Wait Just a Minute! Words Matter!

Recently, I stumbled upon a blog post with this title, “Breast Reconstruction Makes Breast Cancer Patients Whole Again After Mastectomy.”


This particular choice of words immediately made me bristle. In fact, I found them down right irritating.


It’s the definitive nature of the statement that annoys, no offends me.

Breast reconstruction makes breast cancer patients whole again after mastectomy.

It doesn’t say breast reconstruction might help make you feel better about yourself. It doesn’t say it might make you feel whole again.

No, it says, breast reconstruction makes breast cancer patients whole again. Hmm. 

I couldn’t get the statement out of my head. That’s usually a sign a blog post is percolating.

This is when having your own blog comes in handy.

This particular title was on a plastic surgery website, so maybe it’s not all that surprising, but yet…

I applaud them for trying to educate women about the process of reconstruction and the options available to them. This is a good thing. However, making implied judgments about the decision is over-stepping.

With or without breasts, women are whole – either way they are complete human beings.

A woman who chooses not to have breast reconstruction is not any less whole.

The fact that I did choose breast reconstruction does not make me whole either.

Somehow, this all ties in with part of the reason I don’t care much for the tactics of various breast cancer awareness organizations like Feel Your Boobies, Save the TaTas and Second Base. They feed into this notion about femininity (and wholeness) being embodied primarily by a woman’s body parts, specifically her breasts.

Even if unintended, that message is in there.

But this post is not about those organizations.

Again, I spotted this particular title on a website that should know better. This was a professional website geared to helping women who are balancing facts, opinions and harsh realities while trying to make life-changing decisions.

Whoever penned this title should have chosen their words more carefully.

I know they meant well. I understand their point. I chose breast reconstruction myself. I get it. But still…

There are many reasons a woman chooses to do or not to do breast reconstruction.

A woman is whole no matter what route she takes.

How we say things matters.

It’s just that simple.

Words matter.

When has someone’s choice of words offended, annoyed or angered you?


Words Matter!
Words Matter.

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42 thoughts to “Wait Just a Minute! Words Matter!”

  1. YES!! Thanks for saying so many of the things I think and feel. I take issue with these kinds of words when used in relation to cancer…most especially when uttered or written by those whose lives have not been actually touched by the disease and all it entails:

    * “warrior”
    * “fight cancer”
    * “lost the battle”
    * “beat it”..as in – She “beat it”, referring to the cancer

    1. Holly, I know what you mean about some of those “hollow words,” Holly. I don’t want people to be afraid to speak about cancer for fear of saying the wrong things, but I do wish some would think a little more about the words they choose. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I appreciate hearing from you.

    2. A person is know for the beauty inside. The outside will and does change but the inside is what stays the same. I lost ny wife, Sheila, of 43 beautiful years, and through the ordeal when she was fighting stage four kidney, and in the end, lost 130 lbs., she was still the woman I married 43 years ago, because all though she changed on the outside, she was and still is beautiful on the inside.That’s what I have to say.

      Bill Sene

      1. Bill, Thank you so much for sharing about your wife. I am so sorry for your loss. It’s wonderful that you always saw her true beauty and you’re so right, cancer cannot take away a person’s inner beauty and that’s a kind of victory isn’t it? I think what you had to say here was very important. Thank you.

  2. Nancy, this post really hit a nerve with me. Having not chosen reconstruction, I feel particularly offended that I must not feel whole. Quite the contrary, I have other body parts that work perfectly well without having to undergo reconstruction. I don’t feel any less of a woman. In fact, my prostheses look quite natural in my new flattering bra, now that I have been properly fitted.

    I’m sure they meant well with this title, but you are right: they should have chosen their words more carefully so as not to set off some emotional alarm bells.

    Words like “I know how you feel,” “Just have a positive attitude,” “Save the boobies,” and “Are you prepared to die?” are just a few phrases that have offended, annoyed AND angered me.

    Thanks for allowing me to vent. Great post!


