Do We Have to be PC When it Comes to BC?

I read a piece recently where a woman was talking about how insensitive an ad for reconstruction was because it alluded to making the woman whole again by building her a new breast. Every woman I’ve talked to, whether she’s had breast cancer or not, made the same comment – “What makes them think we aren’t whole just because we do or don’t have breasts?”

Amen sister! I couldn’t agree more. However, the piece got me thinking about an issue I hadn’t really pondered all that much since my original diagnosis: How do I feel about having to censor what I say about breast cancer, to make sure it’s politically correct?

I’m going to be completely honest here. There are times when I get sick and tired of having to be politically correct, regardless of the topic. I am grateful for the strides we’ve made when it comes to blatant abuse of gender, power, race, etc. But I sometimes find myself struggling to express my feelings honestly when I’m always dancing around how to say it without offending anyone. Mind you, I would NEVER say anything to offend someone on purpose (even when I should, but that’s a whole ‘nother blog for sure!).

I am of an age where I did have bosses who would try to compromise my integrity sexually by either threatening to fire me, or at the very least implying I could move further up in the company if I would provide them with carnal favors. It was extremely uncomfortable. I was ill-prepared for this sort of dialogue. And there was no human resources department back in the day to protect me.

However, I will say that most of us knew how to dodge this bullet. That is what excuses were made for (or imaginary boyfriends, irate fathers, even brothers on the wrestling team)! Maybe I was just lucky, but whenever someone made unwanted remarks or advances to me, I was able to think on my feet and get out of the situation. Was it right of them? Absolutely not. Am I glad I am now protected from this sort of behavior? You bet! Do I wish a guy could tell me I look nice without having the thought police or H.R. take him away in shackles? Sometimes.

There are some words so hurtful they should never be said. I won’t expound on those here because I think most of us are sensitive to this issue – and I’ve also learned over the years that anyone who isn’t usually won’t have their mind changed by anything I have to say.

When it comes to the terminology of breast cancer, I find myself sort of feeling like I do when it comes to having someone talk about my family. It’s okay if I want to say something less than flattering, but no one else had better try it.

Scrabble game tiles

What do you say? How should you say it?

Breast cancer is a very personal issue. I’d be willing to bet there are as many sensitivities as there are women and men who have experienced this disease. Do I care if someone refers to a breast as a boob? Nope. Do I care if the use of that word offends someone? Yes. Do I worry that we will eventually paint ourselves into a corner because there are so many words, topics and issues that could offend, we become unable to have intelligent conversations? You bet.

I’m afraid I’ve opened one of those discussions where there is no answer that is absolutely right or wrong. While I want people to be sensitive to just how scary it is to have a disease like breast cancer, I don’t want them to be afraid to talk to me like a normal person. I’ve spent years trying to make sure that breast cancer doesn’t define me, so how do I make sure I’m not defining it?

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8 Responses to Do We Have to be PC When it Comes to BC?

  1. Thanks for leading me here. I followed the trail!

    Like you, I don’t want people to worry about saying or not saying the right or wrong thing to me about any of this cancer/breast stuff. It’s hard enough sometimes just to get some people to talk to me since my diagnosis. Some are still uneasy. I saw the words, “breast cancer reconstruction will make women whole again,” on a medical site. A plastic surgery medical site in fact. That’s what caused my feathers to get ruffled a bit. People in the medical profession should choose their words more carefully because reconstruction is not always an option for many reasons. A woman having breasts or not has nothing to do with her wholeness.

    I know what you mean about not wanting to paint yourself into a corner. None of us want that. Still, breast cancer is a serious disease and needs to be treated as such. Words like ta tas and boobies plastered on pink t-shirts seems to lead us in the opposite direction in my view.

    Thanks for the great post; quite an interesting read!

  2. Carole Sanek says:

    I am an 18 year Thriver. I was working as an Oncology RN before I was diagnosed, participated in support groups, did all the walks, I supported a patient’s private & personal decision – I never told anyone if I did not agree with them, because we all own our decisions.

    I changed careers and went to work in R & D in all cancers. I was all over the country working with teaching hospitals gathering info for the FDA on our treatment modality, I saw cancers no one should ever have to have let alone have a clinician see.

    Body image is a very personal issue.

    Then I was diagnosed – I had a lumpectomy and radiation. I wanted to keep my body image – today my breasts are two different sizes, and I am part of a group of women who actually regret our treatment choice. I went to see a plastic surgeon recently about doing lipo on my non-cancer side to make me “the same” again. My body is distorted and I won’t even look at myself, I avoid it.

