Doctor, Doctor, Give Me The News
(surviving breast cancer and the medical system) c. 2009

By Marleen M. Quint
Women’s Health and Environmental Advocate



Marleen aged 24 wearing a Sari Skirt
I was running after my preschooler when the phone rang. Just one moment earlier, I had been on the phone with my best friend when her doorbell rang and she said she’d call me right back. Expecting my friend on the other end, I answered with, “Joe’s Pizza Parlor, Joe speaking.” “Excuse me?” I recognized my surgical oncologist’s voice right away and realized my error. “Sorry Dr. Friendly,” (No, that’s not her real name.) “ I was expecting another call. This is Marleen.” Then I cautiously asked, “So, what’s the news?” “Oh, hi Mrs. Quint. I just received the pathology report from your lumpectomy and wanted to give you a call with the results right away. I’ve got both good news and bad news.” Well that’s one way of telling your patient she has breast cancer. But all that came out of my mouth was, “Okay.” “The results show that you have a relatively rare form of breast cancer. The good news is that it’s very treatable.” I vaguely remember making an appointment with her and then hung up. I was surprised at myself for not having more of an emotional reaction. I received the information as though it was just another thing I had to deal with.

Now where the hell did my daughter run off to?

I do remember getting two other opinions before deciding NOT to follow the recommended protocol – having a second lumpectomy, followed by radiation and then hormonal therapy. I was informed that a modified radical mastectomy would be just as effective in ridding me of the cancer and reducing my risk of a reoccurrence. I figured, no matter what course I took, I was going to end-up disfigured one way or another. I’ll be damned if I’m going to be disfigured AND be exposed to toxic treatments as well if it’s not necessary. Hell, the only known cause of breast cancer is ionizing radiation. Chemo and hormonal therapy are also carcinogenic.

 
I opted for a mastectomy only.

Dr. Friendly referred me to a plastic surgeon to provide breast reconstruction concurrent with the mastectomy. We’ll call him Dr. Slice O’Lot. My Jewish husband, Morris, went with me to my first appointment to meet Dr. Slice O’Lot. As we were leaving the doctor’s office, Morris turns to me and says, “I don’t think I like this guy. He reminds me of that Nazi doctor, Mengele.” I elbowed him in the ribs and pushed him out the door.

I decided to have a saline implant for my breast reconstruction. I was told an expander would initially be inserted under my pectoral muscle during the same surgery after the mastectomy was completed. The expander would slowly stretch the pectoral muscle and the chest skin over a period of a couple of months to accommodate the final implant.

Overall, the surgery went well except for an over zealous anesthesiologist who overmedicated me. My blood pressure was 70/50 a couple of hours after surgery. That was when my now 5 year-old daughter, Maddie, came to the hospital with my husband to see me. There were so many tubes coming out of me and I had such a death pallor, that I remember hearing Maddie say, “That’s not my mommy,” and was afraid to come near me. I will never forget the look on her face. It broke my heart – it still breaks my heart.

I wasn’t prepared for what I saw when I first took off the bandages. There was all this excess skin left behind to allow for the implant expansion. I looked like a damaged figure from Madame Tussauds Wax Museum; like someone had taken a blow torch to my wax chest and left the excess to spill down into folds near my ribcage. I looked like an escapee from the Vincent Price movie, House of Wax.

In 1992 FDA issued a moratorium on silicone breast implants and they were pulled off the market. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 1993. By the time I was ready for my permanent implant in September 1993, according to Dr Slice O’Lot, all implants had been pulled off the market, even the saline implants. He told me not to worry. I could have a custom made implant through McGhan Medical Corporation. The only hitch was that McGhan would have to make a plaster mold of my healthy right breast so they could make a customized implant that would match. But wait, there’s more.

My existing right breast was a size DD. Dr. Slice O’Lot said there was no practical way to insert an implant that big for the reconstruction. Therefore, I would have to have a significant breast reduction on my existing breast before a plaster mold could be made for the final manufacture of an implant for the left side.

Confused?


