Some Word Problems

I was fairly lucky this Pink season to not be too irritated by all the Pink products and events. Sure I ranted here about one particular subset of events, but mostly I’ve been successful at just turning the page, clicking away, changing the channel. But I’m a Cancer Curmudgeon, so of course I’ve found something else to be annoyed about.

What has been plucking my nerves over the last few weeks is the repeated use of certain words and phrases. One certain word, when attached to other words, has been especially upsetting to me pretty much all year. That word warrants its own special, lengthy, likely unpopular post. Hopefully I’ll get around to it soon—time and energy have not been my friends of late.

So here are some words/phrases that made me weary last month:


Well, duh.

Many bloggers have written excellent pieces on the need for education rather than awareness, that full awareness has been reached when the NFL wears Pink, and so on. I agree, and have little to add. The word is meaningless to me.

I guess I especially hate the word awareness when it is used in arguments against critics of Pink—hey, don’t criticize pink ribbons because: look how successful, we can talk about breast cancer without shame! I’ve said this before: I don’t wanna talk about it; I WANT TO NOT HAVE IT.

What is the goal of awareness anyway? From what I absorbed from Pink propaganda prior to diagnosis, it seems to be that one simple message: get a mammogram to detect cancer early, fight hard and put on a smile and the pink uniform, and then survivor status is achieved, and it is all over—all is well. My experience—being 1 in 233, not 1 in 8 because I was 39 years old, being ER/PR negative and HER2 positive, having a false negative mammogram, now knowing the likelihood of recurrence—just did not fit into the story. I felt, and still feel, I was spectacularly unprepared.

Hindsight being what it is, I certainly wish I’d known then…ah, you know. It would’ve made the frenzied time of diagnosis a little less confusing, trying to learn so much backstory, UNLEARNING the messages I’d swallowed each October. Plus, I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that the early-detection-is-the-best-shot-for-survival is not good enough. I want better odds for not getting cancer again, even after that magical 5 years out number. I want prevention for everyone. Need I say more? For all the hoopla of awareness, I still see breast cancer as pretty grim (duh, I’m a curmudgeon after all).

The whole story is not being told by the mainstream Pink information distributors. I admit, before I got cancer, I did not “buy it”, but I certainly did not do anything to find out what was not being told. I’m not sure most people are able to understand all the little details about breast cancer—people like sound bites and the whole story of cancer is too complex for quips. And certainly many are unwilling to know that breast cancer is anything but the festive version as seen on TV (eat right, exercise, blah blah blah to help prevent it, curable and never the metastatic kind that leads to death, and chemo is a party). But good grief, even if all the little details don’t fit into a perky slogan, don’t pretend that breast cancer is just a singular disease with a happy ending. The story that folks think they know because of awareness is not my story, and I get tired of trying to explain it: yes I had a mammogram, it failed; I kept going for infusions after chemo because I had a weird type of cancer so I needed a drug called Herceptin; no I don’t need Tamoxifen; and no I’m not all done, I still see the oncologist because it might come back. (Note—I don’t think HER2 positive cancer is weird, but explaining to the uneducated, even other breast cancer patients, well, it might as well have been weird.)

My story, and many stories, cannot be distilled into a slogan. Slogans will never go away, I get that. But how about just a little asterisk next to the slogans: “not applicable to all breast cancer scenarios”. Is that so wrong? Don’t ignore the complexity!

Show Support/Support Awareness/Support Breast Cancer

Another set of meaningless terms.

What does it even mean, to support Breast Cancer Awareness? Like, “oh yeah, telling people about breast cancer, that’s good, I support doing that?” And clearly people do not even know that what is being told about cancer is not the whole truth (see section above).

I KNOW many have complained about that stupid question asked by cashiers at various check-out lines: “would you like to donate to support breast cancer?” I try not to judge cashiers too harshly; I’ve worked retail, I know what it is like to repeat the same question over and over. It gets so monotonous, of course the words get shortened—but this is a time when words matter greatly. I cringe when asked if I’d like to support breast cancer. And in the case of the stupid No Bra Day graphic a few years ago, the one with the woman raising her black bra above her head and the slogan on the bottom “support breast cancer”, I just have one word: unforgivable.

I’m afraid to take on the “show support” issue in this post; I want to concentrate on words that annoy me. The need to not merely support a cause, but to SHOW off that support, makes me uncomfortable. A life working in the service industry and a non-profit managing volunteers, has made me a bit jaded. So I’ll tackle this subject another day—maybe. I know it is a touchy subject. For now, I suggest checking out an interview Gayle Sulik participated in earlier this year about the Boston Strong branding. The transcript puts into words some of my thoughts that I’ve had, long before getting breast cancer. Those folks who were interviewed pissed off many listeners, I’m sure.

Instead of “showing support” for “awareness”, may I suggest just supporting actual patients? Donating directly to reputable organizations like Metavivor? Or just helping out the nearest cancer patient with the everyday tasks that can be so overwhelming during treatment?

