From Paris to New York and everything in between
Jolie’s medical decision says again what shouldn’t need re-saying: that a woman’s body is hers, that breasts are for something other than ogling, and that hard choices are made for strong reasons. Her decision to make her choice public is bold and brave and admirable. It is what celebrity is for.
—Rebecca Mead on Angelina Jolie’s decision to make her mastectomy public:
Reblogging because it’s an opinion that is not necessarily mine. Jolie’s body is definitely hers and I respect her decision, and she has the right to do whatever she wants with it. However, I can’t condone double mastectomy as a preventive option for ALL women at risk. Follow some discussions here. As Dr. Northrup put it “And yes— there are instances in which prophylactic surgery is indeed a sound choice. But they are very very rare.” I believe that an informed patient can make an educated choice. I disagree with the systematic choice of double mastectomy because of the lack of information, and a health system that encourages this instead of other solutions.
The most important message here: no matter WHAT type of cancer, get screened please!!
14 May 2013
I just read the news about Angelina’s double mastectomy. See, I grew up in France, and I am unfortunately surrounded by people who have had or are still fighting cancer in my home country. My father died of prostate cancer, two people I am close with have had breast cancer, some have had colon cancer, others (more) prostate, ovarian, and what not…
Here’s the difference in treatment though: in France (and in Northern European countries, I don’t know about the south of Europe), the doctors not only respect your body, but also your living conditions. The two people who have had breast cancer among my family and friends haven’t had a systematic mastectomy. As a matter of fact, I know one of them carries that same gene as Angelina Jolie’s. Her tumor has been removed, she’s had some light chemo and radiation. And that’s it. I am not saying that people don’t go through mastectomy in France, I am sure it happens more often than not, but it’s not a systematic “preventive” treatment. Some even believe that the more invasive the treatment, the riskier it is (under the pretense that the body remembers the violences made to it and will develop a preventive defense mechanism, i.e. more cancer somewhere else or at the same location).
Here is my feeling, and I might be wrong. In the US, in order to prevent costly law suits and treatments that might actually help patients live better lives, mastectomies are encouraged. Not for the patient. For the doctors to have peace of mind and for insurance companies to be done with the cost once and for all. Women are mutilated left and right because there might be a slim risk at cancer. Barbarous treatments are less and less applied in Europe, while in the US they are still widespread. Now, don’t get me wrong: there is a war out there against cancer and I am hopeful that one day we’ll manage to win it or make significant strides. But a war doesn’t need mutilated bodies to be won. A war needs strategy and logistics.
Women’s bodies have no value for insurance companies and doctors in the US. This is the feeling I get. Women are told that mutilation is better than death; but is a mutilated body - mutilated from a female symbol (the breasts) - a body a women can have a good life with? It is almost like those countries that excise women’s clitoris. For those who argue that it is not, aren’t breasts also an erogenous zone for women, from which they derive many pleasures… and also what they use to feed their babies? Aren’t breasts a source of life? How is mutilating women’s bodies by removing their breasts different from mutilating them by removing their clitoris?
Now I don’t have breast cancer, but I do carry the cancer gene. My father had cancer. My aunt had cancer. My grandmother had cancer. And now maybe someone even closer in my family might have it. Whenever I need screening, I have to say that I go to France because I know my body will be treated with respect and consideration. I am always offered the least invasive means of screening and my doctor always brings up the notion of “pleasure” and “good life” and encourages me to drop any stressful activities.
So please, please, please don’t take Angelina’s actions as an example, and find another doctor with a more human approach to help you through the proces of coping with the risk of cancer.
14 May 2013
“Dad’s in the hospital. You should come home this weekend,” my sister said on the other end of the line.
Crumpled and sobbing uncontrollably on the desk in front of the interns, embarrassed because I couldn’t even make my legs move to hide in the bathroom, I just apologized repeatedly.
“I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. My dad’s dying.”
We all knew this was coming. He’d been diagnosed with prostate cancer 5 years ago. He received chemo and was in remission for a year, but then his PSA (Prostate-Specific Antigen) levels went back up. The doctors had missed the bit hiding in his pelvic bone.
All they could do was administer different treatments till they stopped working. He did really well for 4 years. He’s the only person I’ve ever seen with cancer that gained weight.