    1. Jan, Yes, I was curious to read what your thoughts might be here and I don’t blame you for feeling offended when you hear such words or comments. You are a strong, confident woman, but I worry about some others who may be feeling more vulnerable. I found this particular example disturbing because it was made by a professional in the medical field. I expect better from that arena. And those examples you give, definitely words to not choose. Thanks for sharing and venting!

  3. Words matter so much. These words here hit me too but in the opposite way.
    I chose to have reconstruction and now I feel even more broken than before.

    The other one that gets me is “cancer will interrupt your life”

    Thanks for putting these thought-provoking ideas out here.


    1. Dianne, I am so sorry to hear that you feel even more broken than before. I understand. I guess I’m still in the figuring out process. I agree, cancer does way more than interrupt your life, doesn’t it? It transforms it. Thanks for sharing. I hope to hear more from you.

  4. A couple of my favorites inaccurate euphemisms, courtesy of the oncology world:

    1) breast-conserving surgery

    2) lumpectomy

    3) mastectomy with immediate reconstruction

    4) hormone therapy (it’s anti-hormone therapy, isn’t it?)


    1. Kathi, You are SO right! Who comes up with these terms anyway? Lumpectomy is particularly annoying to me. As one who is on “hormone therapy,” you’re right about that too, it’s actually anti-hormone therapy isn’t it? I hadn’t really thought of it like that. Ugh. Thanks for commenting.

  5. Did you inform the creators of that web site how you feel about their statement? You should, if you didn’t. I’m sure your opinion would matter to them.

    I hate the term “lost her battle with cancer.” I used to edit obituaries. This phrase was used all the time.

    1. Lindsay, I did not inform the creators of that web site about my feelings. Now you’ve got me thinking, maybe I should?? I’ll give that some thought. And yes, all those cliche terms are pretty annoying. I’m sure you got plenty sick of the “lost his/her battle with cancer” one. Thanks for commenting.

  6. By that definition I am certainly not a whole woman Nancy with my lop-sided scarred and unsightly legacy of breast surgery and my euphemistically termed lumpectomy (it was some lump!)The dictionary defines whole in this context as unimpaired, perfect but surgery or no is there a woman alive who can truly descrive herself thus?!

    1. Marie, Yes, lumpectomy is another one of those almost ridiculous sounding words isnt’ it? Well, I am certainly not unimpaired, so I guess that means even with reconstruction, I’m still not whole! You might be right, Marie, perhaps no one totally fits the “bill.” Thanks so much for commenting and also for sharing my post at JBBC. I so appreciate it.

  7. Nancy, it seems to me we are very vulnerable post surgery for breast cancer. Words that we may have allowed ‘to go through to the keeper’ seem to get stuck.
    I am blessed to live with someone that still sees me as the woman he fell in love with.
    I am pretty sure of this as I recently broke down when he was changing the dressing on my ugly, ulcerating, smelly, weeping wound. How could I possibly feel good about myself when I have a limp, useless arm, no breast – no intention of considering reconstruction – as well as a disgustingly ugly wound on my clavicle. Somehow, I still manage to feel good about myself and my life.
    Thanks for letting me get to the point; it felt good.

    1. Chez, You are probably right about there being a certain amount of vulnerability in some instances post surgery regarding words, still… some of this stuff has always annoyed me. You are indeed blessed to live with someone who sees you as whole and beautiful because you are! I am lucky in that regard as well, although honestly, there have been times when I’ve wondered what my husband was really thinking… Probably a good thing we can’t read minds! Another reason our words are so important. Thanks so much for sharing and take care of yourself.

  8. Do you remember when they called some particular breed of Lawyers Ambulance Chasers? For their unscrupulous and un lawyer like behaviour?

    So many Plastic Surgeons are now classed in the same category. Breast reconstruction is big business. Whether or not it’s from Breast Cancer or women feel they have too much or not enough. They seem to prey on vulnerable women who are going through some of the most difficult times of their lives.

    I received an email some time back from a Plastic Surgeon I dealt with years ago . I had minor surgery on a ganglion on my wrist. The mail listed all the benefits of plastic surgery, from a face lift to butt implants that could make my butt a little more enhanced to fit clothes better. I laughed. I have ample booty don’t need more.

