Stop Trivializing Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is a deadly illness and we need to stop using juvenile language to talk about it.

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FILE - In this Saturday, Oct. 16, 2010 file photo, some of an estimated 45,000 people participate in the Susan B. Komen Race for the Cure in Little Rock, Ark. The nation's leading breast-cancer charity, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, is halting its partnerships with Planned Parenthood affiliates in 2012 - creating a bitter rift, linked to the abortion debate, between two iconic organizations that have assisted millions of women. Planned Parenthood says the cutoff, primarily affecting grants for breast exams, results from Komen bowing to pressure from anti-abortion activists. Komen says the key reason is that Planned Parenthood is under investigation in Congress - a probe launched by a conservative Republican who was urged to act by anti-abortion groups.

Despite the brouhaha over the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation's battle with Planned Parenthood, legions of pink-clad walkers were on the streets of Washington last weekend to raise money for breast cancer research. The Komen group's decision (quickly reversed) to stop giving money to the family-planning and women's health network because it was "under congressional investigation" was a distressing one. But the strong turnout last week showed that people are refusing to let one ill-advised move prevent them from paying attention to eradicating a deadly disease.

And breast cancer is a deadly illness, affecting as many as one in nine women in her lifetime. It's a terrifying thing to go through, and those who survive after treatment worry about a recurrence the rest of their lives.

So can we stop, already, with the stupid slogans that sexualize an illness and demean women?

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Catholic contraception controversy.]

"Saving the Tatas" said one T-shirt. Or "Saving Second Base." Or even, "Saving the Boobies." What is the point, here—that women dying of breast cancer or losing a breast or two to a mastectomy only matters because it deprives men of sexual pleasure? And aren't we past the point where we have to come up with demeaning nicknames for female anatomy? It's irritating enough to hear and read such references on television or T-shirts (the "I [heart] Boobies" T-shirt I observed a grown man sporting in Las Vegas recently was a stunner). But when we're talking about actual disease and death, is it so difficult to use the word "breasts?"  Prostate cancer affects a lot of men, especially as they age. But I can't imagine a woman wearing a T-shirt (in blue, perhaps—for boys!) that says, "Saving Mr. Happy."

A little humor can go a long way to ease tension and fear. Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, a breast cancer survivor who endured a double mastectomy, quipped that when she is asked whether her breasts are fake, she says, "Of course they're fake. The real ones tried to kill me." Her breasts, that is. Not her boobies or tatas or any other juvenile phrase. So gentlemen, if you're tempted to wear a T-shirt that says "Saving Second Base," consider this: It's not about you. It's about the women who are at risk of getting very sick and dying. Really, it trumps the inconvenience of not having another set of breasts to look at.

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