Kara Swanson's Brain Injury Blog

September 12, 2011

All Gussied Up: 9/11, Breast Cancer, Brain Injury And Other Truths

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 2:47 am

It’s after two in the morning.  I should be doing my announcing prep right now for the two soccer games I have to call tomorrow.   I should be washing my outfit to wear, as well.  Some would say I should be sleeping.  I know I shouldn’t be eating these last crumbs from the bottom of the potato chip bag.

But it’s 9-11 and, like so many, I have been returned to an event which, even ten years later, remains too big to hold all at once.   So many of the images are the same and yet, now that the shock has worn off, I think I feel them more.  

I cried a lot tonight.

A dear friend of mine is a breast cancer survivor who now works with Stage Four breast cancer fighters.  Too many are, sadly, not likely to live much longer and many are running out of fight to fight.

She shared with me an interesting perspective from some of those women.  A truth that I had never considered.  One that I have no perspective to imagine.  

She told me that they hate the pink ribbon.  Everything about it.  That it feels like the happy pink hopeful walks and ribbons and tee shirts and hats and posters and all that is pink ribbon stuff in this world is not meant for them.  That they stand aside from that, in a darker place where hope will not reach back for them.  In a walk where they cannot catch up to the place where people are talking cure.

That really struck me.

Tonight I was thinking about all the beautiful tributes to the thousands of lives lost on 9-11.  I am, admittedly, a sucker for crisp uniforms and white gloves and chills-bringing trumpets playing Taps.  I love seeing an entire crowd singing,  “God Bless America” with their hands over their hearts.   I love those field-size flags they showed at all the football fields and baseball stadiums.

It’s all really big and maybe better that way.  Easier to take.  Softer, maybe.   Softer, yes.   Smiling women in pink ribbons holding hands as they cross the finish line of the 3 Day Walk for Breast Cancer.   Angelic-voiced children singing patriotic songs at a breath-taking 9-11 National Memorial.

It takes the ugly out of it a little, I think.  It makes it more palatable.  Gives us something nice and soft and pretty that we can use as a symbol for a more hideous truth.  Put on a yellow “Live Strong” rubber wristband.  Wear a puzzle Autism pin.  Get a calendar and a hoodie when you donate to animal cruelty organizations.

Gussy up the truth.  It’s better than seeing a picture of a cat after someone has cooked him in the microwave.

And then I watched a special tonight on 9-11 and they showed this huge metal beam that had been curled around into a circle in such an unnatural way that I couldn’t lose myself in the pretty anymore. 

And I wept.

Real people were blown away by the same force capable of bending and twisting a huge, thick steel beam into a circle.    I thought of our skin.   The pretty skin of young women or the clean-shaven skin of young men-all these beautifully-young and bright and talented and valuable and wonderful people at work on a  gorgeous Tuesday morning in September.  And how our utterly mortal bodies could possibly stand up to such a force…

They didn’t stand a chance.

There was a chunk of debris, round and thick, tangled…Like a big disk in a way.  Kind of like a rock.   It was four FLOORS of the building smashed and compressed so completely and impossibly that they could only assume bodies were flattened in it and so they treat it as sacred…

It is hard to know the truth.

The documentary described the smoke that first responders, civilians and site workers breathed in for days and weeks and months after the Twin Towers collapsed.  Inside that dust was the remnants of millions of light bulbs.  Think about that.  Never occurred to me.  They were breathing in glass!  Mercury, asbestos, lead, metal, every noxious substance you can imagine and yes, human remains.  They were breathing in human remains.

It’s easier to watch the President lay a pretty wreath at a stone memorial.

I was thinking then about this blog and how I try, whenever I can, to poke fun at myself and to lighten up the dark pathway that is traumatic brain injury.  I gussy it up just like we do at every turn:  major league baseball players using pink bats for breast cancer or wearing light blue wrist bands for prostate cancer.

We all have our ribbons.  Even sinners wear nice clothes to church.

Tonight there was no escape from the truth.   I had to sit with the understanding that  those firemen went to one, two, three, four funerals A DAY for weeks until they had buried all of their friends. 

It’s hard to know the truth.

Ten years later and the people who worked at Ground Zero all those months are now starting to acquire cancers they are convinced are linked to the unspeakable things they breathed in while trying to save lives, recover bodies and clear wreckage.   Marriages have been lost, jobs have been lost, dreams have been lost and now, quite possibly, their futures too. 

So we gussy it up.

I know and have seen and heard stories of and from brain injury survivors and their loved ones that I cannot visit as often as, perhaps, they deserve.   Visuals that literally squeeze my heart and knock the stuffing from me.  Their truths are cruel sentences I can only be thankful I was not asked to serve.

Maybe tonight I weep for them too.

But I realized tonight, as I watched those people touch the bronzed names of their lost loved one at the 9-11 Memorial, that we have to gussy it up.  

It had to be bronze.  It had to be glorious.

The ribbons of breast cancer have to be bubble gum pink.  The help for starving, dying, rib-showing kids in Africa has to be fun concerts with sexy stars.  The brass buttons on the perfectly-pressed military uniforms have to be shiny and glistening as they salute our flag.