Anyway, he looked great up till Thanksgiving 2011. I’d seen him in September and the change was shocking. Suddenly he was gaunt, wide-eyed and shuffling around like my grandmother used to. His hands looked different. Shriveled, papery thin, the fingertips rounded. According to my mother, he’d been behaving oddly as well. They called them his Frankenstein Hugs. He’d scuffle slowly towards you with his arms outstretched. Creepy fun for everyone!
We’d had a few scares before. My family tends to be overdramatic, and every time I got annoyed and say “He’s going to be fine.” This time I knew he wasn’t. After regaining semi-control of myself, I sent out a mass email titled “Fuck!” explaining the situation. One of the responses came from my freelance recruiter, so I guess I wasn’t entirely functional. Oops. Thankfully she was very understanding.
I left work to fulfill a lifetime goal of playing the Crying Woman On the Subway. I COULD NOT STOP. Then I was Crying Woman On The Bus. Two convicted felons sat behind me, bonding over jail time. One of them had a high-pitched Eddie Murphy-type falsetto, which was delightful. At the McDonald’s rest stop the boy sitting across from me asked if I’d been able to sleep at all during the ride. He insisted he wasn’t hitting on me because he was gay, which I’d gathered. He asked why I was going home. I told him he really didn’t want to know, then told him anyway since I wasn’t capable of keeping anything in. He spent the rest of the ride entertaining me and sharing his bottle of whiskey. We ended up talking to the two people in front of us while convict number one napped and farted. It was my favorite Fung Wah bus ride ever, in spite of the circumstances. I’ve never been one to rely on the kindness of strangers, but it really was amazing.
I finally arrived home and my mom was in zombie-mode after getting her hands on the good meds. I got unreasonably angry because I’m (always) afraid she’ll relapse into addiction. Afterward I realized she’s just so relieved that others are around to help out, as she’s done the bulk of the work for the past 4 years.
In the hospital, my dad could hardly talk. He was even more shriveled, but seemed calm and at peace. It was his decision to stop trying at that point. I handed him my notepad because I couldn’t understand what he’s saying. He wrote: “be good.” We are a deep and emotional family.
The next day the hospice folk came and set up the bed, oxygen, and the machine that sucks the mucous from his throat. He comes home and watches the same 5 movies over and over again.
Their cluttered house stressed me out, so my brother’s girlfriend and I cleaned it top to bottom. She’s thrilled to help because she’s wanted to do it all along but felt it wasn’t her place. Hooray for backup! We throw everything away. My mom let us because people will be coming, there’s no place to sit, and she really doesn’t need those dusty foil wrapped table toppers that read “congratulations” from a graduation party 11 years ago. The opening up of space, the washing away of dust, the organizing was so cathartic.
It was worth it too. People came over and wanted to stay.
We’d take turns sitting in the recliner next to him, his phlegm bucket, and the bag that collected some sort of waste-type fluids, which was a real treat. He’d insist on drinking from the cup instead of using the damned sponges the hospital gave, would choke for a few minutes, then use the suction. Over and over and over again. He began to really lose his strength and would twitch while he held it. My brother would hover over him, and my dad would yell if he tried to take the cup. My bro backed off, and my dad of course spilled it all over himself. He still insisted on holding the cup after my mother and sister changed his clothes. Stubborn bastard.
Every time I thought his condition couldn’t get worse, it did. As long as I live, I will never forget the view from the recliner, his newly gnarled hand gripping the rail of the hospice bed, the blue and white lights of the Christmas tree, how small his feet looked, that awful action movie starring Zoe Saldana. Oh Zoe, don’t get me wrong. I love you, but that one was a stinker. On the bright side, I’ve an excuse to never watch it again.
The night before he died, my brother and I smoked three blunts. Three. We mourned our typical way by telling such terrible jokes they should never be repeated to any other human being ever. We also talked about feelings. Real ones. I blame the marijuana.
Then we went down to sit with my dad. At this point we were all so anxious that sleeping was impossible, except for my mom. When my sister and her boyfriend came down to relieve us, I was so restless yet exhausted I just sat at the dining room table with my head down.