Every Single Slang Term for Breasts, Especially Boobies

Look, I read lots of bloggers who use the word boobs in the blog name, a Twitter name, or a tag line on the blog, FB page, whatever. I get that “boobs” is a recognized word, not really offensive to most. Hey to each their own. I’m not offended exactly by that word or the others, but I’m not a fan. I had breast cancer. Not titty cancer. My ta-tas were not saved. I saw my cancer; I did not find it by feeling my boobies.

More than I want to, I see founders of the organizations with names that include these slang terms hotly defending their organization names and mission statements. I understand that the intention is to raise funds that help patients, that a kicky, fun name is meant to attract younger, or male, attention—although the names imply that ta tas are the only thing meant to be saved (not lives). I understand that feeling boobies is meant not to support SBE but to encourage familiarity with one’s own body, so changes that might indicate disease will be noted sooner. Hearts are in the right places, but I still don’t like the names and slogans. I cannot quantify my dislike. There are many more talented bloggers and journalists who can explain the harm that results from the sexism, the sexualization. I agree, and cannot add to all that has been said before.

All I can say is—I don’t like the slang slogans and organization names, and I don’t have to like them.

Yes, many, MANY times it has been pointed out to me that the sexualization I loathe has benefited me. Even those “tasteful”, professional corporate ads featuring beautiful actresses and models naked with their strategically placed arms garnered donations that went into the development of Herceptin, which might help me live a long time. Someday, I will write a post about how I try to reconcile this in my mind: being grateful for benefits I’ve received from the way breast cancer has been sold with sex. Some interesting incidents this recent Pinktober have made me think hard about this quandary.

I can be called ungrateful, whiny, prudish—maybe it’s true, but it is not how I view myself. I just think of myself as a patient who wants to be treated with dignity. The slang words and the way they are used in Pinktober events just don’t seem like breast cancer is taken seriously anymore. There are millions of examples out there described by bloggers sick of the sexualization. The worst I personally witnessed this year? Oh just a little “walk” in April. Pictures taken at the event I stumbled over on Facebook featured women wearing hot pink bras and panties pulled over their athletic apparel. It reminded me of a bachelorette party, not in a good way. Hmph, breast cancer fundraisers as bachelorette parties…I hope some smart blogger with education about feminist issues can explore that. Do women have so few opportunities to “party” and let off steam that breast cancer parties are now our “thing”, like bachelor parties or tailgating? I mean, it seems like this to me, but maybe I’m the only one.

I’m not suggesting anyone stop using the slang for breasts, it is an accepted form of vernacular, fine, it is my problem to get over. I have no alternatives  that will be as successful as using sex to sell a disease, and like I said, I’ll confront the issue later. I’m just a little tired now, at the close of Pinktober.

OK I’ve rambled on too long about words that irk me, so I better end it now before I find more!

Author: Cancer Curmudgeon

Oct 2010 diagnosed with Stage 3, HER2+ Breast Cancer. Completed treatment Jan 2012. Waaaaaay over pink. Applying punk rock sensibility to how I do cancer.

38 thoughts on “Some Word Problems”

  1. Excellent post. You are so right about the public not being educated about the complexities of breast cancer or any cancer for that matter. News reports describing some advancement in breast cancer treatment often leave out the particular bc subtype that may benefit from the treatment. People may get excited by such reporting thinking that a cure for late-stage cancer must not be far away. Noone wants to talk about the ugly truth that a cure is not close, if even possible, because of the complexities of this disease.


    1. Thank you–yes, the headlines and holes in reporting are a constant annoyance for me too. And in conversations with people, when they bring up “I heard on TV…” I feel like I’m always saying, “yeah, that won’t work for my kind of cancer”. Grr.
      Thanks for reading and commenting.


  2. Thank you for sharing your ramblings! I agree with so much of what you said and you put into words much of what I feel about the stupid names that are used for breasts when talking about breast cancer – “titties, boobies, TaTa’s! – It has always really really bothered me, not because I’m prudish, but because it minimizes, trivializes and sexualizes a devastating life-threatening illness that cost me to lose a part of who I am. And thanks for making me laugh too!


    1. Thanks–I admit, I was nervous to include my dislike of those words. So many BC patients accept and use them in their blog names and such. But right now, if I never heard the word boobs again, I’d be OK.
      Glad I made you laugh, I do try to be a little humorous–I know my curmudgeon-y-ness can get a bit rough and humor takes the edge off, even for my own self!


  3. I saw a comment that offended the ever loving hell out of me.

    “Breast cancer pink is the new black! LOL”

    I’m enough of a bitch that I hope the person who thinks it’s so fucking trendy can go get their own up close and personal encounter with it.


    1. Well the problem with that at first glance for me is that it reduces a health/fundraising project to fashion. So people just wear the Pink to be trendy? Exactly why I hate “show support”.
      Hmm, I don’t wish cancer on anyone, but yeah, if some folks could just get a taste of my emotions that I’ve had as a result–that would be a big help!


