportunity. They won’t get to see their kids grow up. They won’t be allowed to chase their dreams. They won’t escape a horrible disease’s grasp. There will be 257,710 new cases of invasive breast cancer and 63,410 cases of carinoma in situ (in place). But on the bright side, there will be 3.1 million survivors like my mother. She was blessed and given the gift of another four decades to live. She heard those three words and lived.

A few years ago, I heard those three words, too. Mine wasn’t breast cancer, but I still understand the fear caused by your own body trying to kill you. (Melanoma, Class of 2001). I understand the anxiety that threatens to derail your spirit. I understand the confusion when hospital and doctor bills pile up. Here’s a little advice for you if you do hear those three words. Here’s a way to have H.O.P.E.:

H — is for humor. Learn to laugh at the thing that scares you the most, which in this case is cancer. Watch comedians. Make bad jokes about your scars (I do.) If you’re laughing, you’re not crying. It helps lower your anxiety.

O — Opportunity to serve. This is the chance for you to pay your blessing forward. Get out there and help others who are walking the same journey as you are. WJSU-FM general manager Gina Carter-Simmers, diagnosed with Stage 3, breast cancer, has done just that by putting together the Beauty of Cancer Photo Exihibit at the Mississippi Museum of Art. Twenty-eight breast cancer thrivers (they are more than just survivors) are featured in a powerful photo series that empowered them and anyone who sees the exhibit. By helping others, you end up helping yourself. Did I mention anything about lowered anxiety?

P — Physical well-being. You have to take care of your own body and mind. If your body can’t fight, all the drugs and doctors in the world won’t help. You need strength. Believe me, you’ll need strength and, of course, a way to reduce anxiety.

E — Educate yourself. You NEED to be able to talk to your doctor intelligently. Otherwise, your visits to your doctor will sound like Charlie Brown’s parents, “Wah Wah Wah Wah Cancer Wah Wah.” Your doctors are good people but they are busy. You need to be part of the team. Learning about your situation and being engaged makes you a better patient. And it will also reduce anxiety. Knowledge truly is power.

Tonight, as I walk past Mr. Bubble’s fountain, I’ll think of my mother, my friends and everyone who has had to battle this damn disease. And then I’ll say a prayer for a cure. The pain is too real. It’s time for it to stop so the scars can heal.

About Marshall Ramsey