This word holds power before it’s a connection to a human being.
Women with cancer.
These words hold power, bias, and judgment as a result of gender.
When I imagine a woman with cancer, I instantly feel the pain of breast cancer. The pink ribbons, pity, and a potential mastectomy. Many of us know someone who has survived breast cancer. We may have watched part of their “womanhood” get cut off their bodies in an attempt to save their life. We probably judged their bald head, potentially obvious wig, or uneven chest.
What about the other cancers that women struggle with? Breast cancer is only one. A dear friend was diagnosed with cancer during her junior year of college. She lost her hair, her identity, her strength, and her freedom her senior year. She experienced the judgment women with cancer experience from her peers, teachers, and future employers.
Wigs are used to cover up the hair that falls out as a result of all chemotherapy. Some women wear these wigs until their hair fully grows back. As women, our hair is used to sexualize us. Women are persuaded to have long, flowing hair to be sexy. Wigs require hours of maintenance and thousands of dollars to purchase. They’re sweaty, they move, they’re itchy, and they look different no matter how hard you try. Men aren’t expected to cover their perceived flaws but women desperately try to save theirs.
People judge women for their scars, body changes, and weakness. A mother with stage four cancer may not be able to care for her children any longer. She may not be able to cook dinner or fold the family’s laundry. She may not even be able to care for herself. We need to find ways to help close the gap between gender and illness.
The care of women with cancer at hospitals is biased. Who makes the decision for a mastectomy? How much resistance or risk do doctors take before they go forward with the surgery? Can doctors make biased decisions about a woman’s body and safety subconsciously? Healthcare is sexualized for women with cancer because a woman’s external appearance is more valued than her internal health.
Chemotherapy can make you infertile. Doctors urge you to freeze your eggs and pass judgment on young women who don’t. “You’ll regret this one day…” was something my best friend’s initial doctor told her. She was seen as a child-bearer, not a human already sick who would have to deal with an excruciatingly painful surgery.
We need to find more empathy for women’s medical experiences.
Why is a woman with cancer judged?
Why is a man with cancer pitied?
Why is cancer biased at all?
I’ll finish with a quote from a female student at the University of Pennsylvania.
“One time someone said that it was such a shame that they left so many scars on my chest from all my ports. I’ve also heard many times “you pull off short hair” which is sort of an odd thing to say and not something you’d say to a man. I’ve also heard “you’re still beautiful” or “you still look good” which again like I really doubt you’d ever say that or even you’re still handsome to a man. Also “you don’t even need a wig,” like the implication is that some people, women, of course, need wigs. Why would you ever imply that? One of my sorority sisters saw a cancer survivor post pics of her at a wedding with no wig, just going for the bald look, and called it brave. If she was a guy there’s no shot they’d even mention it.”Emma Van Zandt, cancer warrior