Acronyms, the F-Bomb, and the C-Word
I was raised in the country in tidewater Virginia by parents who would occasionally swear under intense pressure, letting loose a shocking “Dadgummit!” I’m not sure they knew anything worse than that. In fact, we were getting into our car to go to church on one crisp fall Sunday morning and noticed that my brother’s dusty car had acquired a rather improbable instruction involving the F-word at the county carnival the night before. My mother, the epitome of a Southern lady in her hat, pearls, and gloves, doubtfully sounded out the word aloud and asked what in heavens it meant, perhaps it was an acronym? (It was quite unfortunate that we always sat in the front pew at church, as the intermittent giggles from both of us teenagers that morning did not go unnoticed.)
Forty years later, that word is still blipped out by censors, referred to as the F-bomb, printed with asterisks obscuring its last letters, and not considered appropriate in polite conversation (I still live in the South, after all). However, it’s made its way solidly into our common lexicon and has even been somewhat sanitized for universal social media use with the acronym WTF so it can be used more freely. I suppose that gives us the defense that we didn’t actually say it, we just acronymed it?
I even found WTF in a recent post by a granddaughter on facebook, which promptly sent me looking futilely for an icon to wash her keyboard out with soap. (Zuckerberg, get your people on this one.)
It’s so pervasive that when the world ends, I sadly suspect that WTF! will be our final comment as a race, tweeted to the cosmos as a last surprised observation by an Android user on Earth’s final fading signal bars.
The other word which is not spoken
There was another word which wasn’t spoken much in polite company forty years ago: cancer. When my mother had to say it, she’d lower her voice to a whisper as when she did when she had to say anything else unspeakable. If you had cancer, you had a big indeterminate expiration date stamped on your forehead. It didn’t matter what kind of cancer, you were assumed to have a death sentence.
Forty years later, it’s not a lot better. Once cancer is mentioned, the first reaction is “people DIE from that stuff.” I’m not interested in more common use of the F-bomb as it's doing rather well on its own, but I do think it’s well past time to take the C-bomb out of its kid glove status. The American Cancer Society says that half of all men and one-third of all women will get cancer in their lifetimes, which means every family and group of friends is going to be on intimate speaking terms with it sooner or later – why not demystify and talk matter-of-factly about it now?
After 50, the warranty on your body expires and stuff happens to you. (Sorry, I should have put in a spoiler alert for the forty-somethings, but it’s true - the Fifty Fairy isn’t a nice kind of fairy like the one who leaves quarters under your pillow.) Every year there’s some new ache or pain or something malfunctioning. Cancer is just one of those malfunctions that is more likely to crop up as you get older.
But the good news is that cancer is treatable, often curable, and is far from a death sentence these days. There are over 11 million cancer survivors in the U.S. today (shout-out to Molly, Janet, John, and Frank)! In fact, LLS, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, trying to let people know that actual cures are real and happening now, just changed their tagline to “Someday is Today.”
So why is “I’ve been on Lipitor for five years now” traded casually over cocktails when heart disease is the nation's #1 killer, but “How about the following week as I have chemo that day” gets the same kind of reaction as disclosing herpes or recent jail time – a blanched reaction followed by social invisibility?I think Nancy Brinker’s greatest contribution with the Susan G. Komen Foundation is that she made it OK to talk about breast cancer. Now it’s even OK to celebrate your support or survival of breast cancer: my mom survived it! I’m walking with my sister! I'm six years cured!
How do we sanitize the other types of cancer and make them safe for the world to talk about and live with? I’d love to be able to say “I’m almost through chemo for lymphoma” and have the response be “Wow! I don’t have an oncologist yet, tell me what to expect” similar to teenagers learning their friends are getting braces – it will happen to most of us, good things are on the other side, you too can get there, there's just some inconvenience to get to the finish line.One of these days, dadgummit!