You don’t need to dance before your double mastectomy to be awesome

November 7th, 2013 § 68 comments

Yesterday there was a video of a woman throwing a dance party in the operating room on the way in to her double mastectomy. The headline called what she did “awesome” and the writer of the piece said she wanted to go clubbing with the woman after she “was all healed.”

The video went viral. Many people thought it was, as the headline had said, “awesome.” The piece called her “brave.”

So what’s the problem?

I have no judgment on the woman who had the dance party. You want to shake your booty to Beyonce before you go off to dreamland for cancer surgery? If your surgical team feels it doesn’t compromise anything about the environment, go for it.

But why a video of this goes viral and everyone cheers “Awesome! Brave!” … well, the implication is that if you didn’t do that as you went in to your double mastectomy, you’re not awesome. Or brave.

On the morning of my double mastectomy in 2007, I packed my two older children off to school after making sure they had warm hats and gloves, typed out a schedule for those would be taking care of my children while I was in the hospital for a few days, reluctantly left my third child (only seven months old), went to the hospital, got prepped for surgery and laughed with my surgeon as he (unnecessarily, it seemed to me) signed both of my breasts with purple Sharpie to indicate which body parts needed to be removed.

True awareness means showing the spectrum of what experiences are like for people with breast cancer, and not making them feel less than “awesome” if they don’t want to dance into their operation and just want to be wheeled in as usual. Videos of dancing patients reinforce putting a carefree, happy face on a disease that — even if detected early– still has a 20-30% chance of metastasizing, sometimes decades later.

I did everything possible to keep my cancer from returning. But it did anyway. I now have stage IV breast cancer, a diagnosis considered incurable.

I am no less awesome just because I didn’t dance and sing when they wheeled me in to surgery six years ago. I smile and laugh and write on my blog many days a week to educate and inform readers. But that isn’t as “fun” as showing a video of a dance session in the OR. I think the way we all rally to treat this disease deserves recognition.

There are many ways to be inspirational, and they don’t all involve flash mobs in the operating room. Unfortunately, however, feather boas and booty dances are the stories that get the public’s attention.

 

§ 68 Responses to You don’t need to dance before your double mastectomy to be awesome"

  • Barbara says:

    I too had a double mastectomy (June 2010) I am so sorry to learn you now have stage lV breast cancer. Wow…how does that happen with having a double mastectomy? I think I need to ask my oncologist a lot more questions at my next appointment.

    • Rebecca says:

      Barbara, If you search through Lisa’s blog here you will find out how it is possible. I don’t want to misquote anything so I won’t try to answer it myself, but she has answered that question before about how you can get breast cancer when you have no breasts left.

      • Margaret says:

        I recall Lisa saying a later biopsy report found malignant cells in a lumph node and that the insitu cancer was an agressive type.

  • Yes! I couldn’t put my finger on why that video going viral bothered me, but this is it. Thank you for sorting out my own feelings for me ;) And, truly, you are awesome.

  • Jennifer says:

    Couldn’t agree more… And I do hope you realize just how deeply you have touched so many of us Lisa… I live in South Africa…we have never met… Yet I read and reread and am so moved by your writing… And I look so forward to your posts and insights… My friends and family read your posts and we talk about your wonderful turn of phrase and way of saying things … Often pure poetry in a harsh landscape of reality… Keep on keeping on and know how awesome you are x

  • Teresa says:

    Lisa, you are awesome in every sense of the word; even in ways the word “awesome” does not fully convey. Your fierce dedication to your children, your determination to squeeze every second out of every day, to pour every bit of energy you have into your children and your husband (and Lucy!), your tender and generous caring for friends and family (near and far, on the twitter and IRL), are all testimony to your awesomeness. Like you I don’t want to judge the dancer. We all cope however we can; I get that. But the meta-messages implied in that viral video (just like the whole “pink washing” issue…) seem to limit our perceptions of what brave, determined responses might look like; it feels reductive. It’s as if we want to say you have to dance or, well, we can’t handle the truth. All I know is that I couldn’t watch that video but I read every word you write even if it makes me sad or mad (eg., even if it makes me want to scream “Fuck you cancer! I hate how you’re hurting my friend!”). I love you, friend. Thank you for your honesty. xo

