What’s In A Name


Knockers.  The Girls.  Cupcakes.  Muffins.  Tits.  Titties.  Melons.  Rack.  Bags.  Milk pails.  Tatas. Boobs.  Boobies.  Jugs.

Do these words tell you anything about the reality of breast cancer?  Me either.

Nor do they tell you anything about women.  What they do tell you about is how our culture labels women.  At best, what they tell me is that humans are fond of jokes, slang and euphemisms, and at worst, that humans are also prone to slurs, innuendo and objectification when they are afraid or hateful or ignorant.  No doubt about it — our culture does seem to be obsessed with breasts.  And it uses breasts as a kind of shorthand to identify us — as female perhaps, sexual certainly, sex objects frequently, but not as whole human beings.  It’s hard to sum up a human being in trite slang.  Human beings are a lot more complicated.  Human beings are mortal. Human beings get cancer, and, all too often, die from it.

Bummer, huh?


Killer Tits

So, if you’re a woman, and you get cancer in your breasts, and you have a choice between keeping them intact and dying, or losing them and living, what do you think you’d do?  Yeah, I thought so.

You can get reconstructed breast-shaped tissue where your original breasts used to be.  You can get implants inserted under your chest muscles to take their place.  You can live without part of them, or without one of them, or even without both of them, and you can choose to use prostheses to fill up the empty space in your bras, bathing suits and camisoles.  Or not.  Thankfully, we do have a choice in that.  Thankfully, these choices can help us feel normal again.  But these choices are driven by wanting to live — without cancer.  Because cancer can kill you.  Living without your original breasts is not easy.  Having them amputated or mutilated by surgery is not fun or cute or simple or painless.  But it can keep you alive.

Racks & Muffins

So, when did breast cancer awareness become more focused on our breasts than on cancer?  Is it just another reflection of our culture?  Is it because our culture is so obsessed with breasts that it slides right past the C word?  Has the cancer part of breast cancer become a secondary concern?  There’s no question that it’s much more pleasant to be aware of breasts than of cancer.  Maybe that’s why so many awareness campaigns seem to revolve around saving our breasts.  But is that really the point?  What’s the point of saving our tatas if we don’t save our lives? Do we really need more awareness of our breasts? Don’t we have perhaps way too much awareness of them already, in our magazines, on our billboards, in our TV and internet ads, in our music videos, and among countless other representations in everyday life? Breast cancer may start in our breasts, but ultimately it’s all about cancer.  It’s certainly not about being a pop star or a centerfold.

Broken Jugs?

Maybe what we need is more semantic accuracy.  As much as I hate medical terminology at times, maybe if we used it, we would do a better job of raising genuine awareness.  After all, there is no one kind of cancer that can be encompassed by the phrase ‘breast cancer.’  Maybe we need to call a spade a shovel, as my mother used to say.  After all, we have lots of terminology to choose from. There’s ductal carcinoma in situ, invasive ductal carcinoma, invasive lobular carcinoma, inflammatory breast cancer, and metastatic breast cancer, among others.  Maybe if we insisted on using all these names, it would make the cancer part of breast cancer harder to gloss over and ignore.  It might be harder to fit any of them on a pink bracelet, but it would also make it harder for fundraising groups to forget what we’re really talking about.

Knock, knock…

The problem is, it’s hard to tell sometimes what awareness groups are trying to make people aware of. All those euphemisms, all that coy, cutesy stuff, all the endless pink merchandising, is it making people aware or rendering them unconscious?

Shortly after I was diagnosed, dozens of well-meaning friends began to buy me pink things and invite me to endless fundraisers and events.  Four days after I finished radiation, in October of 2008, a couple of work friends invited me to a special Providence Waterfire celebration called Flames of Hope, organized by the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Research Foundation, a local organization that provides a lot of practical help.  When the day arrived, I had to decline the invitation and stay home.  My armpit had blown up a few days before — a common occurrence after radiation — and my breast and armpit were so red and sore that all I could do was lie on my back, naked from the waist up, gently slathering Silvadene on my crispy skin, and laying a soft, cool, flannel-covered gel pack over the entire area.  And taking ibuprofen.  And occasionally whimpering.  I remember calling one of those friends to let her know.  I’ll never know exactly what she was thinking, but I do remember that moment of stunned silence when I told her why I couldn’t go, followed by an awkward expression of disappointment.  She didn’t ask if there was anything she could do for me, or offer to come by and perhaps bring me dinner, or even offer to work some of the hours I was supposed to put in the following day.  Instead, my work friends trotted off without me, to enjoy a balmy autumn evening of breast cancer awareness.  Later, they gave me a pink lanyard for my work ID badge that they’d found at the event.