Believe me, your confusion is no where near what mine was at the time I received this information. This whole thing was beginning to feel both surreal and sinister. Somewhere deep in my psyche I was screaming, “Are you shitting me!?” But the only thing that came out of my mouth was, “Okay.”

So I go through the breast reduction without any problems. I wait a couple of months to heal then schedule an appointment with Dr. Slice O’Lot and some implant engineer (I kid you not) from McGhan. Mr. Engineer was going to mix and apply plaster onto my existing breast. This type of casting is known as a “moulage” (Anything in French always sounds better than it actually is.).

Try to picture this: a “boob engineer” in a business suit standing next to Dr. Slice O’Lot and me sitting topless on a gurney between them. Mr. Engineer whips out a hair dryer, turns it on, and begins waving it across the wet plaster covering my right breast. Both he and the doctor ignore me completely during this process as if I were an inanimate object in the room. They proceed to talk about cutting edge medical technologies, or some such drivel, while this man continues to wave the hair dryer across my chest until the plaster dries. It was like something out of a Fellini film – totally bizarre!

I had one last visit to see the plastic surgeon before the final implant surgery. I walk into Dr. Slice O’Lot’s office and briefly see his assistant briskly walking past a doorway with a see-through plastic bust of a breast in her hands. I flag her down to ask if that was the kind of form to be used to cast my breast implant. She turns to me and very casually says, “This is supposed to be your bust but they obviously sent us the wrong one.” I looked more closely at the bust and noticed that it was exceptionally small. It looked like one of Audrey Hepburn’s breasts. Even my breast in its reduced state was quite a bit more ample. The assistant continued, “Don’t worry, I’m sure your casting bust is safe at the manufacturing plant.” I was mildly amused at the thought of some 90 pound woman walking around with my oversized breast implant beside her own very diminutive one. At the same time, I was also a bit concerned at the sight of such a dramatic error. But all that came out of my mouth was, “Okay.”

A couple of days before the operation I get this weird feeling, a premonition. I don’t get them often, but, when I do, they are eerily accurate. I call Dr. Slice O’Lot’s office and ask his assistant if the implant has arrived. She says, “Yes.” Then I ask if it’s the right one. She says, “Yes.” I ask where it is now and she tells me it’s at the hospital. She proceeds to inform me that it is safely in a sterilized box and will be opened only during the surgical procedure. I ask again, “Are you sure it’s the right implant?” She says, “Yes.”

The surgery date arrives. I talk to the anesthesiologist just before surgery telling him I want this procedure done with a local and not a general. He, literally, does a theatrical double-take. He asks if I’m sure I don’t want a general anesthetic and I confirm I want a local with a sedative. This means I can hear everything that goes on in the surgical room.

The surgery goes along well for about an hour. Then it’s time to put in the implant. A couple of minutes later I hear the voice of Dr. Slice O’Lot saying to one of the medical staff in the room, “This implant is at least 50% too small. Mrs. Quint, can you hear me?” “Yes.”
“The implant they sent is significantly too small. I’m not even going to try to fit you with it. I’m going to put the breast expander back in and close you up, okay?”
Even through the heavy sedation I was internally screaming, “No, it’s not okay you incompetent asshole!” But all that came out of my mouth was, “Okay.”

I assumed the reason Dr. Slice O’Lot didn’t check the implant before he cut me open was for sterilization reasons. He actually admitted later that the implant is sterilized after it’s removed from the box anyway. This means the implant was never checked after it was boxed and left the warehouse until the moment before it was going to be put into my opened and vulnerable chest. When I asked why he didn’t personally check it before slicing me open, the only answer I got was, “Hospital protocol.” I was so traumatized at that point that I scheduled the final implant surgery with him so I could put this horror behind me. It was as if I was daring him to fuck-up just one more time.

Shortly after my nightmarish fiasco, I found out that the saline implants were on the market again. If I had waited just a few months after my mastectomy, I may have avoided at least one operation and the pain that went along with it. I’m not even sure Dr. Slice O’Lot told me the truth about the moratorium on saline implants. Maybe it was voluntary by the implant companies, I don’t know.