  • Jodi says:

    I follow you and think you are amazing, strong, brave and VERY AWESOME. I do however think you got the wrong message from that video going viral (and I understand why you and many others may feel that way) but I wish you wouldn’t.
    I was personally touched deeply by the video as I have also been touched deeply by many, if not all of your posts. It was her way of coping with her fear, or maybe she thought it might possibly be her last dance, or put her staff in the right state of mind to perform the best surgery, whatever it was, many of us that watched it felt good, for her or with her. We thought she was brave and maybe awesome, but no braver than you are, no more awesome, just inspirational in the moment. You are inspirational, brave and awesome everyday and that viral video does not diminish that fact for you or the other awesome people facing illness in whatever way works best for them. I was inspired by that video as I am inspired by your posts and I thank you both for sharing your experiences.

  • nancyspointn says:

    Hi Lisa,

    Well said. I thought the video was just bizarre. When I was wheeled away for my bilateral, my husband was in tears as we said goodbye and dancing was the last thing on my mind…

    Of course, if that’s what this woman wanted to do, good for her. I guess. But the message that gets sent out is way off the mark in my book too. Thank you for writing this.

  • Janine says:

    Thank you for writing this…I too had a double mastectomy, it was on April 7, 2012. I did not dance in my OR. I went into my OR of being sure of only one thing…I had to not only survivor breast cancer but to continue to live my life. I needed to live my life so that my 14 and 11 year old daughters knew that surviving is only one part of the equation. To continuing to live a full life so your family can have you in theirs for a little while longer is the other half.

  • Maggie says:

    You are awesome, Lisa — even without the song and dance. I just want to share something with you that I would want you to know. Your blog — again, without the whole fanfare of song and dance — has changed my life. Because of your constant reminders and your effort to raise public awareness of the danger of (breast) cancer, I have resolved to adopt a healthier lifestyle. I haven’t succeeded entirely, but I guess it’s a start. I have resolved to exercise regularly, quit smoking, eat better and sleep better (which is the hardest battle of all, since I usually write at night). I want you to know that no flashmob video would have been able to make me change my life(style). No amount of song and dance would have helped me reach my current resolution about how I want to live the rest of my life. Cancer is real. I know that now because you make it real for all of us who usually hide behind our own wall of ignorance. I’m writing you from a coffee shop in the middle of Jakarta. Your message gets around, Lisa. I love you for persevering, for making the time to find something beautiful to be thankful for every day (and helping us do the same) — even when the battle seems impossible to win sometimes. You are more than awesome. I just want to echo Teresa’s words, “Fuck you cancer! I hate how you’re hurting my friend!” Many times I find myself at a loss for words. I follow your blog and read your posts regularly, but I just can’t seem to bring myself to say anything for fear that whatever I say will sound too much or too pretentious. I don’t know what to say that can make you feel better. But that sentiment, “Fuck you, cancer!” seems appropriate. I love you!

  • Amelia says:

    Thankyou. I am sooo pleased that you give a voice to so many of us. I too have stage 4. I was often told by others to watch funny movies, always be cheerful cause if you don’t, you’re not brave and awesome. Having said that, I never complain even though I’m in constant pain and there’s not a day that I feel well or ‘normal’.I don’t talk about my illness anymore. Someone even told me that I am one of the lucky ones and must be grateful for what I still have. And that cancer sufferers have time to get their life in order which is not granted to others who die instantly / unexpectantly. Another person told me that cancer is a priveledge!

    • Millie Neon says:

      Hi Amelia, it’s appalling for anyone to tell you “cancer is a privilege”, etc. Also to tell you to watch funny movies so you can be brave and awesome. But, watching funny movies or reading anything that really makes you laugh can be somewhat therapeutic. Belly laughter has actual effects in the body. Here’s a link to an article on laughter therapy.

      http://www.cancercenter.com/treatments/laughter-therapy/

  • Jessica Humston says:

    Lisa, as a stage 4 patient, YOU get my attention. I don’t want fluff. I’m also a mother and I believe we deserve more respect than we get sometimes for the juggle. Bless you and keep inspiring us. I don’t dance, but damn do I feel as brave as ever!

