Choice is a luxury

This month is breast cancer awareness month and having found myself now joining the statistics, I kind of wish it wasn’t to be honest.  The worst ad that I just cannot watch is the “Anxiety? Relief?” close up of a woman’s face.

This month has also seen more casualties in Aleppo, Syria, than ever before.  The Russians and the Americans facing off over the skies of Aleppo – I can’t even begin to understand why that is OK?

There is a link to these things, quite a strong link in my mind.

IF you live in New Zealand you get free mammograms every 2 years  which leads to early detection and treatment of breast cancer.  The treatment can be through the public system or privately if you are lucky enough to have either the cash or health insurance.  Being on the lucky side of the financial ledger, I have attended a private clinic for a number of years;  in fact since I was first referred for a biopsy a few years ago.   It is as pleasant as the experience can be.  There is tea and coffee available, and even little chocolates.  Plenty of magazines to browse through while you wait for scans to be read.

My experience last week was exemplary.  I was recalled very early the following morning and two hours later was home again having had a biopsy to confirm the preliminary diagnosis.  Now, a week since the results of that biopsy were given to me, I have an appointment for surgery on Monday, I have had an MRI scan, and I have the node mapping appointment pre-surgery all arranged for me.

I do have the (relative) nightmare of dealing with health insurance.  Yesterday when I first called them was the first time in all this I have felt hopelessness hit me.  I almost hung up.  I will almost certainly just pay the bills and then claim afterwards.  I don’t have any interest in hearing I am entitled to $1,000 here and $500 there – just go figure it out!  But that is a first-world issue.

One night this week there was a news piece on Syria, and in particular the impact of this war on one little girl.  She has lost her shoulder joint and one arm, and her beautiful face is all scarred on one side with shrapnel wounds.

The very next day, I find myself having a conversation with a highly skilled surgeon about the pros and cons of various surgery option.  I applaud the research and efforts that have gone into improving mastectomy operations from the old ‘radical’ version, where all the underlying muscle was also removed.  If you meet the right criteria, you can choose between a mastectomy and a ‘conservation’ mastectomy, which effectively leaves the breast intact, but requires radiation treatment as a standard follow on.  The overall survival rates are similar for both.  This was news to me, and it all sounded so reasonable, but after due consideration I am opting for a simple mastectomy.  At this point in time, I cannot imagine reconstruction.  Frankly I don’t want a lump of stomach fat plonked where my breast was, just so I ‘look’ right.  By all accounts it will never feel right.  I must say in my mind it just seems wrong.  Why not sew on an ear, or a foot?  Picasso style anyone?

I am older, I have done with breasts.  I get it that for some, probably younger women, having something resembling a breast is important.  It is great that there is an option for them. I just wonder where our priorities are as a society.  I just want to live out a normal life expectancy for my ethnicity, gender, country of residence.  Having one or two breasts for what will hopefully be the next 30 years is, in the words a very wise man I spent time with in PNG, ‘a minor matter’.   If it turns out to be 5 years, will having a breast have made my life more worthwhile?  I don’t think so.  I spend 99% of my time clothed.  99% of the world will never know.

My heart breaks for that little girl in Syria.  Pretty certain she has zero choices.  Will she get a shoulder reconstruction or a prothesis?  Not unless someone plucks her from the war zone and flies her to a safe country with the medical expertise and funds to pay for it.  She has just lost her arm – a vital part of an able body.  I am going to lose a breast – one that has done it’s nurturing and pleasing work, and now needs to go.  I want to tell my surgeon to donate the fees I am not paying for a reconstruction to a hospital in Syria so that little girl and all the other kids maimed, really maimed, by war can get a chance for surgery to help them live useful, safe lives. Depending on how much the insurance will actually cover, I might just do that myself.

And instead of wasting our lives watching ‘The Real Housewives’ of anywhere and filling heads with unrealistic images of bodies and what they should and should not look like, can we just have a reality check on what matters.  I found the performances of our Para -Olympians far more inspiring and newsworthy than the main Olympics.  People with less than ‘perfect’ bodies.  The maimed and deformed, but what an example they set.  I did not anticipate joining the ranks of the ‘disabled’ and have the athletic ability of a caterpillar, but I do have other things to offer the world.  I hope the fact that I will have just one real breast will not stop me from making my contribution.

Signage by Joe.  I was supposed to be right on the red dot by now.  Pleased to be getting treatment now but I can't help but wish I was there instead

Signage by Joe. I was supposed to be right on the ‘You are here’ red dot by now. Pleased to be getting treatment quickly but I can’t help but wish I was there instead.  Maybe another time.



About Ngaire Wallen

Landscape designer, thinker, partner, mother, reader, wanna-be writer keen to inflict my thoughts on the world.
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