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I Was a Young Healthy Person Until I Had Breast Cancer

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When I exercise, I have a lot of things to worry about. Not the least of which is making sure not to catch a glimpse of my red-faced sweaty grossness in the mirror that gyms inexplicably put everywhere. I have to make sure my socks don’t slip too far into my shoes because I hate that. I have to worry about singing along too loudly with “Uptown Funk.”

I mean, it’s a lot.

Oh, and I have to worry about my heart rate.

I know that technically everyone should watch their heart rate when they exercise, but it’s of significance to me because I have had a form of chemotherapy that is known to be not too friendly to the heart. I also have to be careful about how much muscle I build in the chest, lest my breast implants start shifting around and make me into something out of “Star Wars Gone Wild.”

But the main thing that increases my heart rate at the gym is not the treadmill, or elliptical, or weights. It’s the television.

Yes, the gym has the television on the news, and I have to say that lately my heart rate has been going through the roof. Every few minutes it seems there is someone on the screen talking about how we need health care to be renovated so healthy young people don’t have “the burden” of paying more for the sick. And I seethe.

I want to punch faces so badly that I have stopped using the words, “I’m not a violent person, but…” to preface anything.

You see, I was one of those young healthy people so unfairly burdened in my premiums by the sickly. I exercised a fair amount, ate decently, had no issues with cholesterol, didn’t smoke, had terrific blood pressure, family history was a clean slate. Heck, I even got such a great blood panel once my doctor drew an extra smiley face and wrote “Great lipids!” on the results.

The worst issues I had was nearsightedness and braces on my teeth in high school (which combined with my nerdiness led to a healthy deficit in those interested in asking me out.) So when, just a few weeks before my 39th birthday, I felt a mass in my left breast, I figured it was nothing more than a benign cyst.

So did my gynecologist.

And since I was so young, and so healthy, and had no history of cancer in my family, I left without a mammogram and with a skip in my step.

Until I could tell it was growing.

A few weeks after my 39th birthday my gynecologist agreed it was time to take a second and closer look. And it was cancer.

Look, I’m not going into all I went through in the years to follow, or describe how I will always have this as part of my “new normal” because my story is a lot luckier than that of so many. But, now that I am down two breasts, I have something to say to the multitude of boobs I’m seeing on television.

Shut. Up.

It is fair that I paid for those sickly people, because all of us are one weird genetic mutation, one bad car accident, one “sent to a meaningless war and got injured” away from needing help. And no one who needs help wants the help. Trust me.

No one who needs help wants to need the help. No. One.

The smug confidence with which these people speak, the cavalier manner in which they disregard others, the “just get a health savings account” rhetoric is deplorable. It is disgusting. It is an invitation to make people feel like needing assistance means they are less than. But they are not. We are not.

I. Am. Not.

What did I do to get cancer? I woke up. I breathed in and out every day. I taught children. I wrote poetry. That’s it.

My family chart I had to draw for my oncologist had one filled in circle for cancer… and it was me. It just happened. And I am so glad I had financial, emotional and physical support.

It hurts me more than words could say to merely consider that even one person on this planet in some way resents me for the added “burden” I have put on my community, because I hope instead they see that this nerdy wife, teacher, friend, daughter, sister, geeky aunt also adds to the community in return for their efforts.

I am not a violent person (wink wink), and I would never wish to get to the point where the boobs on television have to have the feeling of having their breasts removed to have some understanding of why health care needs to be a shared effort. But if that is what it takes, then let me be the first to recommend my plastic surgeon. (Side note — reconstructive surgery for breast cancer patients was only covered by insurance starting in 1998.)

And let me warn you, my fellow breastless wonders, you are going to hear a whole lot of people saying it’s unfair that they have to be there for you. You’re going to be asked to dump yourself into “high risk pools” in a euphemism for where they put people they think are already swirling around the drain. You’re going to have to hear people talk about you the way you only used to talk about others who weren’t so lucky.

So watch your heart rate.

This post was previously published on

Thinkstock photo by Anna_Isaeva

Originally published: August 4, 2017
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