  4. It is fascinating to read your ire about Pinktober. I have stage IV lung cancer, and the LC community is working like mad to raise awareness about this disease during November, which is Lung Cancer Awareness Month (didn’t know that? Yeah, most don’t, that’s why we actually DO need more awareness about this misunderstood, stigmatized disease). Pinktober was annoying to me even before I had cancer, but it is especially so now, and I have found myself explaining to cashiers that no I won’t “support breast cancer” because I have lung cancer which kills more women than breast cancer and gets a tiny fraction of the research funding. Don’t get me wrong, I think all cancers are horrible and I have lost friends to breast cancer. But Pinktober makes me crazy for all the reasons you so eloquently outlined above. Thanks for writing this, and I hope you don’t mind me jumping in with another perspective.


    1. This is not even my first or worst post stating my ire. Check out:
      I DO know that Nov is Lung Cancer (and a few other cancers as well) month. Because of my admittedly limited interactions in social media, I’ve met a few LC patients who’ve educated me well.
      Before I got cancer I was one of those rude folks who immediately asked LC patients if they smoked. At some point, I will write a post exploring the harsh lessons (not the “life is precious” crap) of cancer. My own prejudice and education will be in there.
      If you read the posts I’ve linked, you’ll see I’ve run into some others who are sick of Pink like you. But I’ve also run into patients with other cancers who consider me and others who gripe about Pink as ungrateful. A post about that is in the works. It is difficult to write and will be hard to read.
      Certainly I want you to jump in with your perspective. I do not consider this a strictly breast cancer blog, I aim to always find the common ground for all cancer patients. Its just that I had breast cancer, that is what I know, so that is where I start. Things like the positive/fight/warrior ideas irk patients with all kinds of cancer, and I found those ideas to be one of the most awful aspects of being a cancer patient.
      I hope you keep reading and commenting with your view–always welcome.


  5. It’s very hard not to be irked by the way that words are used during Pinktober. The very narrow idea of “awareness” is one that especially bothers me. And of course the requests from stores to donate “for breast cancer” is another. Nice ramblings.


    1. Thanks Lisa. It is just the fact that I hear or see the words every 5 minutes it seems! I had a conversation with someone the other day about how overused sentiments lose meaning, become insincere. And that is what happened with all these buzzwords for me. I’d hoped November would bring relief, but so far, no go!
      Thanks for reading and commenting–I appreciate it!


  6. dear CC,

    you are the Breast Cancer Curmudgeon Engine That Could – and you did! and not just with this mind-blowing post, but will the huge body of work you presented all through pinktober. I especially appreciated it when you said you just want to be treated with dignity. me, too. and I think dignity is also a huge part of what we also want – the truth. the sleazy corporate greed that uses sexualization of women’s breasts AND is dishonest with the public in how much (if any) funds they appropriate for notions like “awareness” and other worn out and vague “causes” for BC is offensive and dirty pool to those who sincerely believe they are doing something positive with their donations. but you know what? I truly believe the tide is slowly changing.

    I think comments like the one lillytnin wrote speaks volumes – it’s people like her who are speaking out about the totally noxious parts of pinktober that robs other cancers of having their say – and it’s people like you and many other bloggers who have been graciously inclusive during this past October to post about how all cancers need to be recognized for the devastation and misery they create.

    and a personal message to lillytnin: I am so sorry you have St IV lung cancer; it truly is a misunderstood and stigmatizing cancer, and there does need to be more awareness of those facts. and as a ST IV metastatic breast cancer patient, I actually feel embarrassed with all the half-assed pink nonsense that is a huge affront not just to BC, LC, but so many other cancers. cancer is a horrible illness, it changes our lives and all the other lives around us. perhaps in our mutual feelings of discontent, somehow, someway, we will find that being mindful of how all people with cancer suffer so horrendously will help rein in the territorial holds and help us unite in our efforts to find what causes cancer and hopefully, wipe it off the face of this earth. but until that time let’s join minds and hands to do what we can to provide needed support and recognition, hopefulness and compassion, dignity and truth. I am sending you warm hugs and big hope for comfort and healing.

    . let’s keep sharing our stories; indications from recent cancer conferences all over the world are communicating in an unprecedented manner that they are eager to have patient-based input on a whole range of subjects concerning their cancer; and there are many medical and nursing universities who are stepping up their efforts to teach clinicians how to really listen to the concerns of their patients.

    thanks, CC, for opening up a such a vital and vibrant conversation.


    1. Aw thanks Karen for always encouraging me. I have to chuckle, I feel like I simply reposted old posts this year, which in itself is disappointing-I’m still complaining about the same things because there has been so little change.
      But I agree, I do think there are some small, subtle changes, more and more folks are speaking up about their frustrations over Pink, the fight language, etc. Hopefully, we’ll all find common ground. And hopefully, realities of ALL cancers will be better understood by the general public.
      As always, a pleasure to read your thoughts Karen! Love, CC


  7. I’ve been screwing around with multiple doctor appointments today and yesterday, haven’t had time to write, much less read. I did notice you changed your template design, I had to look twice to make sure I was at the right place. Hoping tomorrow is calm and I can catch up on what’s happening with you. Hope all is well!! {{{Hugs}}}


  8. Agree, agree! The one that really gets me is “Support Breast Cancer.” This is the one time the word “awareness” would be extremely helpful. Why would I support any kind of cancer? If I could hire a thug to blow its brains out and rid the world of its presence, I’d do it. Guess you could say I’m not supportive.


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