Column: Save the women

I’m sure it comes as no surprise that it is now Breast Cancer Awareness month. We see cute slogans plastered all over tee-shirts and social media. “Save the ta-ta’s!” “Save second base.” “It’s all about the boobs.” “Big or small, save them all.” “Save man’s best friend.” “Save motor-boating.”

Let’s stop sexualizing the third-leading cause of death among women. Let’s stop equating women’s femininity and wellness with their breasts. What about the survivors who had to have a double-mastectomy to survive? Are they less of a survivor because they weren’t able to keep their breasts?

Sure, these slogans can be “funny” and can spread the message of awareness. I get that, and I appreciate that. But let’s stop worrying about a woman preserving her femininity and worry about saving lives. Let’s stop turning what is often a fatal disease into a sexualized joke.

“Save man’s best friend.” What. A. Slogan. It’s like saying, ladies, when you’re fighting to survive a disease that can kill you, please keep in mind your significant other. Wouldn’t it be sad if they no longer had your breasts to look at? Your breasts go hand-in-hand with your sexuality, right? No man wants a flat-chested woman! Worry about saving your boobs — for men.

Not only can it be highly offensive to people undergoing the disease, it’s a constant reminder to survivors who couldn’t “save second base” of their self-image that has changed, usually for the negative. It’s a constant reminder that they survived cancer — but they didn’t save their boobs. Do those scars on their flat chests make them less of a survivor? Do we need to remind them that, to the world, they’re not viewed as feminine as they once were?

My mother was diagnosed with stage 3 cancer when she was 37 years old. You’re typically not even supposed to start getting mammograms until your late 40’s or early 50’s if you have no family history of breast cancer. My mom knew no one with breast cancer and had no family history of cancer.

When my mother was diagnosed, she was worried about her life. She was worried about being able to see me and my sister grow up. She was worried about being able to be there for my sister through her illness. She was worried about being able to get an income for our family.

The last thing she was worried about were her physical breasts. Her primary concern, along with most other cancer patients’ concerns, was getting the disease removed from her body.

Women with breast cancer can lose their breasts due to mastectomies. They can also lose their hair due to chemotherapy. They also, often times, lose their sex drive because of their lower estrogen levels. It’s also common after treatment to gain a significant amount of weight due to the treatment with steroids and chemotherapy. All of these things can make them feel like less of a woman/less attractive according to society’s standards.

My neighbors used to come over and laugh at “the bald lady” when my mother was going through chemotherapy. They pointed out her losing the things that made her feel beautiful and womanly. So, why do we put so much emphasis on saving the breasts when so many women can’t save their breasts? Women fight, and fight, and fight to survive cancer. Cancer invades their life when they’re not expecting it. And those who survive put up tough battles. Why don’t we recognize that? Why don’t we focus more on early detection and at-home self-exams?

My mother never once turned to my father and said, “I sure hope the doctor can save my breasts!” or looked at her doctor and said, “I don’t care what it takes, what you have to do, SAVE THESE TA-TA’S! They’re my husband’s best friend.”

But she would stay up and cry at night, listening to me and my sister laugh, scared it may be the last time. She would help me with my homework while she was laying in this hospital bed because she wanted to still be able to be a part of my life and do things my friends’ moms still did. She wanted to save her life and every aspect of it. She is more than a pair of breasts.

I have nothing wrong with promoting awareness. Breast cancer was seen as a taboo subject that people weren’t open to talk about until recent years. Now, it’s everywhere. It’s almost become the “cool” thing to talk about, oftentimes with little education following it.

The pink ribbons everywhere serve a purpose and do bring awareness, but when people simply wear shirts that say things like “save second base” no one is being educated. People are realizing that someone is wearing a pink shirt about breast cancer and that’s it. We need to promote early detection and awareness in a proactive way. Not just cutesy slogans that serve no purpose.

I do have a problem on reducing these women’s lives to a single body part. My mother would still have the same amount of worth to me, and everyone else in her life, with or without her breasts. I love her for her soul. For the way she lights up when she’s passionate about something. For her patience. For her heart. I am thankful she survived and kept her life. I am glad they saved her — every part of her.

So, let’s agree to stop talking about saving the breasts. Start talking about saving the woman — her body, her mind and her soul. Every part of her. Start talking about removing the disease. Start promoting statistics on early-detection. Cancer isn’t a joke, nor is it a cutesy slogan, it’s a life-threatening disease. We need to show empathy and compassion for the women going through cancer and appreciate them as a whole — and see their worth that goes beyond a pair of breasts.

Karima Neghmouche can be contacted at [email protected].