A Rose By Any Other Name…

The language of cancer. Are you a survivor? A patient? A warrior? I marvel at how many words we have in our effort to quantify, qualify and translate the cancer experience. On some level I think that’s wonderful. A rich vocabulary stands to give us more opportunities to find that one descriptor that is just right. However, there are moments when I wonder if our choices fragment us. Does language become a barrier, rather than a bridge? I recently saw someone write “cancer victim” and I just know what my fellow bloggers and tweeters would think, and let’s just say it wouldn’t be supportive! But it makes me wonder: Has political correctness brought us to the point where there is no longer a way to engage in dialog without offending one another?
I saw it happen recently on a blog. Not with labels, but a similar concept. A woman, undiagnosed I suspect, proudly announced that she was headed out to partake in a “pink” event. Local restaurants were offering an array of pink food, and theoretically donating some portion of profits to local breast cancer centers. I could just see a meal of cosmopolitans, grilled salmon and strawberry shortcake — all in the name of a cure! The best one? The “Save My Melons” cocktail. I can just imagine the look on the face of a waiter, were I to mention it’s too late to save my melons…I left them in pathology. Was I offended? Hell, yes. But any number of fellow bloggers (was that sexist of me?) jumped on the bandwagon of “how dare you???” I get it, and it was my instinct as well, as I share their indignation. Having seen the original blogger appropriately “educated,” I begged off and came here. But it left me with the question of how do we connect with those who don’t yet “get it.”

So tell me…what IS your initial reaction when the language used by others offends, insults or hurts? What language works for you? Are you a “thriver”? A “victim”? A “why me”? A “why not me”? Can we still honor those who chose labels other than ours? Are labels a help or a hindrance? And when the language is upsetting or offensive, how do you open a conversation? How do you invite others in to see the world through your eyes? Or can only those who have been here truly understand? And if we can’t find a way to translate, do we all run the risk of walking this path alone?

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. sercala
    Jul 16, 2011 @ 07:34:05

    I think that the problem is “But it left me with the question of how do we connect with those who don’t yet “get it.”
    It is not a question of others not getting it – what they do not get is that your opinion/feelings or the opinion/feelings of the majority is somehow superior. I am not a lover of pink but I do not spend my time being offended by the pink – after all it raises money for breast cancer research, support and education. And to be honest I am trying to live my life. Try having another cancer – a cartoon blogger with colon cancer once asked where is the brown ribbon? Or how about mental illness. The commercial world is not interested in raising money for it. I am sure both those groups would be happy to take over the funds that pink provides. I think it would good if we all just let everyone feel the way the way they feel. You do not “get” me but that is fine with me. You are the person you are and your voice is valuable.


  2. TalkAboutHealth
    Jul 16, 2011 @ 11:42:13

    Great points and questions Lori. I just went to a Komen fundraiser party this week and had a great time. But at the same time, I know most of the people attending did not “get it.” The attendees at the event all had a great time and I am sure it made them feel good that they were helping support the breast cancer community. And for those attendees, it is not a priority to “get it.” They want to help and they do not want to offend anyone, but they have a lot of other issues that are more important to them at the moment.

    And truthfully, I am still learning the nuances of cancer communities and survivorship. As you mention above, everyone has a different point of view and feelings and almost most want to be heard. I believe the best thing for us to do is to keep communicating about these issues do our best to understand others perspectives, just as we expect them to understand ours.


  3. CancerCultureChronicles
    Jul 17, 2011 @ 04:31:02

    In this case, words do matter. They underpin a culture that infantilizes, trivializes, sexualizes, and indeed profits from a disease that has become more about “saving breasts” rather than the lives that it destroys and still takes. Some of us speak out more loudly than others, and some of us take more extreme points of view than others, but to me that’s what’s important. To actually have an opinion and voice it. People are starting to “get it” and are starting to ask questions like “where does all the money go” and “and are we actually getting anywhere in the fight to end breast cancer”? My point about all of this is that our belief system about the breat cancer culture is a continuum. Where each of us fit on that is a personal choice, but there’s also a bigger picture there which sooner or later we’re going to have to face. Change IS coming. Language plays a huge role in shaping the lens through which we view the breast cancer experience. Questioning the “words” is an important piece of the puzzle whether we like it or not. I for one like it and will continue to question. How can I not?


  4. Jan Hasak
    Jul 17, 2011 @ 17:40:15

    Lori, you are absolutely right. I’m one of those offended bloggers who got on the bandwagon to “scold” the “Save the melons” people. My personality is such that I try not to offend anyone, and end up pleasing no one. I am fine with survivor (it’s certainly way superior to victim) as well as thriver (which may sound too rosy, but that’s ok with me). I’m also good with the words “cancer journey” as I tend to use that expression myself. I was actually surprised that some did not like that expression. So instead I used “pot-holed path” or something of that nature to indicate that having cancer is not a sweet trip down lollypop lane. It’s not easy, and I’m glad you had the courage to raise this issue so we can discuss it civilly and avoid unintentionally isolating ourselves from well-meaning non-cancer folks. (And I like your joke about “fellow.” I’ll have to think before using that adjective again anytime soon with women readers, lol.)


  5. feistybluegecko
    Jul 26, 2011 @ 13:09:30

    Great to find your blog – I have some catching up to do!

    I also struggle with language – I find it so difficult to find words to convey what I want to in a way which does not make me cringe. I also find that my feelings change regarding some terms and might make me prickle more some days than others! I also find that in the strange time after the heavy, all-consuming treatments I am far more likely to be prickly than I was earlier!

    Thanks for a very thought provoking post
    Philippa (aka Feisty Blue Gecko)


  6. Paul
    Aug 06, 2011 @ 09:16:38

    I keep learning and learning…


  7. Marcia
    Sep 12, 2011 @ 20:07:41

    There’s a book entitled “words that Hurt,Words that Heal” and your blog brought it to mind. Perhaps we the “Survivor Community” need to have a dictionary of sorts so that “our language” might be better understood by the community at large? Not technical terms, but more an encyclopedic coverage of the terms we use to describe our individual “journeys”?? We do indeed seem to have our own “language”.
    I enjoy reading your blog posts,


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