Birth, Babies, and Beyond

Pregnancy, birth, and parenting

My girls, oops I mean my breasts

We're rebelling against the pink, now let's call a breast a breast.

CNN's text for a piece about a new kind of breast cancer reconstruction surgery read: "Cancer Survivor Gets Her Girls Back." (My italics). Yup, you saw that correctly. I think the patient called them her girls and was referring to her own breast. But still.

We have evolved to the point of being able to say and write the word "vagina," can't we just call breasts breasts? 

I am thrilled that we are finally in the thick of the pink-backlash. I used to cringe every time I went for my mammogram in the shocking pink office, handed my pink robe and changed in the pink dressing room. Breast cancer isn't cute or pretty or pink. Slate's DoubleX ran a special Burn-your-pink-edition  which spotlighted Peggy Orenstein's piece in the New York Times magazine.

As Orenstein writes, pink sugar-coats a very real illness. Anyone who has gone through the cancer ordeal knows it's a whole lot different from running a 5K or walking from one Avon water stop to the next. Or as Orenstein put it, "a funny thing happened on the way to distigmatization. The experience of women with cancer, women like Rollin, Black, Ford and Rockefeller-women like me-got lost. Rather than truly breaking the silences, acceptable narratives of coping emerged, each tied up with a pretty pink bow."

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I've been bothered with the pink for as long as Barbara Ehrenreich has been bitching about it, and so happy to have a growing cadre of complainers. It's not that we don't want to support the women who are thriving, but we can't forget those who are not. Elaine Schattner, an oncologist who has had breast cancer, talks about the new meaning of the word survivor. As she says, "Just as the term can support or reflect upon a patient's courage and tenacity, it might alienate or wound someone who knows she can't alter the course of her disease."

Now that we have been marching for survivors and congratulating breast cancer patients who are lucky enough to have found their cancers early and even luckier to have the less aggressive form of cancer, let's not forget about the women whose cancer may have spread, or may be dealing with recurrences or living with metastatic disease. They, too, are survivors.

And while we're at it, can we call a spade a spade and a breast a breast. My girls are 10 and 14 and I love them dearly. The other things, the ones that CNN called girls, are my nippled mammary glands that I used to nurse them. I call them breasts.

Randi Hutter Epstein, M.D., is the author of Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank.

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