Years later, I asked for the written surgical report for the failed implant operation. Here’s the exact wording from Dr. Slice O’Lot’s report.

The tissue expander was removed, the pocket was enlarged . . . and the permanent prosthesis was placed. The patient was sat up and observed, and it was immediately obvious that the size of the permanent prosthesis was not adequate to match the volume of the remaining right breast. Therefore it was elected at this time to remove the permanent prosthesis, reinsert the tissue expander in the lower pocket, reclose the pocket . . . and to reinflate the tissue expander.

What a bare-assed liar! I remember what happened that day. I may have been sedated but I was awake and I remember. Negligence resulting in a form of torture is not something one easily forgets. Speaking of forgetting, Dr. Slice O’Lot apparently forgot to mention the size of the implant in that surgical report. I was told, according to protocol, because the implant was discarded during the procedure, it was not required that the size of the implant be recorded – how convenient.

My husband was right; I had let Josef Mengele perform sanctioned surgical torture on me. Except in this case the torture was never recorded or acknowledged. Accountability was, and still is, highly unlikely.

A number of friends recommended I sue the plastic surgeon. I reminded them that I would probably have to sue the implant company and, perhaps, the hospital as well. At this point in my life I am now responsible for a 6 year-old, a husband, a household, an a cappella singing group, and an entire community circle. I also have a body, mind, and psyche that are severely damaged. Where am I supposed to find the time, resources, and the energy to pursue justice?

If a woman is upright and mobile, she’s responsible for taking care of everyone and everything around her as a priority above herself. There are volumes of rhetoric to the contrary but that’s all it is, rhetoric. There is no infrastructure to take on the responsibilities of women, especially mothers and housewives, when they become ill. Unlike men and children, women often have no fallback alternatives. Caring husbands, loving children and concerned friends do their best, but they often need guidance and support that is also largely unavailable. A woman learns quickly that she has to hold on and stay strong or else everything around her gets sucked into an endless vortex.

And so my story continues . . .
Josef Mengele

Four years later, life is active, vibrant and good. This is in spite of the fact that, by this time, I’m also battling thyroid, heart, cardiovascular, uterine, and degenerative spinal disease. Somehow I manage to avoid anything that keeps me down for too long. I feel like a prize fighter bobbing and weaving through each day. I get punched with a new disease, I hit the mat, and then I drag my banged and bruised body up before the ten count. Oh yeah, I also manage to rack-up a second thyroid operation during this period. The first thyroid operation occurred eighteen months before I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Maddie was only 2 years old at the time – another story for another time.

Five years after my final breast operation, I begin to notice that my breast implant appears to be sinking into my chest. It looks like a sunken soufflé. Maddie even comments on my lop-sided appearance. I'm pretty certain that what I am experiencing is what is called "capsular contracture," a medical term for the gradual process of scar tissue tightening around a breast implant, often causing disfigurement. In my case, the implant appeared to be pulling into my ribcage. At about the same time, I began getting chest infections that appeared to begin deep within my chest directly behind the implant on the left side. I didn’t pay much attention to it at first because I recovered quickly after the first couple of infections. Then I developed reoccurrences. Each time it took longer for me to recover. Finally, although the infections always started on my left side, they began to spread to my right lung.

I went to see my primary care doctor. We’ll call her Dr. Clueless (and she truly was). She diagnosed me as having asthma. I told her I did have members of my family who suffered from asthma but I was not one of them. I also mentioned that the infections did not begin in the bronchial tubes. The infections always began deep in my left chest behind the implant. I suggested that perhaps my implant was compressing my ribcage into my left lung and causing these infections. She told me that was highly unlikely and insisted I had developed asthma.

After several of these infections, I finally developed pneumonia. The infection began in my left lung (as always). Within 2 or 3 days the infection traveled to the bronchi and then over to my right lung. I became so sick, Morris had to call the doctor’s office to ask for antibiotics. My husband explained I was too sick to get out of bed or even speak. By this time, it was known that my infections were bacterial. Dr. Clueless prescribed a powerful antibiotic, Biaxin, that is often given to AIDS patients for treatment of infections. I ended up taking two full rounds of Biaxin and it took me three months to recover. I was on this antibiotic for so long, I finally developed an allergy to it.

