Paint the Bridge Black: The Many Colors of Cancer

Pink gets all the ink, but cancer comes in many colors.

Here’s a thing I remember: I was once in the oncology waiting room when a woman sat down nearby who was sporting a teal-colored running jacket, black-and-teal running tights, and formerly blond hair that had been dyed a lovely shade of teal.

(At the moment I wasn’t sure that was the color’s name, and I’d never really noticed a duck with that precise color anywhere on its head or wings. But if I had, it would have apparently been a teal.)

I complimented her on the fun hair that matched her outfit, and she explained that it signified ovarian cancer. She then told me she was a member of MOCA, the Minnesota Ovarian Cancer Alliance. (This acronym sounds like it should have something to do with coffee or chocolate. But no.)

Rather at a loss for words, I said simply “Oh.”

I thought of telling her that that as far as I know there’s not a club for people like me with advanced Stage IV metastatic melanoma. I was already an outlier, and it would be a small club with a rapidly dwindling membership. Later, when telling my wife about this encounter, I joked that my club would probably have very few members. I might be the only one. Our club’s cancer color, then, should be an appropriate shade of black.

But I said none of those things. I just said “Oh.”

Only much later did I learn that the official cancer color for melanoma actually is black. Who knew?

Around the internet you’ll find long lists of specific cancers that merit their own color that’s not pink. This list at VeryWell Health includes over 50 colors and cancers. Meanwhile, it’s become an evening tradition around America to light up local landmarks with these various cancer colors. (I just checked, and it’s gone global. Apparently the Eiffel Tower, for example, is regularly lighted pink.)

The closest medium-sized city, and the one where I see my oncologist, is Duluth, Minnesota. Its iconic landmark is an old lift bridge that’s regularly lighted pink, blue, or teal—and maybe even a few other colors. That day it was visible from the oncology waiting room where I encountered Ms. Moca.

But how could we possibly light the bridge black? (And no, shining a black light on it isn’t quite the same thing.) I guess if I were to successfully lobby for my own cancer holiday, we’d just have to paint it black.

Author: alcambronne

Retired photographer, author, and cancer survivor living in northwest Wisconsin.