The B word and the C word
Trent Ernst, Editor
Was there ever two words that were never meant to be together more than the word breast and the word cancer.
It’s probably my inherent guy-ness, but mention the word breast and my ears perk up. (Yes, I know it’s a softball. Swing away.) My mind automatically goes into “pay attention, this is going to be interesting,” mode.
And immediately following one of the greatest words in the English language, you add in one of the worst. It’s like a slap in the face, or a glass of cold water down the front of the pants. These are not words that belong together. And yet there they are. Breast cancer. It’s like bacon-wrapped dog poo, or pizza with anchovies. These things should not be.
To be fair, follow any mention of any body part with the C word and it’s an immediate downer, but this one is…well, it’s the juxtaposing of beauty and ugliness. Of all that is good and right and lovely about the world with all that is not.
And I know that it’s not just me. Nor is it even just men who find the most feminine of body parts fascinating (coughleesicough). Women who have had breast cancer and have had mastectomies talk about the fact that a part of their identity, a part of their femininity, is missing. It is both a physical and a psychic phenomenon, a loss of a part of their being as much as it is a part of their body.
So much of what it means to be a woman is carried about in bras. While you (a completely hypothetical female serving as a straw man, er, woman in this discussion) might not think so, Joni Mitchell said it best when she wrote “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.” This isn’t to say that women who have had mastectomies cease to be women, just that it is often harder on their sense of self-identity than they might have first thought.
The trouble is, breast cancer is not something that’s going to go away anytime soon. Breast cancer is the fourth-most common form of cancer, accounting for 28% of all the new cancer cases in women, making it the single-most common form of cancer in women (we’ll talk about the third most common form of cancer in a couple of weeks. That, my friends, is what’s called fore-shadowing). Since there are over 200 different types of cancer, breast cancer seems to be carrying a higher-than-normal percentage of the load.
While breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in women, it is not the most dangerous. More women die from lung cancer than breast cancer. Not that this is a good thing. Cancer in all its forms is devastating, and the more that can be done to eradicate cancer, the better.
British Columbians can be proud that the five-year survival rate for women is 91.8%, making it one of the highest in the world.
Breast cancer is not just something that happens to women, though they are more than a hundred times more likely to get it. Ironically, though not in a “ha ha, isn’t that funny way”, men are more likely to die from breast cancer as it is so infrequent, it is often not diagnosed in time.
In recent years there has been a bit of a backlash. Breast cancer, say some, has received a disproportionate share of resources and attention, with pink ribbon campaigns and I love Boobies bracelets and even an iPhone app called “Your Man Reminder”, featuring mostly naked, muscle-bound dudes reminding women to take proper care of their breasts. The “Keep a Breast Foundation” (yes, Virginia, there really is a Keep a Breast Foundation) even offers painted breast casts for sale. There are breast cancer camps, the Breastfest film fest, and of course, breast cancer awareness month.
But here’s the thing. People are still dying of breast cancer because it wasn’t detected early enough. Which tells me that even though there’s a glut of information about it, not everyone has gotten the memo yet. So I write this editorial in the hopes that women will take the time to know, not to live in fear, but to arm themselves with knowledge. To remind them to take the necessary steps to detect breast cancer. And to encourage people to do what they can to support breast cancer research.
Because the sooner we stop using those two words in the same sentence, the happier I’ll be.