Once I was back on my feet again I continued my very busy life as if nothing had happened. I had developed the survival technique of emotionally blocking out each illness, each surgery, each set-back. The word “normal” no longer had any real meaning for me. I was still that boxer struggling to get up before the end of the count and continued bobbing and weaving, bobbing and weaving. I figured I’d be okay if I just kept moving.

I woke up one morning about 6 months after my recovery from pneumonia, swung my feet onto the floor, and as I attempted to straighten-up to a stand, I felt a knife stabbing pain from the left side of my back that pierced deep into my chest, directly behind my implant. The pain was so overwhelming that I stopped breathing. Hunched over, I stumbled into the kitchen where Morris was and managed to gasp, “Hit the left side of my back with your fist - hard.” Without question or missing a beat, he raised a fist and slammed the left side of my back. I took a large gulp of air as I finally was able to stand up straight. The pain diminished significantly. That was the final insult. A switch went off in my brain, “This damned thing is coming out of my chest if I have to cut it out myself!”

Later that week, I sat down with my husband to discuss having the implant removed. “I can’t take it anymore, Morris. I can’t take the pulmonary infections, the obvious disfigurement, and the stabbing pains. I’ve decided I want the implant removed and I want a simple mastectomy on the healthy breast. I would rather not have any breasts than continue this institutionalized form of torture and medical denial that goes along with it. Do you think you can live with a wife that has no breasts?” He looked at me with his warm brown eyes and said, “I am fully behind any decision you make that will keep you healthy and eliminate your suffering. I want to be sure I continue to have a wife, even if it means having a wife with no breasts.”

I got a referral for a new plastic surgeon. We’re going to call him Dr. Know-it-all. When I initially went to see him, I explained my theory that the implant was causing my lung infections by compressing my ribcage into my left lung. He, like Dr. Clueless, thought the connection was highly unlikely. He said he didn’t know of any capsular contracture cases severe enough to cause lung infections. I made it clear that I wanted the implant removed and to have him surgically resculpt me as smoothly as possible. I then told Dr. Know-it-all I wanted a prophylactic mastectomy on the healthy breast. He said I’d have to contact my surgical oncologist to perform that procedure. I could feel myself getting sucked back into that medical chamber of horrors.

Dr. Friendly was very accommodating. She said she would work with Dr. Know-it-all and perform the mastectomy during the same operation to remove the existing implant. We set the surgery date and everything was in place. Then I got another one of those ominous premonitions – puleeze not again! I called Dr. Friendly and made the same request of her that I did of Dr. Know-it-all; please try to make both sides of my chest as symmetrical as possible and remove enough tissue so that my skin and contours were both smooth and even. I then wrote each doctor a letter expressing why I wanted both the implant removal and the prophylactic mastectomy. I also jokingly said during a phone conversation with Dr. Friendly that I didn’t want to end-up looking like a Picasso painting.

In retrospect, the one mistake I made in the letters I sent to both doctors was, I didn’t express my suspicions that the implant had been responsible for respiratory infections and the subsequent pneumonia that, literally, knocked me on my ass. I have no formal documentation that I stated these suspicions. I think subconsciously I didn’t want to contradict accepted notions of “Good Medicine” with information that could be construed as anecdotal. I didn’t want to jeopardize my chances of an optimum outcome with those authorized to cut open both sides of my chest with very sharp knives. And yet, I still couldn’t shake that eerie feeling that something was seriously amiss.

A few days before my surgery I get a phone call from a surgical clerk whose job it is to verify the type of surgery to be done and to what body part. I answered a few basic questions then the clerk says, “And the mastectomy is to be performed on the left breast.” I retort with, “Well, the doctor is welcomed to give it a go, although, she may be very disappointed with the results since she previously performed a mastectomy on that side a few years ago.” “That’s why we call ahead, Mrs. Quint, to confirm that we have all the correct information.” Obviously she didn’t have all the correct information even though it had been well documented in my records for many years now. I’m still quite nervous about the potential outcome. But all that came out of my mouth was, “Okay.”

