Color this cancer survivor an appreciative pink

Color this cancer survivor an appreciative pink


CHAMPAIGN – Petrea Nelson is in the pink.

The pink of health, the pink of her clothes and the pink of her nail polish.

An all-pink party at her house this afternoon celebrates the five-year mark of her survival of breast cancer.

"I think, technically, they mark the five years from your last treatment, but that would be Feb. 2, 2009," Nelson said. "I'm counting from the day of my surgery."

Diagnosed in July 2003, she had a lumpectomy July 30 of that year, followed by chemotherapy and radiation.

Now it's time to celebrate. She has been online for the last six months looking for everything she could find depicting the breast cancer awareness pink ribbon. Since Mother's Day, she has been tending her front, side and backyard gardens full of pink flowers.

Even though four-unit condominiums in her northwest Champaign neighborhood look alike, hers stands out with pink flags, a pink sign and a large pink fabric ribbon tied around the front yard ash tree.

For the party, large pink foam footprints lead from the street past the flowers and garden stones labeled with sayings such as "hope" and "find the cure."

"Instead of a yellow brick road, it's the pink road," she said with a laugh.

The trail ends at a backyard tent decked out with artificial giant pink flowers, fresh pink flowers and pink and white balloons.

She will wear a pink T-shirt with black slacks. She ironed embroidered pink ribbons onto the back pockets. She also has pink bracelets and rings for her fingers. Her flip flops sport pink straps and she even has a toe ring embellished with the looped ribbon. She had pink ribbons painted atop her big toes.

"I'm not a halfway kind of person," Nelson said.

Her five grandchildren – arriving from Chicago and Moline – will get to wear T-shirts she had made that say "My grandma is a survivor," and Crocs shoes with pink embellishments.

About 75 guests will fan themselves with paper fans from the Web site while they sip – what else – pink lemonade and pink-colored white Zinfandel wine.

Food – picked for its natural pinkness – includes ham, strawberries, watermelon, shrimp cocktail and pink marshmallows.

More food that she has made pink includes a dip tinted with maraschino cherry juice, five dozen pink deviled eggs and pink Rice Krispie treats.

A sheet cake will be strawberry flavor with white icing with a pink ribbon on each piece.

"I almost got pink popcorn," Nelson said, "but the company that makes it had problems."

Partygoers will go home with cellophane treat bags embellished with pink ribbons and filled with a sugar cookie, candy, mints and frosted pretzels – all pink, of course.

Guests were warned not to take presents. Nelson would rather have her friends donate to the Mills Breast Cancer Institute, Urbana, to support the medical people who supported her.

Raised on a farm in Nebraska by parents who adopted her, Nelson said she had no idea of her health history or whether she was at risk for cancer.

But she regularly had mammograms. And, after a squamous cell cancer was found on the back of her right hand, she regularly visited a dermatologist.

"Of course, you cry, cry, cry and sometimes ask, 'Why me?'" she said. "One time, after treatment, I was riding down in an elevator with a kid who had no hair. That puts things in perspective."

She took her chemo treatments during her busiest work time – the January (2004) preparation of W-2 forms at Larry D. Buhrmester & Associates in Champaign.

"I took the day of my treatments off and sometimes the day after," she said. "And I got a wig. The insurance company calls it a cranial prosthesis. I didn't care what I looked like, but I didn't want strangers to know I was sick." After her hair grew back – salt and pepper in color – Nelson waited six months to color it.

What shade?

Strawberry blonde. It goes perfectly with the party decor.