I can still remember the day, nearly thirteen years ago, that my mother told me she was going to have a surgery that would take away her breasts.
I don’t remember exactly what she said, but she was calm and matter-of-fact about it, just like she and my father had been about every detail of that “cancer” thing. She told me that she was getting the surgery, and getting rid of her breasts, to make sure that the cancer would not happen again.
And I, nine years old at the time, replied, “Well, it’s okay if you lose your soft parts, because I can still put my head on your belly.”
It would take me almost a decade to think about my mother’s double mastectomy in a more serious light. Back then, I had no idea how dangerous breast cancer really was, how miserable chemotherapy was, and how close to dying my mother actually came. I didn’t have any reason to have that kind of idea, because my parents made every effort to keep life running normally and to keep my mother from dying. Because my mother decided to give up her breasts for her health.
I grew up with a mother who had a pair of scars on her chest instead of a pair of breasts.
And that’s why, when I hear the voice on an otherwise enjoyable radio station announce every day their upcoming inaugural “Tee-Up for Ta-Tas” golf tournament and breast cancer awareness fundraiser, I get angry.
I get angry because the words we use to describe our actions matter just as much as the actions themselves.
I get angry because phrases like “Tee-Up for Ta-Tas,” “I Heart Boobies,” and “Save Second Base” use objectifying language to reframe the issue of breast cancer to focus on the breasts that are at stake, rather than the lives.
I get angry because apparently people think that the only way to get men interested in saving people’s lives is to reframe the issue and make it about saving the women’s sex appeal.
I get angry because, for some people, that is the only way to get them interested in saving people’s lives.
I get angry because turning the fight against breast cancer into a fight to save women’s sex appeal reduces women’s value to their breasts, silences the people of other genders who also suffer from breast cancer, and turns a serious issue into an awkward joke.
I get angry because the people who create campaigns like this clearly think that the most important part of this article’s fourth paragraph is “who had a pair of scars on her chest instead of a pair of breasts,” instead of “I grew up with a mother.”
I get angry because the people who create and attend events with those names would look at my mother – my wonderful, strong, ALIVE mother – and think that she “lost” the fight because she lost her breasts.
Of course I am happy that people want to raise money for the fight against breast cancer. Of course I would love to see a world in which mastectomies were obsolete, where no one needed to undergo surgery or months of radiation treatments in order to see their children grow up. I now have some idea of how hard my parents must have worked to keep my life seeming normal in that year in which everything could have changed forever – and of course I hope that I will never have to actually, personally come to know how hard it was.
But having a mother with no “ta-tas” is infinitely and unquestionably better than having no mother at all.