For all sorts of reasons, I haven’t written in a while. Ironically, I am writing now in the waiting room while my mother is getting a mammogram – she was called back by her doctor who saw something suspicious on her films a few weeks ago. This isn’t entirely worrying; it’s happened before, and although my mother has never been tested for the BRCA gene, my own BRCA mutation comes from my father’s family. Nonetheless, no one likes being in the women’s imaging center, even if they’re breast-less like me.
So although I haven’t been writing, I do keep up with the BRCA world, mostly through research articles posted on Facebook groups. Last night, I read this article, Two Genes Add to Breast Cancer Risk. It seems doctors and researchers have found some other genetic links to breast cancer in addition to BRCA genes. This is interesting news. But that wasn’t at all what interested me about the article.
What interested me about the article came about midway through, when the author, Charles Bankhead, wrote the following:
However, a Finnish study of unselected patients showed that the presence of a PALB2 founder mutation increased breast cancer by six-fold, comparable to the risk conferred by BRCA2 mutants in Finland.
See that there? See how in the first part of the sentence, the study participants are called “patients”? And see how in the last part of the sentence, they’re called….. “MUTANTS”? In as much BRCA research as I have read, I have never once come across this word choice for our group of people from a professional writer, scientist, or doctor. Never. Once. Yes, we call ourselves mutants when we blog, when we joke on Facebook, even when we publish memoirs or talk in public forums. But being self-deprecating in a joking fashion is quite a different thing than being called a derogatory term by a medical reporter.
This is not X-Men. This is not a movie or a comic book. We are not mutants. I don’t know who you are Charles Bankhead, and I’m sorry to pick on you personally – I see from your bio that you have years worth of experience as a medical writer. I would hope, then, from those 20 years of writing about medicine, that you’ve learned a thing or two about writing about patients. We are people. We like to be written about as such. Please consider revising your article.