(Originally published on Facebook, July 23, 2018)
Women who are diagnosed with breast cancer, especially in the later stages, are asked to submit ourselves willingly to poisoning (chemo), burning (radiation), and amputation (breast surgery). It’s a sudden and difficult transition from seeing yourself as a healthy individual, to accept that you have a ticking bomb inside your body and that you might die of this disease even if you undergo all available treatments.
The one aspect of the treatment plan that the patient does have some measure of control over, is the reconstruction decision. Having your breasts amputated is no small thing. But there *is* no reconstruction option that can offer you new breasts. Reconstructed breast mounds, whether implant or autologous, are typically numb and non-functional. And they require multiple surgeries to install.
For some women, reconstruction feels right, and helps them heal psychologically from the devastation of breast cancer. For other women, the prospect of having numb, non-functional material on their chest is far from desirable, and healing from the devastation of breast cancer means getting back to their normal life as soon as possible. Both perspectives are valid. Both choices deserve to be respected.
This choice belongs to the individual woman – she knows her body, her mind, her heart, and her circumstances better than anyone else.
To have this choice stolen from you, is nothing short of devastating. I felt physically ill when I looked under my bandages after waking up from surgery. I knew instantly that the surgeon had left pockets for implants against my consent. My carefully considered choice to be one and done, was thrown away like trash on the side of the road.
To intentionally inflict this additional suffering (and additional surgeries) on a patient who has just been through breast cancer treatment – five and a half months of poisoning to the point of becoming bedridden for weeks on end, losing all of your hair, being unable to taste or properly digest your food, then having your breasts amputated, knowing that you will soon face six weeks of radiation while you heal from chemo and surgery – is unconscionable.
The difference between torture and lifesaving cancer treatment, is consent. We cannot allow this gross violation of woman’s bodily autonomy to continue unacknowledged and unchecked.
I call on Cleveland Clinic ( Cleveland Clinic Avon Hospital, Cleveland Clinic Union Hospital, Cleveland Clinic – Brunswick Family Health Center) to take a stand against this injustice. I call on the Clinic’s executive administration, headed by CEO Tomislav Mihaljevic, to protect their patients now, as they failed to protect me.
I call on surgeons and hospitals across the nation and beyond, to lay down your pride and pretenses and acknowledge this problem. And take the necessary steps to protect your patients as your Hippocratic oath demands. History will hold you to account.
I call on national stakeholder organizations to address this problem as well. Its easy to ignore patients. Not so easy to ignore large, powerful stakeholders.
American Cancer Society
American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS)
National Organization for Women (NOW)
Young Survival Coalition (YSC)
Susan G. Komen