March 2, 2009
I feel ready. Ready to get it over with. Ready not to have a cancerous lump clinging to my chest anymore like a broach. At night, strange thoughts wander past: is it better or worse to have a cancer you can feel? a tangible tumor? If my tumor was deep inside my body, would it be more out-of-sight, out-of-mind?
My initial reaction to the lump was panic. I wanted it out, and I wanted it out right now. Ever-helpful, Mary jokingly offered to rip it out with her teeth…a line she still uses when I need a laugh. But I’m glad I took my time. I know a lot of women make rapid-fire treatment decisions but that’s not my style. I needed the first two weeks to absorb the shock. The third week to wrap my head around my options. The fourth week to accept my choice.
Last year, I wrote a story for Time.com about how surgeon bias can influence women’s decisions around choosing lumpectomy versus mastectomy. Reporting this story was an eye-opener but living the experience was sobering. As predicted, all three breast cancer surgeons recommended a lumpectomy with reconstruction. None of them asked me how I felt about having an implant in my left breast, instead it was all about how quickly I could regain the “appearance” of a breast. All three bent over backwards to assure me that no one would know the difference. No one like whom? I wondered. They coo’ed that I would look “normal.” Normal for whom?
The Ken-doll plastic surgeon talked at me for an hour and I didn’t like what he was selling. After all of these years and millions of women come before, how is it that my choices are a) harvest parts of my own body that I’m happily using elsewhere (thank you very much) b) saline or c) silicone (of course, he didn’t mention the 10-year life span on those pups). Want your nipples? Sorry. Want sensation in the giant swath of skin from navel to clavicle? Sorry, no can do. What could “Dr. Feel Good” do for me? As it turns out, nothing. Because what feels good to me is getting this damn tumor off my chest, and escaping this ordeal with all of my muscles in tact, and as few man-made objects in my body as possible.
Thanks but no thanks.