I remember that day like it was yesterday.  August 5th, 2019.  The day was brutally humid.  I remember sweating as I waited for the phone call from my doctor.  Sweating not from the heat but from the unknown words that I’ve feared my entire life.  

Being a nurse gave me a sixth sense that something was horribly wrong.  In June I wrestled with a stuck window and felt an excruciating pain in my back.  Neither rest or meds kept my pain away.  I was anxiously waiting for the results of the MRI I’d had several hours earlier. 

My heart started pounding as I heard the words “The doctor needs to talk to you about your results”.  “Please come in tonight after office hours”.  I felt like I’d been hit by a bus. Shaking uncontrollably I flashed back to another time in my life when I’d heard words I never expected.  You see my son died from an accidental overdose 5 years earlier and I’d felt like my heart and soul took a tremendous hit.  

Walking into her office I felt her sympathy.  Her eyes refused to meet mine.  I sat on the exam table as she read the radiology report.  My ears stopped hearing after the word tumor was spoken.  My body reacted like it did as I heard the words, “It’s Matt he’s dead”.  My body shut down. The only thing I heard was my heart beating so rapidly it was a whoosh in my ears blocking out further communication.  

Funny the last thing I wondered was what color is my cancer.  I always wondered how society and the medical community could think that associating a beautiful color to a horrific disease made sense.  Does color-coding our cancer make it easier to endure?  Does having a color connected to your disease make it more doable? 

It always angered me when I’d see the commercials selling those pink breast cancer scarves. Really, did making breast cancer pink make losing a breast acceptable?  Does making pancreatic cancer purple make it less deadly?  Is turquoise what you were thinking when you were told you had lung cancer?  Did knowing your color make your breaths come easier? 

I know people will argue that selling tee shirts, scarves, and ribbons in cancer colors helps bring awareness to the disease.  As if we aren’t already aware of this life-changing disease.  Every other commercial is advertising a cancer center or a new cancer drug. Believe me, I don’t need a color to remind me that this disease exists. 

Since my diagnosis, I’ve had 3 rounds of chemo.  As I sat in the chair for hours staring at the white walls praying I wouldn’t vomit during treatment colors was the last thing on my mind. 

As I lay on the operating room table getting ready to be put under, colors were not one of my last thoughts.  

As I now undergo radiation treatment in the cold stark white tube, my thoughts and prayers do not include color.  

Funny how anyone could possibly think that assigning a color to a life-altering disease would make it easier to bear.  

My cancer is rare. Thymus. At my age, my thymus should have been long gone.  But of course, I had to join the group of those rare birds who’s thymus decided to hang on and become cancerous just as we are retiring and looking forward to experiencing life as a free bird, not a sick bird.  

Out of curiosity, I looked up my cancer color.  It’s black and white striped.  I’m a zebra.  In medicine, there is a saying, “ When you hear hoofbeats, look for horses, not zebras.”   Funny, most of my clothing is black or white.  They are my go-to colors, as you can dress them up or down.  Little did I know upon hearing those words this color combination would define my cancer.  

As I sat in my doctor’s office in my black and white sundress listening to the words that would change the course of my future, never did I think the colors I was wearing would define the rest of my life. 


MaryBeth Cichocki is a retired registered nurse living in the state of Delaware. She lost her youngest son, Matt, to an overdose of prescription drugs on January 3rd 2015. After his death she was unable to return to her world of taking care of critically ill babies in the N.I.C.U. She now spends her time advocating and writing about the disease of addiction. She started a blog shortly after Matt died titled Mothers Heart Break, ( mothersheartbreak.com ) which tells the story of Matt’s addiction and continues into the present as she deals with complicated grief. MaryBeth also facilitates a support group for those suffering the loss of a loved one due to the disease of addiction. (Support After Addiction Death). MaryBeth has testified in her states Capitol during the Joint Finance Committee hearings, sharing her story of the difficulty she experienced while trying to find comprehensive treatment for her adult son during his addiction. She works with legislators in her state to implement changes in how the disease of Substance Use Disorder will be treated in the future. She played a pivotal role in the passing of 6 Bills in Delaware related to treatment for those suffering from Substance Abuse Disease. MaryBeth is passionate about saving other mothers from her grief. She is a wife, mother, grandmother and dog rescuer.

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