Take Them Both Off: Women More Often Want a Bilateral Mastectomy


Women want bilateral mastectomy more often, and many are getting it.

I fairly begged my surgeon to take both my breasts off when I was I diagnosed with breast cancer at age 37. The way I looked at it, I had many years ahead of me, and, with a 1-year-old to raise, I didn’t want any more surprises. There was no cancer in my family and the year I was diagnosed, 1986, and there was much more we didn’t know about risks of keeping both breasts. To me, that would be an argument to remove it, but to the medical community, it was reason not to.

Bottom line: my surgeon refused to remove a healthy breast no matter what I wanted. It was seen as me being hysterical. When I had a second breast cancer 21 years later in the other breast, it was hard not to be really angry. If I had them both removed at first, the reconstruction would have matched much better and I wouldn’t have had to go through dealing with cancer again — even though it was a very early diagnosis.

I was not reconstructed immediately due to the severity of my prognosis. They did not want to do reconstruction until they thought I would live long enough to enjoy it.

As it was, I had to argue with the insurance company initially about the “cosmetic” surgery needed to have the two breasts match. The quotes are mine. When they called it cosmetic, I reminded them that cosmetic inferred it was unnecessary but just something I wanted to do to feed my vanity. I felt like their idea of me was that I should be happy living with one breast that looked like I was 18: firm and high through the miracle of reconstruction. The other breast looked like what it was — the breast of a woman who had given birth and was pushing 40. Not to mention, the reconstructed breast would stay perky.

So, between the anxiety of having a second breast cancer and wanting the reconstruction to match, having them both removed would have been much better for me.

Today, more women are demanding bilateral surgery than ever, and some studies show a significant increase — and many for the same reasons I had more than 30 years ago.

What infuriates me is when a doctor says something misogynistic such as, “Surely you want to have a breast you can feel for intimacy.” How dare they assume to know what I want or how I feel about my body. What was much more important to me was to guarantee I would not deal with cancer again.

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