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.
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?