October is “Breast Cancer Awareness Month” in the United States. If you are like me you dread October. Everything from football players’ jerseys to your potato chips turns cotton candy pink.
Now, imagine being a breast cancer survivor seeing your disease turned into a promotional gig. A disease which requires you to decide whether or not to remove your breasts (and in many cases, your ovaries) and then think what it might feel like to experience that within the context of middle school-level humor?
The past few weeks our nation has focused its attention on the behavior of a seventeen-year-old boy toward a fifteen-year-old girl in 1982. We watched with rapt attention as an adult woman told a panel of U.S. Senators she felt violated by the unwanted attentions of an inebriated boy and his cohort. Women were outraged. Social media became a sounding board once again for all of us to share our grievances. I saw countless women campaigning to educate young men, to teach them to respect women…to respect our bodies…to respect our boundaries.
Yet this same week I received the quarterly newsletter from my state’s breast cancer coalition, an organization founded by and staffed entirely by women. Each issue is filled with images of pink-drenched, happily grinning fundraisers holding over-sized checks representing monies they had donated to the organization. The fundraisers, while I am sure they mean well, inevitably resort to slang when referring to my breasts.
Feel Your Boobies, Save the Ta-Tas, the Ta-Ta Trot, Shooters for Hooters and Jams for Jugs…I can assure you not one of those absurd, immature epithets for my breasts was used in conversation during my discussions with my oncologist, throughout my four months of chemo, or at any time before or after my multiple surgeries. When I told my four-year-old son I had been diagnosed with cancer, I did not say, “Sweetie, mommy has a disease in one of her jugs.” Nor did my family mourn the loss of my hooters when they were removed on February 1, 2010.
Why do you think otherwise sensitive women are able to recognize the absurdity in a man’s use of crude slang (think Donald Trump on the bus with Billy Bush), but when it comes to organizing fundraisers for MY disease, immature frat boy humor is acceptable? Can you imagine fundraising campaigns with names like Bocce for Ball Sacks, Jams for Junk or Sticks for Dicks? Does anyone raise money for anal cancer or vaginal cancer using terms better suited for the pages of black plastic-wrapped magazines? NO.
I am a BRCA2+ breast cancer survivor, in other words, my cancer is genetic. My father passed his breast cancer gene to me from his mother. And, when my young son turned thirteen I talked to him about breast health and being vigilant regarding changes in his breast tissue. I had to speak honestly with him; there is a 50/50 possibility he may carry the gene mutation which will result in breast cancer. I had that conversation with my son. My SON. I didn’t tell him to “feel [his] boobies,” nor did I refer to his chest as his ta-tas. And my future grandchildren, male or female…I think not of their hooters when I worry that gene mutation may continue to be passed through my family.
We are all sensitive creatures.
I wonder if the fundraisers obsessed with boobies, ta-tas, hooters and jugs ever stop to think of respecting men…or respecting their bodies? Do they recognize their crass, pink bumper stickers model the very behavior they railed against all week on social media? Do they understand that by desensitizing young men to the true purpose of breasts (as mammary glands), they are creating the very men they despise?
I have learned no one enjoys hearing these truths when I air them every October. Many of my fellow survivors celebrate, dancing around all month in pink boas and Fight Like a Girl t-shirts. Not every one of us is an extrovert. Not every one of us attended American Cancer Society “Look Better, Feel Better” workshops aimed at teaching us how to apply our make-up so that we “look better.” Not every one of us thinks using middle school slang for breasts qualifies as “hope and humor.” And, we don’t all love pink. Many of us have grandfathers, fathers, brothers, sons, uncles and nephews who are at risk for this pink-saturated, feather-boa-draped cancer of the breasts.
If, as they say…The Future is Female, may the females learn to practice what they preach. ♥