By Marg Hall
Short version: my boob hurts, I’m sad I’m having a mastectomy, I miss my mom, I’m angry about capitalism, we should revolt. Long version follows.
My mastectomy is this week. In reading about breast cancer I come across the concept of “sacrifice.” I think about my breast, soon to be sacrificed. There are 85,000 chemicals introduced into consumer products, the vast majority unregulated, many known to be carcinogenic. Commerce thrives in the absence of regulation. So does breast cancer. There are those who profit; there are those who pay the price. Business as usual demands sacrifice.
Four weeks post-lumpectomy, I gaze in the mirror at my left breast. It still feels hot, looks discolored, and appears angry. Below the anger is pain. I feel sad for what I (my doctors) have inflicted on my breast. Now they will amputate that breast because of a few misguided cells. This seems unfair, but I don’t want those cells to spread. They don’t stay put. They threaten the rest of me. Primitive solutions are all I have; still I feel remorse. It’s not my breasts’ fault.
I speculate anxiously about my post-surgery body. Will I feel as though a weight has been lifted? Will it help my chronic back pain or will my pain worsen from scar tissue? Will the uneven loading cause even more back pain? Then what? Will I wake up and feel a rush of regret? Loss? What about my right breast? Will I always wonder what’s going on inside there? Will I feel tenderer towards it? Will I be fearful or clinging?
I wonder about the fact that seven out of nine members of my immediate family have had cancer. Kaiser has offered me genetic counseling. I prepare a family history of aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, etc. The medical lens is narrow: risk factors, genetics. Zeno estrogens that reside in my breast, introduced by some of those 85,000 unregulated chemicals, are outside the scope. The counselor puzzles over the fact that both my brother and mother had thyroid cancer. This is very unusual. So, I explain: both were diagnosed within months of each other, both lived near a nuclear power plant, both were exposed 20 years previously to radioactive iodine in an accidental release. “Well,” she says, “that explains it”–on to the next question.
My brother still lives; my mother died within months–more “sacrifice” on capitalism’s altar. My mother, my brother, and those of us living and dying with cancer—we are “countless.” Nobody really counts us, at least in ways that could adequately uncover the links between the environment and our suffering. Those who benefit from this arrangement count on us to think of cancer as only a private matter, to bravely “battle” this disease as individuals, and to be polite enough to not speak of our cancer publically or in a political context. I wonder if I can have my breast back after surgery. Maybe I’ll mail my “sacrifice” directly to Monsanto.
My friend Marg’s mastectomy took place December 23, 2015. She is recuperating from the surgery but not from her anger at the chemical industry.