ChemoTreat: we need more colour

Do any of you remember the old song Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree? Its roots were in American folklore. Convicts returning from prison, and soldiers returning from the civil war, would look for a yellow ribbon outside their homes. If there was one, they were welcome back. If not, they should keep on shuffling down the dusty road. They had been replaced.

The song by Tony Orlando and Dawn came out in 1973, a couple of years before the end of the Vietnam War and the ribbons eventually became messages of support for troops who had been sent to foreign lands to secure oil for America. At least, that’s how they were marketed. The ribbons were really intended to show support for the government policies that sent young men and women off to war.

Before long, coloured ribbons became “cause” ribbons. Mothers Against Drunk Driving, for instance, adopted red ribbons as a promotional item. People dealing with the AIDS epidemic also used red ribbons in their publicity and fund-raising activity. Soon enough, pink ribbons were used to build awareness about breast cancer. Then the floodgates opened.

There are about 200 different types of cancer. They can attack your internal organs, your skin, blood, bones, brain, reproductive system, and probably other areas of your body. What happens is that a normal, run of the mill cell in your body gets a mind of its own and turns against you. It splits and reproduces and gets bigger. The cell becomes a tumour, the tumour becomes a cancer and you become a very impatient patient. That’s a very short version of a lengthy oncology course available through Wikipedia.

There are a lot more good causes to raise awareness about than there are colours for ribbons. There are also more good causes than just our personal cancers. There’s AIDS. Violence Against Women and Girls. Suicide prevention. LGBTQ equality rights. There’s even a periwinkle ribbon for acid reflux awareness. So many causes, so few colours. We have passed the tipping point for coloured ribbons and moved into the adoption of two- and three-coloured symbols

Most computer monitors use combinations of 256 colours in their displays. That is not enough any more. The world needs more colour. Or fewer tragedies.

When I get through this journey and move from sufferer to  survivor, three of my four kids want me to get a zebra tattoo on my arm. The other one maintains a discreet and diplomatic silence about it. Zebra striped ribbons are a catch bucket for any number of rare diseases. One of them is neuroendocrine carcinoma.

The back story to this is found in a piece of old diagnostic wisdom. When you hear hoofbeats, they say, don’t look for a zebra. It’s probably a horse. In other words, look for the most likely cause. But sometimes it is a zebra. Mine is. I have saddled up and hopped onto my very own black and white striped horse. There’s some good doctors and nurses in Guelph trying to get me off it.

I’ll be back in the chemo room at the hospital tomorrow for my second treat. I’ll let you know how it goes. I haven’t started losing any hair yet. If I do, I hope it begins and ends with my nose hair.


  1. Thank you for your accurate characterization, Alan, of that Vietnam-era yellow ribbon camping. I too saw it as war mongering. I was in Minnesota at the time and sorely tempted to take a can of red spray paint to the ribbons, which were everywhere, to make them blood soaked. You do not support soldiers by sending more of them to die. Best wishes with your treatment.

    1. We’re sending BEST WISHES from afar.

  2. your sense of humour is infectious…best of luck Allen

  3. Love that photo! As for the nose hair it would be interesting to try for tiny braids. PS those track pants!!! Just sayin’

  4. Thanks for your honesty – both moving and at times amusing. Hope the humour continues. Best wishes.

  5. I wish you all the best in your journey to better health, and thank you for the wise words. Hopefully there will be many more words of wisdom in the future.

  6. Good Luck tomorrow and with all treatments! Hair grows back. Just get a good hat!

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