Bonnie Annis is a breast cancer survivor, diagnosed in 2014 with stage 2b invasive ductal carcinoma with metastasis to the lymph nodes. She is an avid photographer, freelance writer/blogger, wife, mother and grandmother.
Shaming is prevalent in society today. One survivor invents a new terminology after her own experience with a member of her health care team.
Shaming. It's what our society seems to find pleasure in these days. On the news and in social media, our senses are bombarded by the most recent trend of shaming. Terms such as slut shaming, and body shaming have become so commonplace we're now at the point of ignoring them. An activity that became popular among the younger generation has now wormed its way into all generations.
Why do people find such pleasure in shaming others? Perhaps the answer can be found in an old saying that goes something like this: "Sometimes it's necessary to stand on the head of another to make oneself appear taller."
Shaming has become an integral part of our sick society. Those who find pleasure in shaming others possess a frightening form of insensitivity. One would not expect a medical professional to possess such a trait however, there are those who do.
A few days ago, I went in for my periodic six-month checkup.
Currently, I'm in the phase of maintenance care. It's been almost four years since I was diagnosed with stage 2B invasive ductal carcinoma. When I was diagnosed, I had both breasts removed. After the initial surgery, I began having problems. A large, painful area appeared on my chest close to the incision. I returned to the breast surgeon for a consultation. The area, I was told, was a seroma. A seroma is a pocket of clear fluid that can develop after surgery. This fluid is composed of blood plasma from ruptured blood vessels and inflammatory fluid produced by dying cells. The fluid filled area would need to be drained, according to my doctor, to remove the fluid. Deftly, the she inserted a long hollow needle and aspirated the fluid. I felt better afterward.
About a year ago, I developed a similar area of tenderness and became concerned about it. Once again, I returned to the surgeon for her advice. At the time, she assured me my body would reabsorb the fluid and there was no reason for concern. I trusted her and waited. A year later, the fluid was still there and was causing discomfort so I made a note to discuss the matter at my six-month checkup.
Six months rolled around quickly. I went to see the oncologist for my check-up. After he completed his assessment, he sent me to the breast surgeon at the cancer treatment center. He wanted her to check the fluid filled area. He wasn't unsure if it was a seroma. Since I'd only been under the care of the doctors at the new cancer treatment center for a short time, I was nervous about this new surgeon. I'd never seen her before.
This doctor, with whom I was unfamiliar, examined me. She assured me I did not have another seroma. She felt sure the problem was related to scar tissue accompanied a buildup of lymphatic fluid. I was referred to a masseuse specializing in lymphatic drainage.
When the exam was over, I was told I could get dressed. Before closing the front of my gown, this new surgeon looked at me and said, "Why didn't you have reconstructive surgery?" I was taken aback. She did not speak the words in an inquisitive tone, rather, she'd said them with a derogative connotation. At that point, I felt I had to defend my choice not to have reconstructive surgery.
As I explained my decision to this doctor, she made me feel I'd made the wrong choice. She battered me with statistics and started talking about all the ways breast reconstruction could be performed. I didn't want to hear it but listened out of respect.
Why was she shaming me? Wasn't it my body and my choice? Why should I be made to feel less than if I'd chosen to live the rest of my life without breasts? Did it make me less of a woman?
When I made the choice to forego breast reconstruction after my bilateral mastectomy, I felt good about it. My husband and I had talked extensively about the pros and cons. We had revisited the topic two years later after I'd had time to complete treatment and heal. We had come to the same conclusion - why go through another painful surgery just to make myself appear "normal" again?
Perhaps the new breast surgeon, the doctor I'd never seen before that day, felt she needed to understand why I was breastless. Perhaps she wanted to pressure me into making a decision that might line her pocketbook. Whatever the case, she did not know me or know anything about me. And she certainly didn't have a right to make me feel guilty for not choosing reconstructive surgery.
There's nothing wrong with women who decide not to go through reconstruction after mastectomy. It's the right of every woman diagnosed with breast cancer to decide what they want to do after their breasts are removed. Some choose immediate reconstruction, some choose to have reconstruction done later in life and some choose to never have reconstruction surgery. Should a woman be pressured into giving an explanation for her choice? Certainly not! And doctors who push for an explanation should refer back to the Hippocratic Oath which says in part, "I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures [that] are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism."
In closing, I'd like to say I'm proud to breastless and cancer free! If the surgeon has a problem with that, all I can say is, what a shame.