It’s not that I’m a dull, boring person.  It’s not like I don’t know how to have fun, or that I don’t have a sense of humor.  And I happen to like cupcakes.  Very much, in fact.  It’s just that one of my cupcakes threatened to kill me.  And you can’t really wear substitute cupcakes inside your clothes.  But because I’m more than the sum of my cupcakes, I was able to sacrifice one of them and keep on living.  And the rest of me, I’m happy to say, is still very much intact.

Just wanted to acknowledge Nancy Creative, from whom I Photoshopped an Easter cupcake image.

Please click on the post title or the comment link below to post a response.

This entry was written by Kathi, posted on Thursday, April 21, 2011 at 10:04 pm, filed under Attitude, Fighting the Pink Peril and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

27 Responses to “What’s In A Name”

  1. Kathi, another wonderful addition to the canon of cogent discussion on the disturbing topic of the sexualization of breast cancer. I have been following the posts written by Lani, Katie, AnnaR, Peggy et al and the comments of so many others. I have nothing more to add except my own voice of protest and to agree with AnnaR when she points out in a comment on Peggy Orenstein’s blog that “the horrible irony in all of this being, that breast cancer treatment itself is one of the most desexualizing experiences any one can ever endure, and yet we continue to be told that sexy and fun is the most effective way to bring in the big bucks for the breast cancer cause”.

  2. Absolutely. Brilliant.


  3. Love it. But it makes me want to smack your work friends with a big fish. Sheesh.

  4. I really loved your take on all things breasts and breast cancer. I must say, after living with inflammatory breast cancer since last September – and still receiving chemo – I am not a huge fan of the color pink. I heartily agree with you that there is far too much emphasis on breasts and far too little on cancer. Perhaps people like you – good writers with strong points of view, and just enough sass, can eventually change that. I love the idea of using the actual medical terms and going to an educational route. I think very many people think that breast cancer is breast cancer and that’s that. In my own case, I have even learned that within IBC there are subtypes and what worked for someone else just might not work for me. I just think there really is much more to learn than the general public – and too many doctors – simply aren’t aware of this important fact. Thanks for your efforts!

  5. Very well put. Thank you so much for a well thought out, well written and so ‘right on’ blog.

  6. Loved this. Thanks for sharing on this. I had my breast removed to save my life (invasive ductal carcinoma). I don’t want to be indentified by these crude euphemisms. And now that my cancer has spread to my bones and I have joined the world of MBC, I definitely don’t feel it’s about the breast itself anymore but the cancer. You are an awesome writer and never fail to say what I and so many more of us are thinking. Thank you so much for what you do!

  7. What Katie said. You took the words right out of my mouth — only you said it much more eloquently than I ever could. Off to share.

  8. So well written! Thanks for sharing this. I love the pictures that go with the names, and I unfortunately can completely relate to the story you tell about all your friends buying you pink stuff and wanting to rally around you for fundraisers but seemingly forgetting the reality of the situation..more likely scared to death to face the reality.

  9. Kathi, I think you spoke for all of us here. Just perfect and you’ve inspired me to say Invasive Ductal Carcinoma instead of breast cancer from here on out. Let’s see if that opens somes eyes.

  10. You go, girl! I think people like breast cancer as a distant abstraction–a cause they can vaguely help by buying something, going to a party etc. But when confronted with the realities of the real thing (someone dealing with radiation effects) it’s jarring (and as your friend found out, often a buzzkill). What did you do with the lanyard?

