If You Don’t Approve of Preventative Mastectomy Don’t Get One

When I recently came across yet another criticism of “unnecessary preventative mastectomy” I reacted angrily. It was on HuffPo, and the article wasn’t even about the preventative mastectomy or the decision to get one so much as the author describing her husband’s reaction, but of course a commenter started in about “unnecessary mastectomy”, thinking all these BRCA folks with their 90% chance of getting cancer just need a little vitamin D. Puhleeze, so tired of this nonsense—does it not occur to anyone that maybe the author did research, already knows and considered whatever tiny-ass piece of advice someone clearly without experience and knowledge—like that particular commenter—could offer? OK, tiny subsidiary rant over.

I am so tired of people judging others’ medical choices. If you don’t like preventative mastectomy, don’t get one. No one, not even other breast cancer patients, let alone anyone else, has any idea of the millions of little details of another’s situation, medical and otherwise, and therefore are never in a position to criticize the choices of others.

But then I think: by sharing her decision (this blogger had previously written about why she’d had the procedure) and writing about it—and by extension, when any of us who put our stories on the internet—are we inviting this judgment? I’m not suggesting anyone stop sharing, not by a long shot. While I’d like to shout at folks like the commenter, “how are any of our choices impacting you—it’s none of your business,” did we make it public business, by, ya know, sharing our business? She put her story out there and she should not expect only bravos and applause, nor should I, nor should anyone. People judge each other all the time, but do we have a reasonable expectation to have them shut their mouths, not share those judgments, when we publicize our choices?

I’m actually not asking a rhetorical question here.

As I consider this most recent fuss that has come into my line of vision, I revisit what makes me write my story and show my pictures. I put my story and my pic here and the complimentary comments are great—I do feel good when I get that support. And it hurt to be told one time in comments on HuffPo that ugly pictures of breast surgery scars should not be posted on the internet (this was during the Facebook kerfuffle).

I certainly am not providing advice about medical choices by sharing my information (see my About page), nor do I assume anyone else’s information or choices will work for me. The more I haunt the internet, the more I think every single case of breast cancer is totally unlike the next. But I like hearing about other options, about other experiences, and other opinions—it helps me think and process my own experience, my questions. For example, I know most breast cancer patients choose reconstruction.  In fact, I’m starting to feel like a freak more and more for just going with a lumpectomy. It seems everyone I read on the blogs had at least a mastectomy, usually double. I wanted to show–hey there are other options and that’s ok—we all don’t have to do the same. So I present my choice, how I got there and what happened with it, as just another experience or example, and maybe someone can benefit from knowing about it.

If I inspire, great, if not, great. I’m sure the folks who complained to Facebook about the SCAR project would just accuse me and my posting of my nippleless breast of being some attention seeking exhibitionist. If people think that, I cannot help it. All I know is, it took a long time for me to find images that matched what happened to me (as I’ve mentioned a few times on my blog, I was clumsy at searching cancer issues on the web for a long while). So the more photos of breast surgery examples there are out there for people to find, and if they can help someone else who is just now going through it, then good. I remember how alone I felt, and I remember the relief I got from seeing images similar to mine, when I finally found them. That is why I do it, it is that simple.

I think back to the woman mentioned above who criticized the influx of breast surgery scar photos on the internet, and her comment to me in which she claimed that if she ever got breast cancer she would deal with it with a positive attitude and not post her pictures on the internet. Funny, I once thought I’d never post pictures of myself either. It is impossible to know what you will do in any situation until you are absolutely faced with it. The blogger inspiring this post was indeed BRCA positive. I got the test planning that if it was positive—not realizing how unlikely that would be—I would just get a double mastectomy and be done with it. It wasn’t, obviously, but even now, I don’t know for certain that if I’d gotten a positive result I would’ve gone through with it. I cannot possibly know that unless it actually happened that way. I literally do not know what I would do in any other situation other than the ones I actually faced. If I cannot even know what I’d do with one little situational change—how can anyone have the temerity to call it an unnecessary mastectomy if they’ve never even been close to such a choice? And even if they were close enough—then they should know how awful the choice is, and why not judging others’ decisions is so important.

Ultimately I think it does not matter if the HuffPo blogger, or me, or anyone, posts our story for anyone to read. If I’d just kept the info quiet, restricted to a few IRL people, I would expect none of those people to tell me if they thought I was right or wrong in my choice—I may have shared my business but it’s still not their call. What does it matter if 15 people, or 1500, or a million people know what I did, no one has the right to question my judgment on medical decisions that impact me alone.

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Author: Cancer Curmudgeon

Oct 2010 diagnosed with Stage 3, HER2+ Breast Cancer. Completed treatment Jan 2012. Waaaaaay over pink. Applying punk rock sensibility to how I do cancer.

15 thoughts on “If You Don’t Approve of Preventative Mastectomy Don’t Get One”

  1. People need to mind their own business is what it comes down to and not try to make decisions for other people, whether having or not having the facts. The choice to have or not have surgery is clearly the choice of the person who is going to have the surgery, the person going thru the cancer has the choice to be proactive or not in their own way. People who say rude and crude things are really just clueless, uneducated people who have not “been there”

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  2. Some people just have to give there opinion when in fact they would have no idea till it happened to them!!! When we share our stories we put ourselves out there and would not be life without some negative feed back ….. Especially when you are choosing to take an unusual direction!!! Love your Rants!!!

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    1. Thank you! I love the pithy remarks I see on the interwebs like “if you don’t like gay marriage, don’t get gay married.” Just seems for all the flak women who have this surgery get, a pithy comeback like this is needed. Hope it comes in handy for some folks, and hope it stems the flow of those criticizing comments!

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  3. What a great post! I also blog about my “Cancer Lessons,” and the biggest lesson that I repeat again and again is that everyone reacts differently, both physically and emotionally, to being diagnosed. We ALL must make the decision we believe is best for us and never second-guess anyone else. As for those who haven’t worn the bras that we’ve worn (breast cancer equivalent of walking a mile in our shoes), and deign to say what they would or wouldn’t do, and what we should and shouldn’t have done, well pooh on them!

    Having said that, I must admit, I was once a lot more definite in my opinions of how things should work. That all changed. I got cancer.

    Bless you one-hundred, thousand, million times for this post. 🙂

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    1. Thank you for reading and so glad you liked. And, hurray, now I can check out your blog!
      I actually wrote on this topic before in a post called Outside the Stats, in which I pondered why maybe some women feel this is indeed necessary, no matter how good the odds are cancer won’t happen/return.
      I also expanded on the second-guessing/giving unneeded medical suggestions issue I covered in the first bit of this post in my post a couple of days later called Unlikely Resources.
      Funny how opinions change once we enter Cancerland, isn’t it?

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    1. Thank you so much! I think I finally realize the best defense to some of this critiques flung at women who publicize our medical choices is a pithy comeback like this, a reminder that the choice only impacts the one making it and therefore no one else gets say in the matter, no matter how public we take our story!

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  4. We live in a society where everyone thinks they need to have an opinion. About everything. I was criticized for choosing a lumpectomy. “I don’t know why she kept them. I would have just taken them off!” was what I heard people say about my choice. I called them ignorant and insensitive to my situation.

    Of course, they would never understand until they walk my path. But even if they are diagnosed with cancer, their case will probably be different. Their decisions would probably be different too.

    I sometimes try to educate some of those people. And sometimes I ignore them because it just seems the less stressful way to go about it.

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    1. Man I know what you mean about how it less stressful to just ignore! But yeah, I do try to call people on it when the judging gets out of hand. Sigh. Another post coming at some point about making judgments without knowledge, hopefully.

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