Masks over ribbons

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that a pink ribbon is for breast cancer awareness. In the 1990s, the red ribbon was almost as well known as a symbol for AIDS awareness. Every type of cancer has a designated ribbon, as does most chronic illness. People wear ribbons to show moral support for friends, family members, and co-workers who are battling serious illness, but if you really want to show your support, wear a mask.

Living in the time of COVID has made face masks more available, and more normal. There are all kinds of masks… there are even masks with cancer awareness ribbons on them!

There are various sizes of masks now. There was a time when there were only two sizes: child and adult. If your face fell somewhere between those two sizes, like mine does, you either had a mask that  partially covered your eyes or one where the ear loops stretched across your face in a an uncomfortable way.

Even if COVID became a thing of the past (we can only hope), face masks should remain. They are effective in preventing the spread of many contagious illnesses. I have heard so many stories from people who said that due to masking, last year was the first winter where they didn’t catch a cold.

When a person has cancer or an autoimmune disorder, it isn’t so much the illness that weakens that person’s immune system as it is treatment for the illness. Immunosuppressive drugs, radiation, and surgery can all weaken a person’s immune system, and the precautions a person must take while they are being treated for their illness can force that person into isolation.

It isn’t that people undergoing treatment don’t want to be visited by friends, family, and co-workers; it is just the need to be safe. But now we know, that if we do things like wearing a mask, removing our shoes or spraying them with Lysol, and practicing hand hygiene, we can mitigate the spread of contagions. We can be with the people we want to support in a way that is so much more supportive than wearing some ribbon.

Being there for a person is the best thing you can do. That is what I have learned from this past year. I learnt this as someone who has been on immunosuppressive drugs, who has had radiation, and who has had surgery to remove a cancerous growth. I have learnt this as a friend to others undergoing similar treatment.

When someone’s immune system is compromised, any illness has the potential of becoming a serious illness. A mask sends the message, not just that you want others to be aware, but that you are aware.

I just want to say thank you to all of you who wear masks, and all of you who have made and donated masks. A masked face is what empathy looks like.