Shit girls say to girls with breast cancer

[Video Link]

I have heard many of these lines, myself. Jenny Saldaña (Facebook | Web | Twitter) is a Dominican actor/writer/producer/speaker who is surviving breast cancer with a fierce sense of humor intact. In the video above, she re-enacts some of the many unfortunate things that presumably well-meaning women have said to her, during her experience with the disease. There's a cool interview with here here, from a few years back. Her new project is here. Jenny, you're awesome.

(via @gillyarcht, who is also a survivor, and also awesome)


  1. Am I the only one who is incredibly distracted by the constant use of “girl” when “woman” is actually what’s meant? Somewhere along the line, I lost the ability to equate the two, and whenever someone refers to “girls,” I visualize actual children which is incredibly confusing when we’re talking about, say, breast cancer or, you know, sex.

    1. You’re probably not the only one, though it’s not an issue I have myself. I tend to mentally pair the word “girl” with the word “guy”, like “woman” goes with “man”, so in contexts like this, it doesn’t read too off for me. Now if someone was talking about, for example,  “men and girls”, that would throw me off and make me start double-checking for sexism red flags.

    2.  I wonder if this is a generational thing. Even before I went to college at Berkeley in the 1980s, I learned that no one calls women “girls.” Girls are female children. Women are adult females. Now all my students, female and male, even the smart ones, seem to call adult females “girls.” Adult males in their world are “guys,” “boys” but also “men.” Did we lose this small but important feminist fight sometime in the 1990s?

      1. I hear “woman” all the time too, but it is more formal. You would never call your supervisor a “girl” for instance, unless you are an idiot. 

        1. It’s this exactly – “woman” has become very formal, or something you use to describe someone older than you. Women your own age (or younger) are girls, for younger people anyway (30’s and under?)

      2. I call my my female friends and coworkers ladies, even women that aren’t my friends, like say the receptionists at my doctor’s.  When I leave a room, and it’s all females, I always say bye ladies, or for ex., bye ladies and Adam.  When I had to go into schools to do presentations, and deal with girls, sometimes, if there was a group of them, I’d refer to them as ladies.  I’ve never had anyone be offended or confused by that term.  “Woman” sounds kind of cold, and conservative, I use it in reference to females I don’t know, as in, “that woman over there”.  Hey Ladies…

      3. The alternative to “guys and girls” would be “guys and dolls” and I think we picked the lesser of two evils.

      1. I was reading something on BBC yesterday where they referred to Australian aboriginal women as ‘females’. White people have history. Everybody else has anthropology.

        1. White “girls” get called females all the time too, Ant. Both terms give me facial tics but I’m just a humorless feminist grammar-nazi.

        2. On the one hand, “aboriginal female” makes it sound like they’re talking about orangutans or something. And given how they’ve been treated by Australia, they probably *have* been spoken of in that sense, within the past half century.

          On the other hand, “females” is a shorter way of referring to (adult) women and (non-adult) girls collectively than “women and girls”.

  2. Jenny was my lifeline. I met her the morning after my diagnosis. She gave me the strength and allowed me to see the funny in everything. It’s no surprise what she has done & continues to do for our community. We are still inseparable… love her!

    1.  Yep. Particularly that wrinkled-nose squeaky way of saying cancer, like it’s something really gross. 20 years in, and I still have a hard time not laughing out loud when I hear it.

  3. I mostly had to watch to make sure I had not said any of the things about to be mocked. I apparently am not as dumb as I appear. That aside, I freakin love her accent and delivery.

    1. I’m trying to figure out what WOULD be the right thing to say. Any help?

      I was getting a diagnosis just a few weeks ago that luckily turned out to be something benign, but while I was waiting for the appointment my mind started going to ‘if this is cancer, how will I tell people in a way that doesn’t make them feel super awkward?’ Never did figure it out. Maybe I will on the next scare.