I read somewhere that you should take a magic marker the day of your surgery and mark on your body which side or part on which is to be operated to avoid mistakes. So, the morning of my surgery, I took a shower and before I put on my clothes, I took a magic marker and circled both breasts and wrote “mastectomy” with an arrow pointing to the right and “implant removal” with an arrow pointing to the left.

I saw Dr. Friendly just before they wheeled me into surgery, expecting to see Dr. Know-it-all shortly after. The anesthesiologist is giving me my intravenous “happy juice” when I realize Dr. Know-it-all still hasn’t arrived. I want to ask where he is but the next thing I remember is waking-up in my hospital room.

Dr. Know-it-all walks into the room just moments after I awaken and dutifully asks, “How are we feeling?” I am amused by the inclusive ‘Kumbaya’ term “we” in the question. Then again, anything he said may have amused me at that point. One is easily amused when floating between sedation and morphine. With, what I’m sure was a glazed smile on my face, I asked, “How did the surgery go?” “We didn’t find a leak in the implant but the contracture around it was significant. Truthfully though, I have seen worse.”
He’s seen worse? Oh, really? And how is it helpful to me, at this moment, to have my plastic surgeon minimize my pain and suffering after I’ve barely awakened from double breast surgery which has obliterated both my breasts? Am I supposed to have some twisted satisfaction in knowing that another poor woman somewhere has suffered even more than myself? This dude was definitely killing my buzz. Then he adds, “Oh, yeah, we also noted that the implant was compressing your ribcage into your chest.” I waited a couple of beats and then responded with, “And?”
“And I thought I’d let you know.”

What does he mean, he thought he’d let me know? I already let him know. I was the one who presented the possibility that the implant may be pressing into my ribcage, which may have compromised my left lung, wreaking havoc with my pulmonary system. But, in my morphine haze, the only thing that came out of my mouth was, “Okay.” Dr. Know-it-all mumbled something about seeing me for a follow-up visit and then left the room. Un-befuckin’-lievable!

I drift off to sleep and wake-up in the middle of the night in a fair amount of pain on my right side, the mastectomy side. Right after my surgery, I vaguely remember a recovery nurse saying something about my morphine button but her instructions sounded like the trombone sounds made by the adults who speak in one of those Charlie Brown cartoons, “Wah-wahwah-wah-wah-waaaaah.” The only piece of information I remembered was that the button was connected to the morphine – that’s all I needed to know.

I get ready to hit the button when I realize I really have to pee. I get up and grab my IV pole. It’s dark and I don’t know where the bathroom is and somehow end-up wandering out into the main hallway. I turn around to go back to my room when I see an elderly woman slowly shuffling along in a hospital gown, in socked feet , just like mine, hanging onto an IV pole and going in the same direction I’m heading. We both look like we’re doing a Tim Conway impersonation of the old man character from The Carol Burnett Show that was popular in the late 60’s and 70’s. I turned to her and joked, “Ya wanna race?” She managed a weak smile.

I still have to pee.

Back in my room I find the bathroom (Hallelujah!). I peed for what seemed an eternity. Using my right hand, I attempt to reach behind me to wipe myself. A searing pain runs from under my right arm across the entire right side of my chest. I feebly wipe myself, probably did not wash my hands, and slowly inch my way back to bed. I push that morphine button hard and probably more than once. Within a few minutes I was pain free and slipping into a drug induced sleep. My last thought before drifting off was, “Chocolate is now my second favorite drug.”

After a couple of days in the hospital they send me home. I was glad to finally sleep in my own bed. I was also relieved that there appeared to be no snags in the double operation. I was ready to dismiss my previous bad premonition.

Things took a turn a couple of days later.

On about the fourth day after my surgery, I wake up to what smells like rotting meat. We often trap mice in our house and have had the problem since we moved in a few years back. I began to sit-up very slowly. I was trying to figure out where that horrible smell was coming from. My chin was tucked to my chest as I was trying to brace myself into a fully seated position when I suddenly realized the horrid stench was coming from me.