    Or how about Botox injections, get rid of those worry lines.

    Women need not be victims to these Ads trying to convince us we need to have the perfect body without a line wrinkle and in many cases without breasts through no fault of our own…

    The subliminal message behind these ads are a woman is nothing without Perfect Breasts Perfect Face Perfect Body!!!

    When are we going to understand Breasts Do Not Define Us As Women. Breasts are just a small part of our makeup.

    Have reconstruction or not for the right reasons not because we are force fed by Drs. who lie to women that we have to be perfect through surgery . We are PERFECT with every flaw every line , every surgical scar we have on our chest is proof we are fighting for our lives.

    My breasts became my enemy, it was me or them. I decided to get rid of what could have potentially killed me –

    I did not have reconstruction for MY reasons, I don’t need someone telling me I have to be perfect for another agenda…financial gain

    1. Alli, Thank you for sharing your opinions so candidly. Yes, I do remember that term ambulance chasers. I’m afraid some plastic surgeons probably do fall into that type of category, it surely is big business. Mine, thankfully, has never been pushy about any of it. My main problem is when it’s openly stated that such and such a procedure WILL, as in the instance referred to in this post, make you whole, change your life, or whatever. Of course, no procedure can do those things. I’m glad you made the decision regarding reconstruction that was right for YOU. By the way, I had a ganglion cyst on my wrist once too! Had it removed.

  9. Nancy,
    I’m with you on this! That sentence sounds like it was written by someone in marketing or a reporter that doesn’t have a clue what it’s like to go through something as devastating as breast cancer. The word that lights a fire underneath me is “victim.” Cancer victim. Don’t get me started on that one. It’s not a pretty sight.


    1. Brenda, Thanks for commenting. Perhaps you are right about who wrote that title, still the responsibility falls with whoever has their name at the “top.” I agree, victim is one that lights a fire underneath many people. I don’t care much for labels period, because again, words do matter and many labels, if not most, are too confining.

  10. Thanks for writing this, Nancy. Words do matter.

    Your statement that there is a tendency for femininity (and wholeness) to be embodied primarily by a woman’s body parts, specifically her breasts, is the cornerstone of triumphant survivorship, along with positive attitude of course. The full range of feelings and choices doesn’t seem to fit.

    And the profit potential of surgeries, body fixes, and enhancements certainly is a factor in promoting advertisements guaranteeing customer satisfaction.

    1. Pink Ribbon Blues, Thank you for commenting. You are absolutely right about the full range of feelings and choices so often not being represented. The implication that there is a certain way survivorship should look minimizes women on so many levels. Often one of the “proper” ways promoted is reconstruction, which is fine for many, but not the path for all and women who do not choose reconstruction are not any less “whole.”

  11. Great post Nancy!

    I couldn’t agree more. I “chose” to have reconstruction “immediately” with a bilateral mastectomy. Ha! I don’t like to think about my life as having regrets. It is what it is, can’t go back and don’t want to dwell on it.

    But, I don’t feel that I truly made an informed decision about reconstruction. I am not saying that if I had known more that I would not have done it. But, looking back I feel I was really sold (and sold hard) a particular path. And all of this at a time when I think we really are vulnerable. In my case, I had chemo before a mastectomy, so my final decisions with respect to that surgery (and whether to have expanders put in at the same time) was made when I had already gone through four months of chemo and was pretty beat.

    My surgeons essentially told me that “everyone” did it this way. And my plastic surgeon told me she was worried for me that if I didn’t get the expanders (have them when I came out of the mastectomy) that I would feel really bad about my body and be depressed . . . I should have known then to run from her (that surgery didn’t go so well). Fortunately, I found a really excellent plastic surgeon who was able to repair the first surgeon’s mess. I still have one more surgery to go . . . that is if I can stomach it. (I have been putting it off).

    But, back to the “make you feel whole” thing . . . if it were about my breasts, reconstructed as they are (which is certainly not an attractive sight naked – welcome to scarville) or never reconstructed . . . then I would never be whole either way.