  11. Loved this. I’ve been pretty blunt when people ask what sort I’ve got. Luckily there’s no cutesy badges for anal cancer. Shudders at thought! xx

  12. Thank you, once again my sister, for saying what I feel.
    I can relate to everything…everything that you wrote.
    I always like to think that my breasts didn’t define me. Well they didn’t, but then again, they were large and obvious, so, like it or not, in a way they did.
    Gone, of course now…but I am indeed still here, yet to be defined.

  13. Kathi,
    This post tells it like it is. And with humor no less! Thank you!

  14. After the paragraph under “Knock Knock”, all I could say is: Wow.
    That is such a powerful example!

  15. “When did breast cancer awareness become more focused on our breasts than on cancer? Is it just another reflection of our culture? Is it because our culture is so obsessed with breasts that it slides right past the C word?” Such great questions— but they are so inconvenient, so disruptive of our societal focus on pink entertainment, so blasphemous to the pink consumption machine, so anti-climactic to the feel-good festivities that have swallowed up so much of breast cancer advocacy, so sobering. Thank you for asking them.

  16. Kathi you left out fun bags, bazoombas and norks. I guess we need more awareness on slang for BREASTS. Another brilliant post….have I told you lately how much I lurve you??? 😉

  17. Thanks, everyone! I confess it took me a while to get this one out, because I was just so stinkin’ verklempt & farmutshet (aka ‘ready to cry’ & ‘worn out’) by the whole subject, my snark gear got stuck in park.

    Mizgreenjeans, there are a lot of folks who need a smack upside the head with a big fish. In the case of my colleagues — and we all work as health care clinicians, mind you — another woman in our department was just getting back to some kind of normal after being diagnosed with colon cancer a few years before (she survived, thank goodness), so we were all still pretty shell-shocked. Not to excuse anyone, because that incident was a serious eye-opener for me, but when I was also diagnosed, I think some of my colleagues had a visceral fear reaction along the lines of feeling like it was all just too close to home — like maybe cancer was contagious.

    LOL, Dolly!! Don’t tempt us!! I bet a few of us could come up with a few appropriately tacky ‘suggestions.’

    Katherine, I have this pink gift bag of pink stuff into which I stuff the pink stuff. I keep it stashed in a dark corner in case I need to wind myself up into a nice snarky froth in order to write another blistering post…

    Anna, I also left out ‘headlights.’ 😉 And I lurve you, too!!

  18. Brilliant Kathi. Thanks. Nothing like a bit of snark to cheer me up!

  19. Pink merchandise is such overkill. That’s why I wear a turquoise ribbon. People don’t know what it stands for, so it gives me an opportunity to tell them about lymphedema. And they listen with respect instead of rolling their eyes and asking me with disdain why breast cancer gets so much coverage, but no other kinds of cancer. The turquoise pin is a good conversation starter and much better than those ridiculous slangie, supposedly clever words for breasts used to get attention for the cause.
    Brilliant post!

  20. […] Ta-Tas Talk Back” where you will find links to the many great blog posts written by Kathi, Katie and AnnaR […]

  21. […] The Accidental Amazon recently asked: “When did breast cancer awareness become more focused on our breasts than on cancer? Is it because our culture is so obsessed with breasts that it slides right past the C word?” […]

  22. Brilliant posting! You said it all: cleverly and amazingly.

  23. […] blogger who goes by the name of The Accidental Amazon recently asked: “When did breast cancer awareness become more focused on our breasts than on […]

  24. […] Representative Post: What’s In A Name […]

  25. […] What’s In A Name? by the Accidental Amazon […]

  26. Kathi, loving this post! I think part of the labeling has to do with wanting to avoid reality. Just like when our feelings get discounted after treatments, because we are supposed to be done with cancer. Like you mentioned under “Knock, knock…” even during treatments, people want to believe everything is and will be OK. People want to cover up their eyes and ears and believe that we can “overcome everything” life throws at us (and to some extend we cope); that there is no ending to our lives, at a young age, for example. Society deals with denial better than reality and it shows through pinktober.

  27. Yes, denial is definitely a big factor in this kind of nonsense, Rebecca. And it seems like, just when you think they can’t come up with any more nonsense, someone does. “Show Your Straps???” That’s a new one this year. How does that possibly contribute to ‘awareness?’ Oy.

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