      1. I think I am saying the right things:

                    I am so sorry.
                    When is your next appointment? I am coming with you.
                    I will be here for the duration, even if you just need someone to hold your hair while you puke.
                    I love you.

        I make sure they know I will drive them to every appointment, make them yogurt smoothies and easy food, and essentially will be there for any need that may arise. But then, I don’t have casual friends, only dear ones for which I would sincerely do anything. I am at a loss for what to do with an acquaintance to which you would not put your life on hold for.

    1. “¿Tu tiene seguro?” Seguro, security, but in this context it means insurance. “Pero something something something la Clinica de Welfare” Something like, “Because you shouldn’t be going to the Welfare Clinic”. Somebody correct me!

    2.  Do you have health insurance? Because if not I can drive you to the welfare office.

      sidenote: My mom was on welfare and had cancer. Nightmarish. Their stance is stall until it’s too late. You know, why save poor people?

      1.  It’s a little better here. The Harris County Gold Card system is pretty good if you can manage the red tape. You even get to go to to Ben Taub for special diagnostics at a one of the most awesome hospitals in the nation. But you won’t always get treatment. 

  4. This was awesome! But with all sincerity, what do you say? What can you say? (Other than nothing condescending or mean…) I would think “That sucks!” to be about right, but there are language potholes in that for this situation. I guess the question is…”Is there anything you can say?”

    1. I found this article really helpful when I was helping my family deal with a cancer diagnosis:

      1. Thanks for the article. It was very helpful. It is often very hard f to know the right thing to say to anyone going through a anything difficult in life.

    2. I never knew what to say to my friend who got breast cancer. I sometimes felt like I should have apologised for getting her to go get the second opinion on her lump that led to the right diagnosis and treatment, but that really would have been stupid.

    3. I agree, sounds like anything you say is offensive or sounds stupid and if you don’t say anything then you are insensitive and unsupportive.

    1. To which presumably the answer is “What you can do to help, girlfriend, is get off yo lazy ass and find me a cure!”

      Seriously, half these responses are perfectly reasonable for people you’ve just ambushed with “Cancer!” People don’t know how to react in that kind of situation.

      1. I think if you think of this more as people with cancer having a laugh with other cancer patients and survivors about the experience it might be less threatening. Also, ambushed? Really? How inconsiderate of them. You’d almost think that something else was on their minds  :/

  5. My ex-sister-in-law *did* meet Lance Armstrong. She’s big on bicycling, and rode in his big cancer ride event in Texas. Got to hang out at his house and everything.

    Anyway, I lol’d at that.

  6. So, around 1:22 or 1:23, did I understand that correctly?  People ask to touch your breasts?  I mean….really?  The rest of it didn’t surprise me, per se (which is different from being disappointed by stupid things people say or do), but that threw me.  I just can’t fathom any situation, cancer or no, where the logical response to, “I have an injury/illness in a part of my body” is “Can I touch it?”

    1. I think I can understand it. It’s not just the common primate reaction that leads to rubbing or kissing booboos better (or groping pregnant bellies), it might also be down to the fact that women are told to examine their breasts regularly, but few have much of an idea what they’re looking for. Does a cancer feel like a blocked pore? Does it feel different from a cyst? Is it smooth or, well, lumpy? Is it sensitive or inert?

      Unless they’re talking about feeling an implant, which I guess they might not consider part of the person’s body. Still pretty forward of them.

  7. The opening monologue of the play Wit has a long discussion of the cancer-patient protagonist’s feelings about the medical staff’s use of “How are you feeling?”

  8. Is there a transcript of this anywhere? I’m deaf and the google closed captioning is wicked random and inaccurate (based on the little amount of lipreading I can do).

  9. For the record, @picaflor:disqus was right on the translation of what I say in Spanish.  Here’s a link to the preview of our web series, Happy Cancer Chick.  Hope you like it!

  10. “You know what you should do…” 

    I know people are just trying to be supportive and they’re grasping at straws for how to do it, but this one always makes me chuckle. At least their hearts are in the right place. 

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