    I can’t stand names of organizations like “Save the Boobies” ” . . . the ta-tas” etc. because it essentially says that without our breasts we are definitely less than whole, definitely less than being a whole woman. But, I guess I shouldn’t expect anything less from a society that uses breasts to sell most everything . . . right?


    Oh, and I am with Kathi – “mastectomy with ‘immediate’ reconstruction” That statement truly annoys me. (I have had three surgeries and still have at least one more left in my future to complete my reconstruction).

    As always, thank you for another great post!


    1. Lisa, Thank you so much for your great insights on this topic. Yes, the “mastectomy with immediate reconstruction” is almost ludicrous isn’t it? I’m still not done either! I’m sorry you had such a negative experience with your first plastic surgeon. What right did she have to presume how you would or would not feel post mastectomy surgery? I think it’s true many women are “sold” on reconstruction way too fast and at a time when they are extremely vulnerable. “Everyone does it this way,” that almost borders on unethical. The focus always should be on saving a woman’s life not her breasts, hence my problem with those organizations you mentioned. Good luck as you make decisions about the rest of your reconstruction and thanks again for sharing.

  12. Really insightful posting, Nancy! Words do indeed matter, and I agree that “lumpectomy” is a ridiculous statement. I had three of them and was disfigured. My double mastectomy did result in immediate reconstruction (DIEP) flap, but it was a long road of healing. Today, my body is still not the same.

    And guess what? Your posting has gotten me thinking, and now another blog posting is a-brewing in me.

    1. Beth, Thanks for adding to this discussion. I have always thought “lumpectomy” was an odd word choice. It sounds so minimal, and of course it is not. Well, I will be waiting to see where those thoughts take you, Beth!

  13. Nancy, this is such great post! I was so mad when I read that line about being whole. That line couldn’t be more irresponsible. What does it take to make someone feel whole? Never having been diagnosed, I would say, but since we’re not that lucky we have to achieve it some other way and surgery isn’t the miracle cure. I had reconstruction and it has nothing to do with feeling whole. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel like that. Anyway, starting to ramble, but this definitely touched a nerve. Thank you for writing about this.

  14. Yes Nancy, you are right – words do matter, very much so. There are no guarantees with any plastic surgery, it might work, it might fail, you might not be happy with the result, you might need more surgery… no-one can possibly say how you ‘will’ feel about it. And as for not being ‘whole’ with a breast or breasts… well, that’s just simply offensive to women isn’t it. Thanks for making me think yet again!

    1. Sarah, Thank you for commenting. I certainly was offended by that wording and I did not choose reconstruction thinking it would make or keep me whole.

  15. Amen from someone who chose not to have reconstruction! What a great post, Nancy. I also liked reading everyone’s comments…all are so insightful and gave me a great perspective. Although I’m very comfortable with my choice, I have at times wondered if I should have gone with reconstruction. I was lucky to have doctors that supported me in my decisions.

    1. Ginny, Thanks so much for commenting. You made the decision that was right for you. That’s the thing about this title that irritated me, reconstruction does not make you whole. You are a very whole woman, my friend, no procedure determines that. And yes, you were indeed lucky to have doctors that supported your decision.

  16. I adore you. You are continuously amazing me with your thoughts! A woman IS whole no matter what route she takes. I love that. So glad you have found a voice and put it to good use. The world could use more people like you! <3

    1. Sami, It’s so good to hear from you! I’ve missed your comments! Thank you very much for your kind and meaningful words, Sami.

  17. I was thinking in the shower soon after reading your post, what word would you use in place of Lumpectomy? I had 3 lumpectomies. I never felt “disfigured”, just missing a third of my breast. The surgeon said I would not be happy with the result. I have to say I never thought about it, except to be glad to be alive. Today I was in to have a breast MRI and I asked the technican for a different word, and she didn’t know of any either. Just wondering.

    1. Betty, That’s a really good question. I don’t know what a better word might be. Maybe just calling it a breast surgery might be better. To me “lumpectomy’ just doesn’t fit, but I guess it’s the best term we have for now. Thanks for the comment and question. Showers are good places to think aren’t they? Hope your MRI turns out ok.

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