And I have to keep trying to bring a little humor here and there in a blog about an injury that isn’t very funny at all.

We have to gussy up the truth because we have to live with it.  We have to go on with it.   

We have to carry it into tomorrow.  And the day after that. 

It’s heavy as hell and we need a little help for the long run.  Maybe a little morbid humor.  Maybe a little reprieve.

We have to gather at brain injury conferences and 9-11 Memorials and Breast Cancer Walks so that we can be together.  So that we don’t have to hold the truth alone.

It’s not about hiding the truth.  On the contrary, it’s because we KNOW the truth.  It’s about holding it for as long as we have to hold it.  And holding it together.

I will continue to enjoy news coverage of women walking arm and arm in a sea of pink in order to honor their loved one who beat or succumbed to breast cancer because I prefer believing they will one day cure a disease that could have taken my friend, or any of my loved ones.  I will continue to write blog entries that poke fun at myself and try to bring a chuckle to people struggling every day with bodies no longer willing to accept commands because no one can push a stone uphill every day of their lives without resting a bit.    I will continue to sing our National Anthem with tears in my eyes and my hand over my heart because I choose to believe in a nation that is strong enough to overcome any threat against her.

It’s because of the truth, not instead of it.  It is because I am determined to carry it.  Because I am determined to carry it with you.   Because I am determined to LIVE with it.  To live.

That I won’t be broken, even when my heart is.   That I won’t run from fear, even when I’m scared.  That I won’t forget those lost, even when their memory hurts like hell. 

That I’ll go on with you.   That we’ll go forward for them.  Together.  We’ll continue to live.   As long as we get.  Knowing that easy was never promised.  Knowing that too many are not as fortunate. 

And knowing that the sun does not trick us into believing there is no darkness.   But that it still feels awfully good on our faces after a long, stormy night.


  1. Hi Kara,
    Today is a shouting day for me… a crying day. You said the words I needed to hear and hoped to speak. I never thought about hating the ribbons. But it makes so much sense.
    Sending you hugs and honor and appreciation as always,

    Comment by Barb G — September 12, 2011 @ 2:05 pm | Reply

  2. i stumbled upon your blog while looking for a friends blog, and read this post and just wanted to say that i really admire your attitude and your view of all of this. you seem very brave and wise.
    just wanted to let you know.

    Comment by ashley — September 25, 2011 @ 5:39 pm | Reply

    • Thank you, Ashley, you made my day. :))))

      Comment by karaswanson — September 26, 2011 @ 10:47 am | Reply

  3. I thought my mom was in denial about my brain injury, but she just told me that it’s just easier to be busy-anxious-absent-minded…than sad. She wasn’t in denial. She made a conscious effort to focus on good things, but she went so far as to not pay attention to what was right in front of her and how I was changing. It’s like throwing out all her clothes and buying a whole new closetful in only bubble gum pink and saying “Look, no breast cancer here!!”
    But my mom: her business associate/best friend of several decades might have dementia; her mother is 94 and gets hospitalized every few months; I’ve gotten so klutzy from my brain injury that I lost track, slammed my head in the wall that I didn’t know was there, and re-injured a month ago. My poor, dear mom.
    It’s so easy to criticize and judge people who seem to be in denial or too focused on good things. And those are the folks that have so much trouble helping us because they seem to not believe we are asking for something. I’m lucky to have gotten a look in behind the veil of good cheer my mom is holding up and see she’s in more pain than I am. Sadly, there’s not much help I can offer her because of my state, but I discovered that just cracking jokes and cracking each other up over daily crap has done wonders. I was so angry at her “denial” that I never joked and laughed with her. But now I tease and tease over anything I can think of (not her or her loved ones, of course), and she gets a moment of joy down in her sad soul. And that’s one moment more than she had sitting at work by herself, pushing away the truth from her mind, which is priceless. I never thought that after my injury I’d have anything to offer her, so this is a bittersweet, nice thing.

    Comment by Cheryl — October 2, 2011 @ 11:02 am | Reply

  4. We always have to remember that it’s hard for our loved ones, too! Especially for parents watching their kid struggle so much. No parent wants to see their child in pain and anguish. I’m glad that you’re helping your mom through her struggles. Sometimes just saying, “This must be hard for you” is all they long to hear. Just a recognition that we aren’t the only ones suffering here. Good for you.

    Comment by Kara — October 4, 2011 @ 1:42 pm | Reply

  5. wow i am glad i stumbled on this post it is inspiring

    Comment by Maiya — December 13, 2011 @ 2:23 am | Reply

    • Well, very kind of you, Maiya. I’m glad you stumbled onto this post, too. Welcome. 🙂

      Comment by karaswanson — December 13, 2011 @ 10:16 am | Reply

  6. I love this so much. I needed every word.

    Comment by Sheri Marshall Siwek — May 30, 2020 @ 8:23 pm | Reply

    • Boy, you sure made my day with this post, Sheri. Thank you, so much, for your kind words. I’m so glad it helped you. You help me back :)))))) Kara

      Comment by karaswanson — May 31, 2020 @ 8:08 am | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: