I lost a friend to breast cancer this week. Sandee was a hardworking, kind, funny, sweet, bright light of a person who fought her cancer with everything she had. She refused to let it take over her life, saying with joy “See! I told you I’d make it longer than a week!” when given a diagnosis time frame from her doctor. She and I had a conversation about her heath one day, and her attitude humbled and floored me. She told me that “Cancer may end up taking her life, but it wouldn’t RULE it”. A cancer diagnosis often times does rule people’s lives.
Cancer is a terrible disease that takes so much away. It steals power from you, both physically and mentally. When you want nothing more than control, it is wrested away from you. Breast cancer, in particular, removes so many things that women feel are important to them.
- The loss of their breasts and all sensation that will never fully return
- Expanders inserted where their breast tissue was, previously, to make room for an implant. The discomfort of having them filled with saline ever 2-weeks to expand the skin until the pocket is large enough to insert the breast implant.
- Chemotherapy, where they have suffered their hair loss as well as their brows, which now have to be drawn on every day.
- Radiation, which many times creates contractures, (a pulling of the skin creating discomfort and may require additional surgery to release it or even it out).
- Infections that can produce prolonged healing and may even require removal of the implant until the infection is under control then the additional procedure of replacing the implant.
- Once they get past these points and are ready for a prosthetic breast, (or breasts) it doesn’t look like “normal.”. It may have the shape of a breast, but it doesn’t have an areola.
There are so many changes that women who fight breast cancer have to face. Not just their bodies, but their minds and emotions. Not to mention the immense financial burden that having cancer can cause. In fact, cancer patients are 2.5 times more likely to file for bankruptcy after they are diagnosed, according to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Loss of work during and after treatment, high out of pocket expenses, and expensive therapies put people with cancer in precarious positions, financially as well as medically. Many treatments are not covered by insurance.
For instance, areola tattooing is an important part of healing and feeling back to normal. It was once covered by insurance but no longer is.
This type of tattooing can be expensive unless you find someone charitable like Rose Marie Beauchemin-Verzella who donates one day out of every month, no charge to perform areola tattooing for women breast cancer survivors as well as training others. This step, which seems small, makes huge differences in women’s lives.
Many women lose their hair in treatment. It may seem trivial to some when they are in the fight for their lives, but it is every day IN YOUR FACE reminder that you are not okay. Thankfully, there are also many programs that can help women get wigs at no cost if wanted.
With all the changes that Sandee went through with her battle with cancer, the one that she absolutely won was her refusal to lose her sense of humor and positivity. She was texting loving messages to people hours before her death, leaving last words of hope and love. Love carries on.