Sunday, 26 January 2014

Boobs are Important. Really Important.

Back in December, I had an appointment with my plastic surgeon to discuss surgery options. In case you missed it, I have decided to have a prophylactic mastectomy of my left breast, in a genius move that will reduce or eliminate the chance of getting breast cancer ever again. Now, apart from being a genius artist and engineer, my surgeon is also really good to talk to. We were chatting about things that I am really passionate about, like reconstruction and young adult survivorship, and he mentioned this newish website called Healthy Debate. It's kind of like a medical forum that poses different questions that you can weigh in on about various issues pertaining to your personal health. Anyone can have an opinion, and many doctors and medical professionals add their opinions and expertise to help facilitate thoughtful and relevant discussions. My surgeon told me about a recent question posed about accessing reconstructive surgery after breast cancer. The long of the short of it is, should reconstructive surgery be offered as part of the treatment process. I think it's safe to say that I 100% believe that it should be. However, there are those out there who are so narrow minded, and quite frankly ignorant, that they don't think reconstructive surgery is necessary. One person in particular decided to write about it.

Everyone, meet Chris. I don't know a single thing about Chris, except for the fact that he seems to think that breasts are basically a part of a woman for aesthetic purposes only. Below is what he had to say:

"I vote No because reconstructive surgery is not part of cure, it is essentially cosmetic to shape a woman’s chest under clothing. However if we were not competing for limited funds I would vote Yes. There are unfortunately other treatment/curative surgeries for other cancers that would be competing for these funds. Prostate cancer continues to receive very little funding compared to breast cancer while it is just as common (1 in 6 men will get it ) and has a similar mortality ( 1 in 27 men will die from it ). Speaking from family experience, diagnosis, treatment and follow-up for breast cancer was streamline, not so for prostate cancer with delays , uncertainty and variable programs. Unfortunately we are still at the stage that men have to pay for prostate blood screening if they want to get tested. This bias has resulted in a lack of research funding such that prostate cancer is still not very well understood judging by the multiple treatment options offered and significant side effects of even investigating the disease with biopsies. I find that discussing funding for cosmetic procedures is out of place considering the urgent need for research and treatment funds for conditions such as this. The irony is November is prostate cancer month for the Movember Foundation which tries every year to raise awareness. As stated above, if we were not competing for limited funds I would whole-heartedly support cosmetic reconstruction for every woman who wants it."

I don't know about you, but I'm pretty sure that breasts serve more of a function than just "shaping a woman's chest under clothing". In my opinion, he missed the point entirely. This article is about reconstructive surgery after breast cancer, and yet he somehow managed to start talking about penises. Now, I know the topic of penises is highly fascinating for some people, but that's not what this article was about. What really got me though is his complete lack of understanding what breasts really mean to women. They aren't about making you look good under clothes. They aren't just about sex appeal or sexiness either. They are intrinsically linked to what it means to be a woman. I know for a fact that some women may not have a close relationship with their breasts, but I do, and as a woman who has lost a piece of herself, and is going to lose another piece, I just think his response is laughable.

Now, because I'm me, and have no filter, and take issue with stupidity, I just had to respond. Here's what I said:

"As a woman who was diagnosed with breast cancer at 23, I would 100% recommend that reconstructive surgery be considered part of cancer treatment and get funded as a priority area. I had a lattissimus dorsi flap reconstruction immediately following my skin sparring mastectomy. They were unable to save my nipple, but through a feat that I describe as a miracle in engineering, science and art, my surgeon was able to build me a new nipple from skin off my back. 

I am inclined to disagree with Chris’s comments above. Like so many others, he believes that breasts are merely for aesthetic purposes, something to help fill out clothes. Reconstruction is so much more than cosmetic, and I actually find such narrow-minded thinking laughable and quite frankly, absurd. More often than not, a woman's identity is tied almost entirely on how she looks. If a woman feels she looks beautiful, she will feel better, and if she feels good about herself, she will have a far greater chance of beating breast cancer. As a man, would you want to walk around without your testicles? They might not be as outwardly noticeable as breasts, but they are still intrinsically linked to how you feel as a man. Could one not argue then, that the only purpose that testicles and a penis serve is to fill out a pair of boxer briefs? Could one not say that prosthetic testicles are just cosmetic then? How would you feel when you took off your clothing, on the verge of intimacy with another person, and you had to stop so you can explain to someone why your testicles were gone and where those scars came from? Would that not make you feel less of a man? As a woman, breast cancer often robs us of not only our breasts, but also our hair, eyelashes, and eyebrows, making us feel self conscious and often times ugly. It robs us of feeling beautiful and desired, of being human. Being faced with an ugly disease, shouldn’t we want to make women feel the best they possibly can? Shouldn’t we want to reconstruct right away, and give a woman a much dignity and support we can? At the end of the day, a woman diagnosed with breast cancer is more than just her cancer. She is first and foremost a woman, and she wants to feel like a woman. I know I did. I was so worried about how I would look after. Never mind that I had a tumor that spanned the entire diameter of my right breast that had the potential to kill me. I was worried about how I would feel when I looked in the mirror after a shower, and about how I would explain it to other people, and I how others would feel. I needed, and was lucky enough, to have an immediate reconstruction. Without it, I don’t think that I would be in the place that I am today. I was angry enough over having cancer, I certainly didn’t need to feel self loathing and ugly because I was living with a flat, scarred chest. 

I know that immediate reconstruction is not possible in every case. Every cancer diagnosis is different, but I honestly believe that this needs to be part of the discussion, and I believe that it needs to be offered as an option in a treatment plan. Just because it is offered, and because it is part of the discussion, doesn’t necessarily mean that a woman will choose that path, but having the option available is a truly powerful tool on the path to recovery."

I think I did a fairly decent job at refuting his argument and basically turning his logic on him. It just really gets me when people talk about things that they have no understanding of. First of all, you're a man. A really really stupid, ignorant man. I am not saying that prostate and testicular cancer are any less important than breast cancer, but you honestly have no idea what breasts mean for a woman, or how they make a woman feel about herself. I would really appreciate it if you at least tried to learn these things, or at least try to marginally inform yourself before you decide to take to the internet and spread your ignorance. The point that I am trying to make is that in order for there to be any steps towards a cure, of any type of cancer, this competition about what is more serious needs to stop. I honestly think that's the biggest obstacle. People like Chris, who miss the bigger picture, need to open their eyes and minds and see that any treatment that goes towards helping cancer patients feel like people, is one step closer to a cure.

Anyway, that's enough from me for now. Later days duckies.

xoxo
Leah