Stop Drive-Through Mastectomies
Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation
"Having a mastectomy is not a sprint, it's a marathon." my sister Betsy, breast cancer survivor
As the horror and death toll of Katrina climbs in the South, my family's been focused on our own personal catastrophe here in Philly: on Monday, yet another of my sisters had a mastectomy. I will leave it to other, better Bloggers to discuss Katrina, especially since I couldn't begin to top Dan Rubin of Blinq in depth and eloquence of recounting.
For me, for my sister Nan, for her children and for all of us in the family, today is about Life. But it's also about needless suffering. And about how, once again, the Government, in supporting Big Business, is complicit in that suffering.
Nan came through the surgery with an excellent prognosis. Thank God. But as our younger sister Betsy said so prosaically--and so profoundly--mastectomy is not a sprint, it's a marathon. The threat of breast cancer is horrific, but the reality is worse. The operation is devastating, but the recovery is worse. Severe pain, mutilation, weakness, helplessness ... all accompany this particular operation. It's an assault, not just to the body, but to the very essence of personhood.
Any woman who's gone through it knows, surely and completely, that the most precious commodity of recovery is Time. And she also knows, incredibly, that Big Insurance can't wait to push her out the hospital door -- far, far too soon. In less than 48 hours, if possible. It's called Drive-Through Mastectomy, and it's got to be stopped.
On December 24, 1996--Christmas Eve--Betsy had a radical mastectomy. With reconstruction. It's brutal surgery, battering and scarring both body and soul. And as if losing a breast isn't enough, the pain is excruciating, exhausting, debilitating ... and unrelenting.
The day after surgery they made her get up and walk. My heart nearly broke as this glorious athlete, this spirited overachiever, this wildly free spirit shuffled along the hospital hallway, leaning heavily on me, breathless with pain and effort. Throughout our lives we've been joined in the unique dichotomy of sisterhood: unconditional support and determined, all-out competition.
As we inched forward with agonizing slowness, she whispered to me in the ultimate irony of familial love, "Sal, let me win this one." Don't compete, don't try to one-up me, she was telling me. This is not a battle I ever want you to join.
It took 5 full days for her to recover enough strength to leave the hospital under her own power, another 3 months to get back on her feet, and over a year to return to a semblance of normal life. She's a high-powered fighter in every aspect of her life, but this particular surgery knocks even the strongest to their knees. Thank god she had a responsive employer, great insurance and doctors who were on board with the need for an appropriate length of hospital care.
Congress needs to get on board too. The ethical--and political--reality is that this is a far too prevalent and well supported a disease to ignore any longer. Women, and men who love them, are stepping up and speaking out against the unspeakable practice of denying adequate medical support and time to women after a mastectomy.
A bill called the Breast Cancer Patient Protection Act of 1997 was first introduced by Congresswoman Rose DeLauro. The bill was kicked around by the Congressional Boys Club like a soccer ball, from committee to subcommittee to committee, and never brought to a vote. The Congresswoman's a fighter too; she introduced it three more times (1999, 2001, 2003), and now, in April of this year, we have HR 1849, the Breast Cancer Patient Protection Act of 2005. The bill would mandate that insurance companies cover a minimum 48-hour hospital stay for patients undergoing mastectomies, with more time if medically warranted.
My sister Nan was brought to her hospital room from Recovery at 3:30 Monday afternoon. The next morning around 9am, her doctor called to say she'd be discharged shortly. She hadn't even managed to get out of bed yet. But already, they wanted that bed for a higher paying patient, one who would run up bigger bills with more expensive medications and needless tests.
I got on my High Horse and stopped that gravy train from running over my sister, at least for one more day. But she'll come home tomorrow, to my house, where the care might not be up to AMA medical standards, but it will be care, not apathy, or worse, negligence.
For my sisters, and for all in the sisterhood of breast cancer survivors, get on your horse and ride to the rescue of HR 1849. Join the fight and let your Representatives in Congress know that the loss of a breast, or worse, to a woman is far more destructive than the loss of one day's profit to the obscenely bloated insurance industry.
Lifetimetv.com: Breast Cancer - Stop Drive-Through Mastectomies