  • Romy Corliss says:

    This was exactly my feeling too- thank you for posting!

  • Taylor says:

    I think what people liked about the video is that it’s really hard to be positive even day-to-day when you don’t have any issues. It’s not that the video made her “better”; it’s that everyone was amazed by how positive she seemed, even if it was a front. She’s a doctor, so I’m sure she understood the odds.

    I have never faced a double mastectomy, but if I did, I probably wouldn’t be dancing. That’s okay, but it’s also okay to enjoy that someone can. It’s not a competition, after all. No one’s response is “right” or “wrong,” but I think most people watching enjoyed it because they wouldn’t have reacted the same way.

  • Sam says:

    Context is important. The patient is an Ob/Gyn at the hospital and was with what are described as colleagues. It is a very different dynamic when you are a patient in your own hospital being treated by your co-workers.
    She did what she thought was best for her, her family, and her friends.

  • Barb Bristow says:

    Lisa, I couldn’t bring myself to even watch the video. The thought of dancing before my bilateral mastectomy makes me want to throw up. Thanks for the post. Again, you are
    writing what a lot of us are feeling! Barb

  • Lisa,

    You always write so eloquently…and smartly. I think the part that bothered me the most about the viral video is what you state in your last sentence: feather boas and booty dances are the stories that get the public’s attention. The good that came out of it–another poignant post from you.

    It sees to me the gal in the video (an ob/gyn doc herself with her team) was doing what she needed to do prior to her own surgery. It seems she received comfort, courage, & support by doing this dance. However, I am wondering what exactly it provided her by videotaping the experience. Whatever it is worth…it started a conversation and was the catalyst for another insightful post from you.

  • Bev Dunsmore says:

    This past week I went for a recall mammogram and ultra sound….when they showed me the imagine of the “lump” on the xray screen…my fear level went so high I wanted to scream and run….after the tests was told that it was most likely a cyst and they would re check in three month….so God Bless each of you that have had a personal journey and each one has a personal story of how you have managed…. three days before my recall letter we learned that my husband may have prostrate cancer so we had so had some tough days….his news wasn’t as good as mine as he does have cancer and it is advanced….like many of you have shared I hate the disease and I hate the word….but I really try and not enter into hate and anger even when it is turning our lives upside down right now….so I reframed the word “cancer”…I prefer to use “recnac” (cancer spelled backwards)…it takes the sting out of all the negative emotions that the word cancer has (for me) We are not going to sit back and let this recnac win….we are going to fight for my husband and for all of you and your families….we know Faith is personal as well, but we believe in Miracles and that prayer….friends….love and our families are a huge piece of this journey…I pray that each one of brave and amazing women are surrounded by love and I pray peace for you.

  • Ellen M says:

    I totally agree.

    I was starting to think there was something wrong with me, because I didn’t find the video as inspiring as many people felt it was.

    Your thoughts about your experience is raw and real and the honesty in which you write about it is inspiring to me and countless others.

  • Kim C says:

    If she is a doctor and these are her colleagues – it puts it a little more in perspective. I guess she was trying to convey that she’s still whole, even after a cancer diagnosis. For me, it felt a little too long and I couldn’t help but cringe. I turned it off before it was finished. When I was wheeled in for my third cancer surgery, the tears streamed down my face till I fell asleep with my surgeon holding my hand.

  • Rebecca says:

    Lisa I’m surprised you posted the link to the video. I’m not watching it. I’m not going for the sensationalism that is behind it. While Sam points out that there is context behind it I agree with you. Most of us go into any kind of surgery with fear and reluctance. Dancing is not what most of us feel like doing.

    When my grandmother had a dual mastectomy and it changed her body image forever. There was no dancing.

  • Paula DiPaolo says:

    Totally agree x10! I am only 6 months out from my surgery and like you-got a young child off to school (trying not to break down.) All I felt was pure panic-I wanted to flee-it was horrible.

    I just discovered you this week and have read everything in 2 days. I have not come across anyone yet who tells the story this way-raw and real. I so appreciate this-tired of the sugarcoating.

    Hope you can enjoy this fall day-I lived in CT for 5 years and it was my fave place!

  • Thank you for sharing. I respect your “advocacy,” “knowledge,” and “willingness to share information.” Your posts have been inspirational, encouraging, and informative.

  • Dawn says:

    Lisa I agree and I don’t know if I even like the word “awesome” anymore. You are in my prayers and your children and family are very lucky. God bless

  • Renn says:

    Lisa I was just about to blog about this viral video when I saw you had already done so. I also just had a lengthy discussion on this video with my closed BC Facebook group ladies and we were all disturbed by it. I do not think this happened prior to her surgery. Everyone would be scrubbed up and I doubt they would be dancing. The biggest issue is the feeling of joy. There is no joy in having your breasts removed.

    PS My friends that I saw posting this on Facebook and talking about how awesome it was are NOT breast cancer patients. That in and of itself is always telling…

    PPS I love your blog. I love how you always speak the truth. It is so needed! Thank you for being you. Sending {{{hugs}}}

    • Karuna says:

      Renn, I respect your thoughts and feelings, and hope you won’t mind if I share my response here, it seems to most fit into your comments. The day this video came out a friend texted me to watch because I was on my way to the University for an all day consult about the cancer tumor in my breast. I was a little taken aback by the video at first. But in a flash of insight I realized that I had discovered the tumor in time to be treated early. This gave me a moment of pure joy and appreciation, which I have been able to refer back to. I understand from my surgeon the tumor is localized, but the statistics show that the cancer may well return at some point even if I go through with the complete treatment plan. Even though I agree with much of what you and Lisa and the others say here, for me it feels right to let the woman in the video have her moment. The video does make me cringe a little, I don’t know why. But I’m thankful for the insight that it gave me. For now, that insight is sustaining me toward what has to be done next. Thank you.

  • Kathy says:

    I agree Its like if you wear pink and “stay positive” it won’t come back … and being a survivor is surviving all the surgeries and chemo… not the cancer.. ((hugs))

  • I really appreciate this post Lisa. I had come across a link to the video earlier today and didn’t feel like watching it. When I read your post I decided to click the link you provided. Dancing with friends to get some good energy going before a difficult surgery was what she wanted to do. Good for her. But as you said, we need to acknowledge and celebrate the range of experiences and not give a limited definition to brave and “awesome.” I celebrated in my own ways when the drain tubes came out 12 days after surgery, when I took my first run post-surgery, when I could lift my arms over my head again. Thanks for the ongoing insights and inspiration.

  • Alice Brandon says:

    You are spot on! As someone with breast cancer you express my feelings in a much more eloquent way than I can. Thank you .

  • Ann Marie says:

    Whether we agree or disagree it was her choice. None of us are the same so our paths and how we deal are all so different. I though the end was the most important the hugs from colleges and friends. I think she is was trying to show cancer how awesome she is. I think Lisa is awesome for writing, Anne Marie is awesome for her tireless efforts for the cause, Lisa F is awesome for holding my hand, Nancy of Broken Boobie is helping me with education, Jody is awesome for #bcsm, Efrat is awesome for her Cure Diva, and so on. The point is we all are taking this the way we need to. Maybe her message will help someone who is at rock bottom! I think that is something.

  • Lori says:

    Lisa,
    Thank you for writing this. When I first saw this, I couldn’t even watch it. My thought was, I doubt she will still be dancing when she wakes up with expanders that hurt more than she can imagine and tubes hanging from her body. I doubt she will be dancing when that first round of chemo enters her body through a port that looks like an alien under her skin. I doubt she will be dancing when the radiation burns her skin. I doubt she will be dancing months after chemo ends when she is still exhausted, has little hair, eyebrows or eyelashes, and her body aches from the assault of the drugs and radiation. I know that may sound harsh, and I should give her credit for approaching her mastectomy as she did. But, I can only go with what I know now, and what little I knew then. I was naive and had no idea what I faced. I had done my research, but nothing really prepared me. Most of all, I wasn’t prepared to find that often this is a disease that isn’t easily treated and cured.

    I guess I am not really bothered that this woman is dancing. She is naive, just as I was. Like so many others, I am bothered that people are celebrating this one person’s reaction to a devastating surgery. It is easier to see someone dance rather than to see somene cry about the amputation of part of their body. It is much easier to watch someone dance than to stop to realize that way too many women still lose their lives to this brutal disease. I think I will wait to dance until a cure is found.

  • I didn’t throw a dance party before my double mastectomy and I think I am totally awesome.

  • Carolyn says:

    Lisa, You ARE AWESOME! I am so impressed with your writing, dignity and intelligence. I wish you all the best.

  • Bella says:

    ALL emotions are appropriate for those brave women undergoing mastectomy surgery!
    If we can open our hearts and offer support without judgement, we might seek to understand a bit better.

  • Carrie says:

    Lisa, I found your blog a year ago in October and have read your postings with great gratitude ever since. I’m grateful that someone is putting a voice to our experience with such grace and eloquence. I thought about writing a comment about the dancing before my double mastectomy video but just couldn’t put my personal experience down on paper. I know the dancing woman did what felt right and she’s supposed to be true to herself, especially given her diagnosis. We all support her and her awesomeness. It’s just not awesome five years later when the cancer has metastasized and the dancing doesn’t feel so awesome any longer. It’s the looking back that hurts.

  • Merrianne says:

    Thank you for sharing this. So much. Words cannot express.

  • Phyllis says:

    Lisa, You articulate my feelings so well. I have no issue with the woman dancing. We all have to deal with this in our own way and she did what she needed to do, hopefully for herself.

    I do have a problem with the language that has evolved around breast cancer. Why is dancing before surgery considered “brave”? When I am called “brave,” I interpret it as an indication that I’m doing a good job of hiding the impact cancer has on me so that other people don’t have to be afraid or feel bad. Why should that be my burden?

    I think Lori hit the nail on the head– people don’t want to see or hear the hard truth because it scares them. No one likes feeling bad. Seeing someone dance makes them feel warm and fuzzy, so the dancer is rewarded by being called “awesome” or “brave”. It is language used by those who lack the very personal experience of breast cancer to make themselves feel better.

  • sue says:

    This is what is awesome to me:

    “On the morning of my double mastectomy in 2007, I packed my two older children off to school after making sure they had warm hats and gloves, typed out a schedule for those would be taking care of my children while I was in the hospital for a few days, reluctantly left my third child (only seven months old), went to the hospital, got prepped for surgery and laughed with my surgeon as he (unnecessarily, it seemed to me) signed both of my breasts with purple Sharpie to indicate which body parts needed to be removed.”

    Getting out of bed in the morning and living each day in spite of cancer.

  • N Milby says:

    Truly an inspiration with all of your open writings in regards to reality!! Thank you, Lisa

  • You= All Kinds Of Awesome. And long may it continue, dancing when you choose to!

  • Morgan Todd says:

    I have been following your blog for quite sometime. My mother died of cancer when I was 7. I was diagnosed with a complex autoimmune disease eight years ago, I am now 22 and have been doing chemotherapy for the last two years. I love the honesty of your writing. I too saw this video and watched as it went viral over facebook yesterday. You nailed my feelings right on the head and I just want to thank you for being bold and speaking from the other viewpoint that many people don’t talk about. I have felt for so long the need to put a brave face on or a “positive spin” on things and that is just not how it should be. It’s so important for those that suffer with any kind of chronic illness to not feel like there is a standard to live up to. I just want to thank you for shedding light on this important topic and I wish you the best of luck as begin your clinical trial. I just started a clinical trial and your postings have been very helpful.

  • Lola says:

    I don’t think it was about sensationalism …she is a doctor with her colleagues. How others perceived it and her is not fair to put totally on her. Would I do it, no. But who cares if it bought her some joy. Now the journalist is the one that over hyped it, and everyone else is just keeping it in the limelight.