    I want to talk about the “other side” of breast cancer. The side of those whose companies/businesses are designed to make us “whole again”. The definition of whole again is highly personal and we own it.

    When I left treatment I worked for a company that had a breast cancer business in Chicago. I fit women for prosthesis, bras, bathing suits, and more. The women who came to us wanted to look symmetrical. They wanted to look “normal” in their bathing suits. I have seen and I respect women who have mastectomies and show their chests an their scars. Again that is their choice. They feel whole the way they are. I accept that.

    Then I made a career move to being a pharmaceutical rep and it was here that I really learned how companies market their services. They take surveys, they ask for opinions, they listen to people, they ask questions and whatever words they choose to use in marketing their services comes from these studies. If they here “I want to feel whole again” over and over those are the buss words they will use. I do not see it as any company/business/surgeon trying to make us feel less than whole. I view it as a company/business/surgeon who listened to what the women who responded to their study, want.

  3. Dianne says:

    Nancy, I am so glad you followed the trail! Your thoughtful (and thought provoking) insights were what prompted my introspection. That, and I just read Pink Ribbon Blues by Gayle Sulik. In the nearly 16 years since my original diagnosis (but who’s counting?) I haven’t seen much change in the treatment — or for that matter outcomes — for women with breast cancer. Or at least not the significant changes I would hope — like CURES! I have, however, recently noticed that many brave souls are starting to act up a bit. Being a good girl and minding our Ps & Qs seems to be shifting. I embrace whatever gets someone through, but am thrilled to see women start to seriously question both authority and the status quo. And just in case you didn’t notice, you are right there leading the way!

  4. Dianne says:

    Years ago when I was still young and enthusiastic (one of those has changed!) I wanted to do a series of fund raisers for breast cancer research called Bust a Gut. The idea being that we would have amazing food and comedy. At that time Rosie O’Donnell’s talk show was all the rage, so I envisioned having her as the mistress of ceremonies and then filling a room with people who wanted to nosh, laugh and donate. I was all gung ho — until I presented it to the board of the non-profit I was involved with at the time. Several of the older women (I now make them look like spring chickens) were offended by the phrase Bust a Gut. That was my first brush with just how differently each of us approaches and feels about breast cancer. All of this to say (because I do like to talk) I found your comments intriguing because it had never occured to me that some of the words chosen to market breast cancer products come straight from our own mouths! Hmmmm? Even more to think about, huh?

  5. Anna Marie Vlad says:

    How right you are about there not being right or wrong answers. And, I do believe that we have sometimes painted ourselves into a corner with regard to being “PC”. I was diagnosed with stage IIB breast cancer in July 2010 and have survived the surgery, chemo and radiation and am well on my way with the rest of my life. I was open from the beginning about my diagnosis, treatment and recovery and welcomed any questions friends or family had. I think people are sometimes hesitant about talking about cancer, because it scares them and by bringing these discussions into the open, we can assuage some of the fear.

    I have since been appointed Executive Director for a new non-profit, Voices for Breast Cancer. Through this organization I hope to be able to reach survivors with educational information, policy development and navigational help through the daunting process of this disease. Knowledge is strength.

  6. Dianne says:

    Thanks for getting involved in the discussion. Be sure to send us information on Voices for Breast Cancer. I would love to feature information about this non-profit at some point in the future.

  7. Suzanne Apau says:

    I was diagnosed with BC eleven and ten years ago, and due to family commitments and work, chose mastectomy, both times. Reconstruction failed (ten surgeries in a two-year period) with multiple infections. When I told the plastic surgeon to remove the implants (one was infected, the other flat), he was annoyed (ruined his ‘work’), never mind how I felt! In the years since, I have felt like a freak. It didn’t help that my spouse of 30 years wouldn’t touch my breast areas. Or tell me it was ok, or that he still loved me. So, yes, I felt ugly. Last November, he told me he was in love with another woman, with breasts, and left the next day. Since then, I have lost one hundred and eleven pounds, AND am now using Amoena contacts. OMG! I am a new woman, and I am sexy! Having breasts does make a difference. This society is based on breasts, thinness and money. It will never change. And plastic surgeons will always push for larger implants, despite what we tell them.

  8. Shan Willoughby says:

    Suzanne, your story is inspiring. How frustrating that time must have been for you and to read how you overcame is truly an inspiration. Kudos to you for taking control and creating a happier you!

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