This week, specifically because I attended an important mammogram appointment, I get to celebrate living another eight years, which is awesome.
I had cancer, and now I’m well. For the drama of the discovery and diagnosis, see the story at Gray James. And schedule a mammogram.
We all spend so much effort setting up appointments for our husbands (who have to be taken to the doctor at gun-point,) for our children’s multitudinous health management events, and sometimes even for our parents, that we sometimes neglect our own health upkeep.
Which is why this week’s challenge for myself (and for you if you’ll please join me) is to take care of my own health business. This week I will make my yearly check-up appointment, my dental check-up and eye exam appointments.
Some Very Special Moments can come out of adversity, as you know, and as part of my writing challenge I am gonna share one with you right now.
Once I found out I would lose one of my breasts all I could think was, how can I get a new one made? I assiduously performed extensive Internet research (you all know how I am) and learned about my options.
I didn’t want an implant because you have to change them out like tires every few years. Just read this.
I liked the idea of using my own body for reconstruction and the insurance company gave me the name of two doctors in our plan that could perform the surgery. I called the closest doctor first and made an appointment, holding a list of questions in my hand when I arrived.
I’d heard good things about him. He was a pediatric craniofacial surgeon who also did breast work, but he had me meet him in a different office than his usual practice, which was odd. Seems that he had a side business in breast implants, see? He was the only person in the small building, almost like a house, with several small rooms. If I hadn’t had my husband with me, I would have been alone with him.
My husband and I sat down on the other side of his desk, while the doctor casually twirled in his chair. I asked him how often he performed the TRAM flap procedure. He laughed.
“You know,” he gestured up at the book shelves to his left, “people think that they know what they want. They want this bottle of ketchup from shelf A, or that one from shelf B. But they don’t really understand what they want. I mean, I don’t think that you’ll be happy with the results of that surgery.”
“But I’ve read a lot about how great that surgery can be, and there is a surgeon in San Francisco,” I named her, “who is supposed to be very good.”
He laughed and shifted in his twirly chair. “Oh yeah, her. Man, I went to a conference and she put up some slides, wow. I swear I wanted her to put some breasts on me! She does a great job. But good luck getting the insurance company to pay for you to go outside of plan.”
“How often do you do this surgery?”
“It isn’t how often, really, but how happy I am with results.”
“Okay, so when was the last time you did it? How many times have you done it since then?” How long could he evade my elite interrogation skills?
“I’ve done a couple, the last one about five years ago.”
“Five years ago,” I repeated. There followed an awkward silence.
He leaped out of his chair, gesturing excitedly for us to follow him as he threaded through a couple of rooms. He opened a cabinet, opened a box, grabbed my husband’s hand and slapped a clear bag of silicone into it. He grinned up at my husband.
“Feels great doesn’t it? That’s a D-cup!” My husband carefully placed the implant back in its box. “It feels better when it warms up a little,” the doctor assured him.
I began to tell him again that I didn’t want implants, but he interrupted me.
“Do you watch porn films?”
“Do you watch porn films?” He enunciated it like I was hard of hearing. “See, a lot of doctors make the breasts come straight out from the woman’s body.” He pantomimed with his hands, shaping imaginary breasts on his own chest. “And that’s a mistake, because real breasts round out to the sides like this.” He made curvy cupping motions under his arms.
I think he might have had a Secret Wish, just saying.
I looked at my husband. He was looking thunder at the doctor. Then my husband looked at me and took my hand.
I said, “I won’t be calling you,” to the doctor. We calmly walked out of the office to our car. About two blocks away I threw one unholy tantrum. My husband pulled over and held me while I swore that bastard would never touch me, that he was SO fired, that I hated everyone and everything. It wasn’t until I started retelling the story to my friends that I appreciated the surreal absurdity of the entire encounter.
I set up a phone meeting with the second doctor who was forthright and told me he’d done five in five years, and that he hadn’t been pleased with the results, and that I should get my breast surgeon to request an out-of-plan authorization from the insurance company.
I did, he did, and the insurance company said no. I phoned them and reminded them that the former President Clinton had signed a federal law that said they had to let me do it anyway and pay for it as well. I told them about the two doctors they’d sent me to, all of it, and how they’d be hearing from my lawyer if I didn’t have an authorization in hand within a week (total bluff.)
All the while the cancer cells were tick-tocking inside my left breast, in time with my frantic heartbeat.
Six days later the authorization arrived, I went to Women’s Plastic Surgery and when I asked that doctor how often she did the same surgery, she said five times a week. And she got out a book of befores and afters. She performed my surgery so beautifully that every time I get a mammogram, the technicians ooh and aaah and ask me who my plastic surgeon was.
That very month, the insurance company signed an agreement with the surgery practice I used, and now every woman in our plan who needs post-mastectomy reconstruction can go there and have it paid for. And no one has to talk to their surgeons about porn films. Unless they really, really want to, I guess.
So go forth and save your own eyes, teeth, and maybe your life. Get your blood-work done, your teeth cleaned, your vision checked, and your breasts mammogrammed.
Do it for you, and for the people who love you and depend on you.
I dare you.