Language

By virtue of growing up in a culture where cancer is characterized as the ultimate enemy invading the body; where the body becomes battleground, split from the mind that must become a disembodied warrior; where the patient becomes a soldier, entreated to follow absolutely the orders of the heroic medical professional; and where an aggressive, search and destroy strategy often inflicts more damage than the foe, the [patients’] experience is virtually predetermined.

— Kristen Garrison, “The Personal Is Rhetorical”

See also: Cultural Resistance; Hope; Fear (Mongering); Illness Narratives; Infantilization; She-ro; Sexual Objectification; Trivialization

After Kristen Garrison’s mother died of cancer, she wrote about the difficulty she had writing her mother’s obituary. In a scholarly article about breast cancer rhetoric, she wrote:

“Describing her life was easy enough. Describing who survived her straightforward. But I had no words to describe her death, and I stumbled over, resisted, what dad, my sister, and my aunts finally advised: she lost a four-year battle with cancer. I had the most difficulty with the verb.”

As a university English instructor, Garrison’s inability to access words beyond the typical cancer vernacular had nothing to do with her command of the English language. It was more simply the fact that the cancer dictionary has a finite number of words.

Courage. Strength. Hope. Fight. Survive. Win. Celebrate. Give. Now. Today. Forever.

These words are carefully injected in pink ribbon promotions and awareness materials to capture the hearts and wallets of well-meaning consumers. The formula morphs into any number of awareness campaigns and fun-filled activities from pub crawls and fashion shows to the now-commonplace runs and walks “for the cure.”

The SUSAN G. KOMEN FOR THE CURE® word magnets (pictured below) were included in a mailed appeal for donations. They emphasize the mainstream language of pink ribbon culture, one that, for many, is insufficient.

Scanned by Gayle Sulik, 2010.


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