After my double mastectomy, I published an essay on Slate in response to Peggy Orenstein’s breast cancer op-ed that ran in the New York Times last week. You may recognize a few sentences from my last blog entry. That’s because this topic has been rolling around in my head for a few weeks. Journalists and medical experts who second-guess breast cancer patients’ treatment decisions are a thorn in my side. I’m a fan of medical evidence and a good doctor-patient conversation. But the tone of some of these recent articles is paternalistic and sexist.
Peggy points out that researchers have used the word “epidemic” to refer to the number of women choosing to remove their healthy breast along with the cancerous one. Really? I’m sorry but Typhoid was an epidemic. The 1918 flu was an epidemic. AIDS was (and in many places continues to be) an epidemic. Women making gut-wrenching decisions about how they want their post-cancer bodies to look is not an epidemic — it’s a choice.
I welcome the conversation about why rates are increasing so dramatically, especially among young women diagnosed with the disease, but let’s do so with respect for the people involved and the complexity of the decision.
Thank you for writing a rebuttal of the poorly named article in the New York Times. I too choose PCM, here is my article on the topic: http://melanietesta.com/2014/02/the-grace-to-be-flat-and-fabulous/
Beautifully written essay on your choice not to reconstruct. You touch on so many wonderful points in this piece, including the assumption that women who don’t reconstruct often feared to be mentally unstable. I particularly love this sentence: “I would rather redefine femininity in the face of a diagnosis that is so closely tied to body image, a diagnosis that shoves societal expectations smack up against the individual woman and her one precious body…” I am exploring these exact themes in my memoir. I am slowly unraveling the complexity of how my own decision was related to my individual expression of gender and sexuality. Thanks for being an amazing role model for all women. I couldn’t agree more with your ending: “If ever you find yourself being told you have breast cancer, know that you can choose what is right for you.” And choose what is in alignment with your “values, needs, and standards.”
Thank you for writing that.
I just watched a news segment, where a plastic surgeon explained why he thinks reconstruction is important. #1 reason, according to him? It restores the patient’s self-esteem.
This may be true for some women, but the assumption that this is so universally really bothers me. Neither my femininity nor my self-esteem ever resided in my breasts. For one thing I possessed both qualities long before I had any breasts, and I really am so much more than those particular body parts.
Paternalistic and sexist indeed! Seems like our breasts are always in the public eye where many feel entitled to comment on them and our choices about their health. Thanks for the article.
Thank you Catherine!!
Dear Catherine, I ready your blog from 7/31/14 in October, a few days before my double mastectomy (3rd surgery). Necessary, no; preferable, definitely. Thinking about more surgeries and tests on the one remaining was what made me sure and reading your article endorsed my decision. I hope you are well and thriving!
Hi Lindsey, Yes! I am well and thriving. Thanks for asking : ) I’m so glad that you found my blog and that my story helped you feel even better about your decision.