  • Beth Gainer says:

    Lisa, thank you for this post. I didn’t watch the video, but I was very aware of it. With my bilateral mastectomy, I joked a bit with the doctors (it’s how I cope with these kinds of situations), but I didn’t start a 70s dance party.

    I agree that however a person acts prior to the surgery (provided it’s not harmful) is up to her/him. However, I don’t see anything “brave” about it. People who don’t do this are just as brave.

  • Bethgo says:

    I saw the video on the news. I am glad that the woman found a way to smile before the surgery. I understood the spirit of what she was doing.
    I had my bilateral mastectomy in April and I would never have considered a flash mob. I was too scared and was reliving the trauma from an emergency c-section years earlier. I was a mess actually.
    Both reactions are ok and both are brave. I consider myself exceptionally brave for going into that operating room terrified. Because to me doing something you are scared of is the definition of brave.
    Our society has become voyeuristic, so to many people, posting something so intimate and personal with a smile on your face can be considered brave. Smiling through cancer IS brave and I applaud her for her own style of bravery but I watched that video and thought no way that would be me.
    And I’m ok with that.

  • Kathi says:

    Lisa, I’m so glad you wrote this. Frankly, I couldn’t even watch that video. And I didn’t want to. It’s great that this woman felt moved to do that, and maybe even got a little endorphin boost just before surgery by doing so. But it also seems to me that it just reinforces the ‘pink party,’ ‘she-ro’ nonsense that is still all too rife in the awareness industry. Right before my surgery, I was not up to dancing, even if I’d wanted to. I’d just found out, from the radiologist who did my pre-op mamm, that the spread of my cancer was larger than had been seen in my original diagnostic images. I’d just had to have two wires, not one, shoved into my breast. The topical anaesthetic didn’t work for the 2nd one, and I felt like I was being stabbed by a hot poker. I caused me to faint, and then I threw up bile. And the radiologist, the mamm tech & an aide had to mop me up & slather me in cold cloths so I could be wheeled back into the surgery waiting room, to get shot up with more drugs to knock me out for surgery. Not really a dance opportunity. And that was just for a partial mastectomy. I think the only thing I was obliged to do about surgery was (a) show up for it, and (b) wake up after it. That was enough. Hugs.

  • Elizabeth Seabrooke says:

    The woman danced – each for his own -but the media and the public’s response, took this to another level, making light of a very sobering illness. People with cancer have to fight for their lives day in and day out, not just physical, but emotionally and mentally – it is serious stuff!! – and it should always be treated that way! Cancer must NEVER be trivialized!!

    Elizabeth

  • I didn’t watch that video because I thought the description alone was ridiculous. You danced before they cut your breasts off? Who does that?
    I hate all that lunacy recaptioned as “brave” and “awesome.” I think it’s delusional and makes me want to lie down and throw up. The world is insane when having your breasts removed somehow warrants a party atmosphere. There is nothing worth celebrating when a cancer diagnosis sends you into the OR but once again, put on a brave face so the masses can ooh and aah at your courage. Such crap. As if you had a choice.

  • CMO says:

    I am surprised that there is so much criticism for the video. Each person should be allowed to deal with their fears in their own way. If this woman felt better by dancing prior to surgery, why on earth would we criticize her for that? We need less judgement and more compassion and understanding.

    Her dancing prior to surgery doesn’t make her any more awesome or nicer, or cuter or dumber, or whatever than you or anyone else. I would think those who had been in that same place as this patient would be more compassionate and empathetic and less critical.

    • Britt Lee says:

      I felt the same way, CMO… but LBA here was generous enough to explain it to me a little more. This post is not meant to take away from Dr. Cohan, but provide a bit of relief for most (all?) of us who approached that day various amount of drug-addled terror and sadness. Unfortunately, that is difficult to do without sounding critical. Like you, I think no one deserves even the tiniest whiff of criticism to how she approaches that day. I also think that the dancing wasn’t about *her* at all, but a generous gift to her family and friends to let them know– at that scary moment!– that she was ok, still quite herself, and trying to find the joy and love. Brave and awesome? You bet.

