Mary Anne Mohanraj is a writer and English professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago. She was recently diagnosed with breast cancer and upon meeting with her female oncologist to discuss options, Mohanraj told her that she was not going to have her breasts reconstructed after the lumpectomy or mastectomy. “Don’t you want to be normal?” Mohanraj’s doctor asked her in response, according to MSN News. Is this what our world has come to? Providing patients with all possible options is one thing, but actively trying to convince patients to get fake breasts in order to look “normal” is an entirely different matter.
As a society, we hold doctors on a very high moral pedestal. We expect them to be empathic, honest and encouraging. Therefore, one can only imagine the incredible shock a patient might experience when, instead of being supportive toward her decisions, a doctor becomes the first person to judge her. Accepting oneself regardless of body shape, especially after recovering from a prolonged disease should not be something socially frowned upon.
Anyone with enough general knowledge would agree that victims of breast cancer have enough suffering to deal with. Any of the six available treatments for breast cancer involve some kind of surgery or radiation based therapy, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). For the people who are diagnosed in the primary stages, procedures of getting cured are physically exhausting, mentally draining and can be quite expensive. Although breast cancer can happen to anyone, the extent of the cancer and the resulting bodily strain observed in females is much higher than those in males, NCI reports show. Many women have to remove one entire breast through surgery, a procedure called a mastectomy, if the cancer has spread to that effect.
Consequently for some, losing a side of their breasts becomes physically displeasing, in which case medical technology today offers reconstructive silicon implants. It is, therefore, any doctor’s duty to inform breast cancer patients of such treatments. However, after suffering cancer’s misery, there are some patients who might not want reconstructive surgery since it would only add on to the post-surgical recovery time. In such a situation, it is every patient’s right to make an informed decision. If it means that she does not wish to have her breast reconstructed, her decision should not be marred by any doctor’s opinion on what a socially interactive female ought to look like.
Mohanraj’s doctor claims that she tried to convince Mohanraj of plastic surgery because she wanted to let her know of the social and professional implications the absence of one breast might hold for a professor. Her intention was to make Mohanraj understand that she would be teaching a class full of students every day, which might make her uncomfortable with her body. While it is true that a teacher without one breast might startle some students and distract some others for a while, one can assume that university level students are mature enough to understand the impact of breast cancer. Therefore, Mohanraj’s doctor should have been careful and appreciative instead of tossing her idea of “normal” while explaining the available post-surgical solutions.
As people of the twenty-first century, we are far ahead of our ancestors in understanding and curing frightening diseases and embracing those who have been affected by them. Every year, there are so many breast cancer awareness campaigns, seminars and marathons that are spearheaded by doctors sensitizing people towards a disease that impacts the life of one in every eight women in America, according to the statistics provided by breastcancer.org. It should not be abnormal if these 12 percent of women opt not to reconstruct their breasts post surgery.
It must be their personal choice without the burden of social consequences. Moreover, facing judgment is a resilient fear among patients of diseases that change the body, which could last for years without comfort. Therefore, doctors need to be the credible sources who help eradicate such fears. After all, the Hippocratic Oath of Medicine that all doctors take openly states, “…remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.” A woman fighting breast cancer should not have to battle conventional ideologies of female aesthetics and there is nobody better than a doctor to reiterate it.
Kamakshi Dadhwal can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.