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Why Do Breast Cancer Survivors Require Annual Prostheses Prescriptions?

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After a recent fiasco while trying to order prostheses and bras, I have an important question I’d like answered.

A survivor of breast cancer with a brown pixie cut and hot pink lipstick.

It was almost the end of the year and we were so excited because my husband was going to finally retire. He’d worked so hard for years and was ready to give it up to spend more time with me. But even though we were counting down the days toward his retirement, I was worried. Our health insurance would be ending. That was a big concern for me, so I did my best to prepare.

I contacted all of my doctors and scheduled the necessary appointments. Thankfully, I’d be able to get in and see most of them before our coverage ended. I tried to think of everything we’d need before we were switched over to Medicare. We hadn’t taken out a supplement plan yet and were just about to sign up for part B, so I knew time was of the essence.

After calling in refills on all my medications, I realized there was one more prescription I needed. I needed a new prescription for prostheses and mastectomy bras. That was easy enough to fix, or so I thought. I got on the computer, pulled up the portal for the cancer treatment center and shot a message with my request to my medical team asking them to fax the prescription to the specialty shop I use for supplies.

My husband’s employer offered good insurance coverage through Blue Cross Blue Shield. We’d been very pleased with our plan. After I was diagnosed with breast cancer, they allowed me to have a set of prostheses every two years and six mastectomy bras annually. My old prostheses had gotten wrinkly from a lot of wear. Silicone doesn’t last forever, and those girls needed revival.

Realizing I only had a few weeks before the end of the year, I called to order new bras and boobs. The sales clerk gladly took my order and told me it would be ready for pick up the following week.

When I received the call to come get my order, I got in the car and dashed to the shop. I was so thankful I’d taken care of this before the insurance ended, but when I got to the shop, the owner came to the counter and said they’d never received my renewed prescription! I was extremely upset.

Going out to my car, I got on my cell phone and called the cancer center, they assured me they’d sent the script out the day I asked for it. I checked and rechecked my emails including my spam folder. There was no prescription. I called the cancer center back and let them know nothing had come through. The nurse took down my information and said someone would get back to me in a few days. I explained my dilemma with the insurance ending and hoped she’d understand time was of the essence.

The shop owner was so kind. She told me she’d be glad to let me have the order on my signature alone until I could get everything straightened out, but I didn’t want to do that. The order was almost a thousand dollars! She then suggested I call my primary care physician and request a prescription through his office. She said it didn’t matter if my oncologist wrote it or another doctor, as long as it was prescribed by a medical doctor with knowledge of my condition.

Going back out to my car, I made another call — this time to my primary physician’s office. The nurse said she’d immediately fax over a prescription but since they didn’t usually write prescriptions for bras and prostheses, she’d need the ICD-10 codes. Asking her to hold, I ran back into the shop and asked the owner for the necessary codes which I relayed to the nurse. After receiving that information, she faxed over the prescription without hesitation.

Thankfully, I was able to pick up my order and head home, but on the way, I became upset and wondered why breast cancer survivors had to have new prescriptions for prostheses every year after having a double mastectomy. I thought it was silly; I mean, my breasts certainly weren’t going to grow back, and I would need the prostheses for the rest of my life. As for the bras, I also felt that should be a lifetime order.

Since being diagnosed with breast cancer almost ten years ago, I’ve suffered multiple times of embarrassment and continued aggravation over one thing after another.

When I called my primary’s office, I was practically begging for help in getting the prescription. I shouldn’t have had to do that.

I understand glitches happen and people make mistakes but it’s hurtful to those of us who deal with physical needs daily.

If I hadn’t been able to get the prescription faxed over before my husband’s insurance coverage ended, I would have been required to pay out of pocket for the prostheses and bras. I couldn’t afford to do that since I’m unemployed and we wouldn’t have had coverage of any kind until our Medicare supplement kicked in the first of this new year.

I think doctors' offices should work a little harder to meet their patients’ needs. I’m not one to constantly contact or nag my doctors with requests although I’m sure they have plenty of those types of patients in their practices.

Please hear us, medical people! Women who’ve opted to remain flat after breast cancer surgery may still want the option to use prostheses when they choose. They shouldn’t have to beg for renewed prescriptions every year. Can’t we please make the prescriptions for prostheses and bras lifelong? And, if a patient decides to alter their body by choosing to endure reconstructive surgery, they can always notify their medical team of any necessary changes.

It's sad to think there’s such a thing as breast cancer shaming, but that’s what it feels like to me, especially in this instance. None of us chose to have breast cancer and we certainly didn’t choose to have issues after opting out of reconstruction. When does the punishment end? This survivor would like to know.

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