My mother and sister had traveled from Hawaii to California to assist me for a week or so during my recovery. By this time I was in the bathroom and I called out to them for assistance. I wanted to know what the hell was going on. We were all standing in front of a large mirror that runs the length of the bathroom counter. They begin to remove the bandages from the right side of my chest from where the smell was emanating. We peel off the final piece of sticky gauze. All three of us looked up from the gaping wound only to see the devastation that was once a woman’s chest through the reflection in the bathroom mirror. The wound was at least 6 inches long and completely opened. The sutures had torn through the flesh. Almost all the fat from the right quadrant of my chest had been removed so you could actually see, what I presumed was, underlying muscle tissue. Surrounding this ghastly sight was black, rotting flesh. We all just stood there, in front of the mirror, in complete horror and disbelief. Neither my mother nor sister said a word. They both looked away and began the task of tearing open packets of new gauze and looking for medical tape. I kept staring into the mirror, unable to look down at my own chest.

I finally broke the silence. In a very clinical and sarcastic tone I began to assess the damage. “Well, ladies, this is a classic example of what the medical books call, necrosis. Dr. Friendly removed too much tissue, sutured me too tightly, and the result is the mess you see before you. Anyone up for the surprise that may await us on the other side?” We peeled off the bandages on the left side where the implant had been removed. The wound was long and straight from the center of my chest to the edge of my left armpit. There was much more fat tissue on that side and some loose back fat just hanging behind my armpit. There was also a knot of flesh just above my solar plexus where the two procedures met. It was clear that each side of my chest had been operated on by two different surgeons, apparently, with their eyes shut. I continued sarcastically, “I told my doctors I didn’t want to look like something from a Picasso painting. I guess I forgot to specify that I didn’t want to look like something from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre either! I SHOULD HAVE ALSO SPECIFIED THAT I DIDN’T WANT TO SMELL LIKE SOMETHING THAT HAD BEEN DEAD FOR A WEEK!” I finally lost it at that point and ranted on for about 10 minutes, during which time, no one in the house looked at me, moved, or said a word.

Photo taken for National Geographic feature entitled, "The Chemicals within us, the Pollution Within"
Marleen Quint, Wanna Wright, & Etta Lundy
Dr. Friendly had to leave for Italy shortly after my surgery so it was up to Dr. Know-it-all to cover my follow-ups until Dr. Friendly returned. I had to see him weekly for two months to keep cleaning and re-bandaging the mess that he had helped to create. Dr. Know-it-all said he was trying to avoid the necessity of a skin graft. He said it might be necessary if I could not manage to regain enough arm and chest mobility because the skin was too thin and too tight once it began healing. If it went on record that a skin graft was required, it would have been a definite alarm that the surgery had been screwed-up badly. Fortunately for both doctors, I was so traumatized at that point, I was amenable to trying to stretch the skin naturally. In retrospect, I probably should have had the skin graft. It has taken me almost 10 years to regain elasticity and mobility and I still suffer from nerve damage in my chest and even my back, although the skin graft would not have helped the nerve damage.

During the first visit with Dr. Know-it-all, after myBride of Frankensteinepisode in front of the mirror, I said to him, while he was removing my bandages, “Looks like Dr. Friendly sutured me too tightly and I developed necrosis.”
“No, Mrs. Quint, it’s not necrosis. We call this . . .”
And to this day, I cannot remember what the hell he said
and I never found any other medical term for dead or dying tissue other than necrosis or the state of being necrotic. I did, however, find a letter Dr. Friendly wrote about my progress to Dr. Clueless and in it she says,

She has improved symptomatically having the implant removed from behind the muscle. Her wound has some necrosis laterally on the right, but these are healing.

