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:

Awareness

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!

Advertisements

Somebody Needs to Buy These Media People a Dictionary

So I’m watching GMA Friday morning and there is a brief segment about this co-host on Dancing With the Stars, Brooke Burke-Charvet. Now, I do not watch the Dancing show, know nothing of this woman, and have not bothered to look into her story on the internet, not interested enough. My complaint is the way the dark-haired female reporter, and her producers at GMA, presented the info. This Burke-Charvet woman has or had thyroid cancer, and is doing some promo thing on some health magazine about how her cancer scare means she no longer worries about looking young, and she wants people to live healthy, exercise (the usual crap), and get check-ups with doctors. Now, I do not know if it was Burke-Charvet who actually said people need to engage in preventative practices by getting annual check-ups, I will give her the benefit of the doubt. But certainly the GMA reporter said that the idea behind the campaign is for people to prevent health issues, like cancer, by going to their doctor. Apparently this Burke-Charvet has always lived healthy and had no symptoms, and it was on a routine visit to her doctor her thyroid cancer was detected.

In what universe is early detection equal to prevention?! Going to the doctor and learning she had cancer did NOT prevent cancer. She already had the cancer, therefore, it was NOT prevented. It was detected early, and that is great, but it was not prevented no matter how the media spins it.

This is the kind of thing the media does that drives me crazy. Throw around words like “prevent” so people feel in control or empowered. How many times will I have to write this? Some things are out of our control, if cancer had a motto it would be “shit happens”. This idea we can control every single thing that happens to us, cancer included, is just extreme hubris.

It is important for the media to get this language of cancer right. By suggesting to viewers that “prevention” is within our grasp just by getting regular medical check-ups is damn near negligent. I repeat, if a regular doctor’s visit (as in a visit not instigated by symptoms), reveals the presence of cancer, that is EARLY DETECTION, not PREVENTION.

The media needs to pull their collective act together. I am especially annoyed this segment was on GMA, a show featuring a news anchor with well documented bouts of cancer. She and her cast mates should know this difference all too well. Shame on you, GMA.