During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, there’s a lot of talk about breast cancer, but little talk from breast cancer survivors–survivors who are, often times, not “thinking pink”, but rather, seeing red. Because cancer is infuriating. So I asked my angry grandmother, who is a breast cancer survivor and a woman who underwent a double mastectomy. This is what she had to say.
Do be aware: she’s got a mouth like a sailor, so if swearing (or cynicism) is something that you’d rather not read, there’s plenty of other awesome content on Blisstree that I highly recommend.
Tell me about your experience with cancer.
Just in the process of my limited life, I’ve talked to maybe 3 women who were older than I was who had a lump, and then it was gone. That didn’t happen to me. I had breast cancer 3 different times. In both boobs.
I saw my mother die of cancer, I saw my brother die of cancer, I saw my uncle die of cancer, I saw my daughter die of cancer. Every single one was different.
Bottom line: if you’re going to die, you’re going to die. If you’re not, you’re not. Everybody’s different. You never know. They don’t tell you that.
You had chemo, and then you made a decision to have a mastectomy. Why?
First, they told me to do chemo. And shit, I didn’t know what to do. So I did that.
I got some horrifically expensive chemo, which I wouldn’t have gotten if I hadn’t been on Medicaid at the time. So I was lucky. But what about everyone else? What about everyone who has to pay for all that shit?
Chemo was the worst. My hair never came back the way it was. I have never been the same since. I would never do that shit again. And you know what? Even after going through chemo, I still had to go get surgery. Because it still came back.
So I just cut them off. Because I didn’t want it to come back ever again. And now they’re not the same. And every time I look in the mirror at that horrible scar tissue, which isn’t even scar tissue, it’s half of my goddamned nipple that they didn’t remove, I think about that. About how I had to do chemo and still ended up like this because there isn’t a real cure.
Do you feel like the mastectomy was the right choice?
Well, it was that, or run out of Medicaid. That shit is so expensive. So I didn’t really see another option. And you saw how well radiation worked for Gay [her daughter, my aunt, who died after her breast cancer spread to her brain and colon].
But that doesn’t mean it was a good choice. When I finally did have the mastectomy, I couldn’t afford to get new boobs. Medicaid doesn’t cover reconstruction. Can you believe that? They’ll take them off, but they won’t put them back on.
If I knew what I know now, I would have skipped chemo, saved the money, and just lopped them off the first time around and gotten some fancy new boobs. I didn’t know that, and now, I have to go through my life feeling like I have a deformed body.
And now, there’s all this research, and everyone’s talking about how that has psychological impacts on women. Well no goddamned shit.
Do you think they’ll ever find a cure?
Who the hell knows? The other thing you don’t really hear about is that cancer care is really expensive, and there’s no one to help you out. You’ll end up spending more money than you can ever make in a lifetime. And for what? To maybe have the chance to live another few years?
A lot of people donate money to breast cancer research. But shit, it’s the most well-funded research there is. Did you know that? Breast cancer is one of the most well-funded diseases to research, but not to care for.
Cancer research money should be spent on women who can’t afford cancer. Give me the goddamned research money. I could pay rent. I could buy food. We haven’t cured cancer of any kind. But what we have done is made women into experiments and stuck them with the bill.
What do you think I should tell everyone for Breast Cancer Awareness Month?
Well, shit, honey, you’re the writer. All I can do is tell people about how it effects me personally. Because you know, when you have to deal with it yourself, it’s your own story. Your own body. Your own bills. It’s personal. You can’t tie that up in a goddamned pink ribbon.
Oh yeah, you do kind of hate the pink ribbon, right?
You know, [my daughter] was all about her pink ribbon shit. She loved it. I never liked it, but she always had a group that she went to. And you know, that worked for her, which is good. But it doesn’t work for everyone.
I try not be judgmental, even though I am. But who gives a shit? I’m an old woman in a trailer in the country.
But what I think is that we all have to be grateful, and do what makes you happy. And love our families. And try to not be too angry, even though we are.
Image: An actual photo of my grandmother, courtesy of my mother.