I guess, according to Dr. Know-it-all, Dr. Friendly didn’t know what the hell she was talking about either. I then asked Dr. Know-it-all how Dr. Friendly was able to cut too much tissue while he was watching the procedure and why I was so asymmetrical if they were overseeing each others work. His response was, “We never actually worked on you at the same time. Dr. Friendly did the mastectomy before I arrived. When I entered to surgical room, Dr. Friendly had already sutured and bandaged you.” “I guess that approach didn’t work out very well, did it. I mean, let’s face it, I look like I was put together by a committee whose members all spoke a different language.” He didn’t find my comment amusing and I didn’t give a rat’s ass.

Although I didn’t want a skin graft, I made it clear I wanted my chest to look more symmetrical, if no longer identifiable as female or attractive. Doctor Know-it-all performed a simple office surgical procedure called a “dog ear.” He cut out a wedge of flesh and fat behind my left armpit to try to match, as closely as possible, what was left of the right side of my now concaved chest. Although, technically, the final procedure was a success, I still looked like a casualty of war.

Before I continue, I want to clarify a few things:
* I had full health insurance coverage during this entire ordeal.
* The doctors and hospitals that served me were considered among the best.
* I researched my family’s histories going back 3 generations. There were no records of anyone
   having breast cancer, thyroid disease, or colon cancer (A couple of years ago I had 3 pre-colon
   cancer polyps removed.).
* After my saline implant was permanently removed, I never had another “asthma” attack or
   developed lung infections or pneumonia ever again.


The last of my breast ordeal is now 10 years behind me. Maddie is now a beautiful and healthy young woman in her last year of college. I am so grateful she is healthy but I’m always holding my breath. Morris is tired of the rat-race and ready to retire soon (if economically feasible). Me? I still battle for my health each and every day, but, thankfully, I’m still here.

I guess this is the part of my story where I’m supposed to talk about how breast cancer was a kind of gift, how blessed I am, and how my faith in God kept me going.

Let me begin by saying, no matter what twist you put on it, breast cancer is not a gift. It is an ugly disease primarily generated by human ignorance, arrogance, violence and greed. We live in a country and a world that refuses to accept the truth and the responsibility that goes along with maintaining human dignity and health. We insist on raping and ravaging our beautiful planet which is now unable to sustain the many delicate lives that depend on it it. Then we have the audacity to ask, “Why is this happening to me?” How we treat the world we live in is reflective of society’s attitudes towards women and illnesses like breast cancer – much like that of an abusive husband. After beating his wife , the husband says he’s sorry, yet, blames her for provoking him, and then tries to convince her that it’s all for her own good.

Blessed? Yes, I am blessed. I am surrounded by those who love and support me. I am very grateful for each new day of life I am given. I am also fortunate enough to have access to resources and information. At the same time, knowledge has its responsibilities and resources always have limitations. Still, I try my best to live my life fully, with as much integrity as possible and, yes, with a sense of humor, dark and irreverent as it may be.

God? I don’t know about God. I only know about Godliness. Every human being has the power of Godliness, yet, so many insist on avoiding it. The Golden Rule is the only rule that will save us all. God is revealed while we are doing selfless deeds when we think no one else is looking. That human capacity for Godliness helps to sustain me.

I’ve learned to manipulate the medical system as much to my advantage as possible. Too often, that is not enough.
I have learned to question everything and fight like hell for what I know are basic human rights. We not only need healthcare insurance reform in this country, we also need to change how medical care is organized, dispensed and monitored. Even with education, money, and health insurance, too many of us are being ground-up by the medical system, spit-out, and then left to our own survival devices with no real protection or accountability.

I’ve also learned to avoid some potentially obscene and dangerous four-letter words; words like, “fine,” “yeah,” “sure,” and “okay.” These words can generate another four-letter word - pain. I choose these words very carefully now; I no longer take them for granted. Not if I can help it. Not anymore.


Recommended Reading

The First Look
Amelia Davis
University of Illinois Press, c. 2000

Another Morning: Voices of Truth and Hope from Mothers with Cancer
Linda Blachman
Seal Press, An imprint of Avalon Publishing Group, Inc., c. 2006

A Darker Ribbon: Breast Cancer, Women, And Their Doctors In The Twentieth Century
Ellen Leopold
Beacon Press, c.1999