  • […] wants to share on Facebook or Twitter. The quiet ones, the ones we might not otherwise get to hear. Lisa Bonchek Adams is one of those stories. She writes, in her words, about “metastatic breast cancer, grief […]

  • Debbie Calvo says:

    I had triple negative breast cancer. Treated 2.5 years ago. Thank you for putting into words so eloquently exactly what I’ve felt when friends posted about this patient with the dance party. I wasn’t even sure I could voice what irritated me so much about people posting this over and over. It wasn’t that I was angry at the patient dancing. It was much, much deeper. I think it was that it felt like a disregard for the depth of the experience I’d experienced fighting cancer (was I less awesome because I didn’t dance around in my hospital robe) and a disregard for the many patients I’ve met along the way whose awesomeness has moved me to great depths but weren’t dancing their way into surgery. Bless you in you fight! Thank you for voicing this response.

  • Paula says:

    I hate videos like that, too. And I’m sure the woman in the video IS awesome. But so are women and men all over the planet who are dealing with unfathomable circumstances every day. I don’t even know what the word “brave” means anymore.

    Thank you, Lisa, for another amazing post. Reading it, my mind got snagged on the image of you packing your two older children off to school and leaving your seven-month-old son on that hectic morning to go to the hospital. My son was two-and-a-half when I left him (thankfully, my husband and parents brought him to visit me every day at the hospital) when I had my cancer surgery. Late the night before, I had to pull him away from cartoons and nurse him for what would be the last time (he had no idea), and quickly get him to sleep so I could finish getting everything ready for my hospitalization and accompanying absence from our household. At some point, I stuck a letter under my pillow asking my husband not to take our son too far away if I died (my husband is from the West Coast but remained on the East Coast after he and I met), as I didn’t think my parents could handle it. The doctors had said that my chance of survival was 50/50 which I thought seemed pretty good; that note (which no one ever saw, as I retrieved it unseen when I returned home a week later) was probably one of the few indications I ever revealed (which in the end, I only revealed to myself) that I wasn’t completely hopeful that everything would be okay.

    Reading your post today, I suddenly felt horrible for weaning my son so abruptly on that fateful night (although I had been unsuccessfully trying to wean him from the moment of my cancer diagnosis weeks before). I felt compelled tonight to apologize to him all these years later. But what really stopped me in my tracks was realizing how much younger Tristan was (and that you had two more to worry about)… I thought two-and-a-half seemed young (and a lot to think about)! I don’t know how you did it, got everything organized, especially with a baby that young. I don’t know how you do it now.

    But then again, I guess I do. Because you tell us. And you help us validate every thought we’ve ever had that no one else will say. There’s such a huge difference between the trenches and the sound bites. Our continuous thoughts about our children, the fears, the constant chemo side effects… versus the YouTube dazzling dancers who make it look so dreamy.

    I don’t even want to use the word “awesome” because it’s so overused. Like the pink ribbons and Facebook postings. They mean well, they really do. But they mean nothing compared to the realities that no one sees unless it happens to them or their loved ones.

    The image of you that morning leaving your home and family for your double mastectomy surgery is etched in my mind– not because you dealt with that morning so amazingly but because that morning is you every day: loving those beautiful children with all of your might and doing whatever it takes to be here for them.

  • Ellen Chute says:

    BRAVO!! I am sick of people setting standards for women facing breast cancer. Each of us is valiant in our own ways!

  • […] You don’t need to dance before your double mastectomy to be awesome from Lisa Bonchek […]

  • Bret Mavrich says:

    I had not seen the video until I ran across this post. Instead of being inspired, I actually was a little weirded out. The video gave me the same uneasy feeling as a scene in a horror movie when everything looks normal, but something is just a little “off.”

    There is a time to weep, and a time to rejoice. And minutes before an operation of this magnitude is the former, not the later, and switching the two has resulted in a macabre spectacle. My hope is that, while this video is going viral, that people really see it for what it is, and that women fighting cancer can find other, more authentic models of bravery to follow.

  • Marlene Ross says:

    I agree!

