Boob on a Stick: Caucasian, tattoo optional
Some of you may have read “Semantics: How to Take Your Lumps” before reading this. Because in the first place, I really object to trying to pretty up the removal of breast tissue with euphemistic medical terminology. Possibly the most offensive of these medical phrases is “breast-sparing surgery,” which refers to the general category of lumpectomies & partial mastectomies; in other words, anything less than a total mastectomy is seen to “spare the breast.” Hah. Maybe this makes sense to surgeons out there, but it makes no sense to a patient sent home after a lumpectomy with an elastic binder around what’s left of her breasts plus ice packs plus percocet to control swelling and pain, who hardly feels that she’s been “spared” anything.
When you are told you have cancer in your breast, one of your first & certainly most understandable impulses is just to have someone get it the heck out of you. It’s like discovering that you have been dropped into a bad sci fi script and have been invaded by an alien life form, and you want to do whatever you have to do to remove it from your body and keep it from coming back. At the same time, you think, “Wait a minute. This is my breast, for goodness’ sake. I don’t want someone cutting off my breast.”
So. There you have it – the horns of the dilemma on which you are speared throughout this entire sleigh ride known as breast cancer. On the one hand, you are in a state of considerable urgency to get rid of the Monster Within. On the other, you are forced to come to terms with the remarkably primitive and frankly barbaric nature of the treatment options you are presented with, which are, in a nutshell, Mutilation, Poisoning, and Burning, or some combination thereof. Great.
How any of us maintains any sanity is a miracle. Yet we do. Well, some sanity, if not all of it. Because while you are grappling with the horns of this dilemma and trying not to get gored, you have to shop for doctors; give yourself a crash course in Breast Cancer 101, 201, 301 & 401; fight with insurance companies; decide how much mutilation, poisoning and burning you’re up for; break it to your nearest and dearest; arrange a leave of absence from work; figure out how you’re going to pay your bills while you’re not working; and frequently deal with friends, family, employers and medical personnel who are, at best, freaked out themselves about you or are, at worst, completely unhelpful and even rude. My personal favorite is the friend or loved one who just stops talking to you, thereby making you feel like you have bubonic plague, which is contagious, as well as cancer, which is not.
The bottom line is that, here in the 21st century, the treatment of breast cancer, which will directly affect 12 women in a 100 and indirectly affect many more, is about as subtle as a sledgehammer. The treatment of most cancers shares this lack of subtlety. Nor have we really much of a clue, when it comes right down to it, what causes breast cancer in the first place.
So, do me a favor. Don’t buy pink crap (unless you genuinely like pink). Write a check instead to some local group that pays for mammograms for women who don’t have insurance. Or offer to drive some woman to her radiation appointment, or babysit while someone else drives her. Or write a check to a research organization that’s working on finding a cause, a cure or a kinder, gentler but no less effective way to treat cancer. Or pick up the phone and call that friend of yours with breast cancer that you haven’t talked to in months because you told yourself you didn’t want to bother her.
Because there’s a one in eight chance that someday, she could be you.
This post is adapted from “A Lump By Any Other Name,” page 3 on the sidebar.
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