The next morning I went for a run. I tried to be one of the few people who didn’t cry in front of my dad, so I ran and sobbed because it was so fucking unfair. Yes, I know, life’s not fair but that doesn’t change how it feels to watch someonesuffer horribly while slowly dying. We are compassionate with animals, yet it’s illegal to be so with humans. For some reason the death penalty is ok, but people in great pain (but of sound mind) aren’t allowed a comfortable, humane death. I never gave much thought to this until I watched my father struggle to breath till he vomited up bile, clogging up his oxygen tubes and finally, thankfully, go still. No one talks about the messed up sense of relief you feel after watching someone you love hurt for so long finally stop. Because when it was over, relief was all we felt.Note: I wrote this a long time ago. Everything comes to an end. Even the Fung Wah Bus.
Extremely well written, down to every detail of those last moments. Prostate cancer is one of the cancers that, detected early, can be cured in about 90% of the population. Please make sure your dads get checked on a regular basis. PSA is a simole blood test, and the rectal exam is just a small price to pay for peace of mind… Or cure.
Also, FUCK CANCER!
17 March 2013
“Cancer’s not the bad word it used to be.” That’s what one of the lab technicians told me as I had to do insane breathing exercises that simulated blowing up balloons underwater or something. “Yes,” I told her, “you can even say it on network television now.” We went on discuss health care, our faith lives, and how much she loves Bones, but I keep thinking about how she casually downgraded the word “cancer”… and how badly I needed to hear it.
Cancer. That dang word has been one of my biggest obstacles. I fear pity and I hate worry, so I want to distance myself from a word that carries such weight and stigma. I wish I could call my condition something like testiculitis, or terriballs, or a bad case of the nutz. (Probably the first one.) Most of the time, when you drop the word cancer, it lands on the floor with a shatter, sending shock waves of seriousness through the conversation. It hints at mortality and suffering. It turns goofy laughter into tight, serious smiles with sympathetic eyes. That never happens when you just have terriballs.
Chemo, too. The moment I name drop “chemo,” I know people are trying to imagine me 20 pounds lighter and minus a head of hair. In movies, characters who go through chemo almost always die at the end, especially if Abigail Breslin won’t give them her bone marrow. American vernacular has given the word a ring of hopelessness.
I’m not trying to say chemo and cancer aren’t serious or difficult. They are. But they’re large, encompassing words that include a variety of experiences. I’ve been feeling owned by these words, by their ability to put me in a box, to define me in the eyes of others.
But now I’m realizing: I’m the one with the mouth. I’m the one with the pen, the keyboard. I get to define cancer as it applies to me. I don’t have to write “cancer” or “chemo” apologetically. I don’t have to say them carefully, with a wince. They’re my words now and I will use them in whatever flippant fashion I SO PLEASE. “Yeah, dude, just zippin’ on over to chemo to do a little cancer blastin’, then we can ron-day at Chili’s and watch the sports contest.” I don’t really talk like that, but I think you get the idea. Cancer? Chemo? You guys are mere nouns to me right now.
Maybe it’ll still stop others in their tracks. Maybe the words will grow heavier on me as time passes. I’m not sure yet. But if I precede those nouns with odd, pregnant pauses, then I’m giving power to something that doesn’t deserve it. For now, the only time I’ll say “cancer” with a somber tone is if I’m trying to get a free appetizer at Chili’s.
Also, FUCK CANCER!
7 December 2012
Ever wondered how the international symbol for breast cancer came about? This article from “Think Before you Pink” sheds light to the history of it.
From the beginning, the pink ribbon connoting breast cancer awareness has been embroiled in controversy.…
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1) everybody should read Viktoria’s blog - seriously, if you’re interested in your health, read it (I mean, if you want to - just know that it’s a great read)!
2) I don’t have time to read now… so keeping for later!
And Fuck Cancer, as usual.
13 October 2012
One of the requests was a post on different types of breast cancer. I didn’t realize there were so many, going from mild to very invasive. This comes from breastcancer.org with a detailed list and description of the different forms and their symptomps.
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Yes, there are many, MANY different types of Breast Cancer. Get to know them to better fight them!
Also, FUCK CANCER!
3 October 2012
“Laugh at Cancer. (…) Laugh at me; I have cancer! Don’t be scared. It’s OK, it really is.” - Michelle Dobrawsky
Can we take National Sketch Writing Month to laugh at cancer?
30 August 2012