  • Carolyn says:

    Lisa, thank you for this post! (I am still not sure how I learned of it via Xena Jardin’s Twitter acct) I had single mast + chemo for stage 1 b.c. 7 yrs ago.

    When I saw the video a friend posted on FB I had similar thoughts and feelings to you and many who have replied here. I agree that real support around breast health, breast cancer, and cancer generally, is broad, nuanced, meeting people where they are at while modeling life post original diagnosis.

    Currently, as a culture, we want to see cancer patients/survivors as “winners”, and tending to define this by the person being “uber-positive” all the time. I do what I can to help shift this, so we are celebrating the individual finding their own unique journey through an illness, and with an emphasis on doing this with OUR support, not alone. Positive thinking, being light and shows of exuberance definitely have a rightful places, but so do introspection, learning, grieving, processing, deciding, planning, getting support, supporting others, sharing, listening, and figuring how we want to be part of the larger whole from a new perspective.

  • Elizabeth J. says:

    I felt it was another push for breast cancer patients to hide their true feelings and put on the “face” society wants. Maybe, she can honestly do this, but reality is, very few of us can.
    Society wants to believe that AMPUTATION of breasts is nothing. In the comments where I saw I\the video, a man wrote, “she can always get her breasts built back bigger and better.” Clearly proof of the prevailing ignorance about the realities of reconstructed breasts.
    Nothing about the type of mastectomies, but I would guess that she was more likely getting skin sparing with immediate reconstruction (which many women are shocked to find that expanders look nothing like they expected). Many of us have no choice but modified radical without reconstruction due to more treatments.
    It saddened me to see comment after comment by people crediting their own or loved ones “cures” to their own positive attitude. So does that mean if it metastasizes, as it does for about a third of us, that we are at fault by not being positive enough?
    If this lady could honestly dance on her way to double mastectomies, more power to her. Although personally, I think it is kind of weird to be celebrating the surgical removal of body parts. Just do not hold this up as a standard or goal for the rest of us.

    • L says:

      She is celebrating life and dancing it out before surgery knowing that she won’t be able to let loose like that for a while during recovery, possible chemo, etc. The comments jerks post to the video have nothing to do with what her intentions were

  • Paula DiPaolo says:

    If you can believe it she was featured today on good morning America-their reporters singing her praises! How about a real look at breast cancer world?

  • […] went viral last month. I was going to write a post then, but decided against it. The wonderful Lisa Bonchek Adams wrote one and she nailed it as far as I was concerned. I commented on her post and thought to […]

  • Mae says:

    That video bothered me too. Everyone wants to believe it is nothing to have cancer and they will grasp at any indication that this is true. Thanks for writing about this. I hadn’t realized I wasn’t the only one who found it trivialized a mastectomy.

  • John says:

    Fully respect you and your choices. You should do the same. Everyone should get to decide how to react to life-threatening use in their life, to surgery, to any event in their life, really.

    Whether or not a compromise your surgery is between her and her doctors. Whether someone thought it was cool or not is just an opinion. Please do not be angry just because people have opinions different than your own. I’m really not sure why what she has done or what you do or how people react is anybody’s business but their own.

    We all do what we feel we should and what we think is right.

    Who is to say that if you walked in her shoes, lived every single moment of her life, had every single experience in her life, that you wouldn’t have acted or reacted in the exact same way.

    She is more like you than not.

  • L says:

    The doctor dancing before her mastectomy was having a deeply personal experience with her friends and colleagues. Knowing her as a person and physician I can tell you that she would never demean anyone else’s process in dealing with their cancer diagnosis and the treatments that follow. It’s a very different experience to be a doctor (esp a surgeon, like her) diagnosed with cancer. Her dance is not about pink ribbons or forcing anyone to be positive. It’s her way of coping and she should be supported in it. It doesn’t say anything about how anyone else should or shouldn’t behave. The video going viral brings awareness to cancer without a corporate sponsor or bias. In that sense alone it completely goes against all of the pink ribbon none sense.

  • Sonia says:

    What a beautiful and insightful post. We all do things differently, process differently and it is no less brave than putting it all out there. Your writing is inspirational. Thank you.

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