A few days ago I submitted an article about Charlie, "My Man". The article was meant to be just that. I didn't realize that it had met the specifications to qualify for the "Shorts Submissions". That is, I didn't realize it until yesterday when I received not one; but two rejection letters.
The story that I told was humorous and was about how my cat totally disliked the feel of my silicone breast forms that slide into a mastectomy bra when he puts his paw on them. It was a cute story. In fact, I have the story written in an even shorter form and Charlie's vet has had it framed and is hanging in her office. There is nothing vulgar or dirty about the story.
What is making me wonder about the first rejection - the rejection of the story itself is this: Was the story rejected because of its content? Was it rejected because I dared use the "L" word in the title and speak openly of Carol, my partner of the past 24 years? Or was it because the medium I used was humor?
Would the "Gather Reject/Accept Group" have been more open to the story if I would have been a bit more in depth and told the readers that after going to be fitted for the prostheses (a more mannerly word for silicone breast forms), and wearing them home and feeling like the Queen that I truly am for three days, I was called by the owner of the store where I had been fitted. She told me over the phone that Medicare refused to pay for the forms (over $200) or for the bras (over $150 for 2 of them) and that I would have to return them.
Can you imagine how devastating that was for me? I am no longer talking about my cat, I am talking about me and my emotions. At 57 years old, not being able to look at myself in the mirror, hanging a towel over the one in the bathroom before I got into the shower so I wouldn't accidentally see myself when I got out and before I had the chance to put my bra with the prosthetic devices in! Now, I am getting a phone call and being told I have to return them because Medicare is using the diagnosis from over 25+ years ago from the original biopsy that stated "pre-cancerous but benign". Therefore, my cancer at that time was not far enough advanced to qualify me for this nicety. I hung up and was so grateful that one of my daughters was here with me because I was wretched with tears and cried and cried as she held me close.
There was no way that I was able to return the tiny bit of normalcy that those "prosthetic devices and bras" gave to me; so my daughter did it for me. Thank goodness I didn't do it! The shop owner was totally angered that I didn't return them in the boxes they came in and was very rude to my daughter. I had thrown the boxes out - I didn't want them to live in boxes, I wanted them to live on my chest. Had I been the one to return them I can't imagine the emotional toil that woman's anger would have taken on me.
Now, see, I could have written a gut-wrencher like that and had everyone boo-hooing; but I chose to write something positive. I chose that to let other women know that breast cancer does not have to be a total dark experience. There can be humor, there can be playfulness, and there can be shared love.
I want to add this to the Gather Short Accept/Reject Group - If you will simply reply to this and say, "Donna, your writing skills are not up to the Gather standard; and that is why we rejected this story", I will most graciously accept that and move on while trying to better hone my writing skills.
The second rejection email I received was about the pictures I had posted and said "it" was removed. I honestly don't know which of three was pulled; and I don't know if it through this time or not, but I need to vent on this subject too.
-The first picture was of a yellow long haired tabby cat - I am fairly certain that this picture was not found objectionable and probably was not removed.
-Another picture was of a gray Jodee Mastectomy Sports Bra - I can't imagine why it would have been removed, bikini tops are much skimpier - it was not being modeled - just a plain picture of a bra
-Perhaps it was the picture of a pair of medical prostheses (aka mastectomy breast forms) - tastefully lying on a white cloth, showing the back of one and the front of the other, with a rose lying on the cloth. If you are a woman facing breast cancer and wondering about options you really need to see pictures like this.
I am ever so sorry that this picture was found offensive; but more so I am ever so offended that this picture was found offensive.
Thank you for allowing me to air my feelings ~Donna
"My Stereotypical Man" Charlie The Cat (spoken from a lesbian)
Part Two = then edited for submission
Over 20 years ago, and after 6 biopsies, having chunks cut away from my breasts on each surgery, I finally got the call I had been dreading since my aunt on my mother’s side had lost her life to breast cancer 10 years earlier.It was very strange how it all came about, I knew that I was supposed to be checking my breasts routinely but really didn’t “exactly “ know what I was checking for. I went into my doctor’s office for a routine checkup and after he left the room I talked with his nurse and told her how embarrassed I was that I didn’t actually understand this particular maneuver. She was very kind, had me lie on my back, place my left arm under my head, and guided my right hand and fingers around to all of the places on my left breast that I was to check - very quick - very simple - very easy! She gave me a card to take home with me and told me to keep it so I woud be able to remember the steps; and even told me to do it in the shower with soapy fingers and it would be easier to detect an anomaly that way. I was home free! I could do my own breast exam! I was 25, had 5 children, had no husband at the time, but I was healthy and worked two jobs and all was well!
All was well until the next morning when I got into the shower feeling ever so cocky that I could do this breast exam and repeated the exercise the nurse had shown me less thatn 24 years ago; only this time on my right breast. What in the hell was that just mid-way between my nipple and arm pit? I hadn’t ever felt that before! Was that what a lump was supposed to feel like?
I went to work, finished my shift and day and tried to put it out of my mind. For goodness sakes, I had just been to visit my doctor yesterday. A few weeks later, it was still there so I returned to the doctor’s office where he promptly referred me to a surgeon who removed it and diagnosed it as benign, but “pre-cancerous”.
Over the next 8 years, several moves to different cities/states, and several different doctors,this entire procedure was repeated 6 more times. Never once was a needle biopsy suggested, never was I given any alternative other than a complete removal of the tumor. My breasts each had large depressions left in them from all 6 of the surgeries that each time the diagnosis was the same, “pre-cancerous, but benign”.
By 1994 I was living with my life partner Carol. She and I had not been together for too many years; but we had been together long enough to know that we were going to raise my family together as our family. We were going to go back as far in each of our pasts to make everything that needed to come to the forefront of our relationship a part of our new lives together. Naturally she was aware of my breast health history.
We lived in a rather small community and the children and I had no family doctor there, so
Carol introduced us to her family physician, Dr. Hughes. Dr. Hughes was a wonderful man. He was a family doctor but did not practice in the hospital - only his office. He always made time for any of his patients and even in 1994 made it a conscious effort to get to know my children and I on a personal level. He didn’t have to resort to searching through his chart while you were sitting on the table and talking with him.....he remembered what you were there for the last time and what he did for you. He remembered if he had referred you to someone and had the information he had been sent by them already studied and was ready to give you the information. I trusted this man with everything.
One evening as I was showering I felt yet one more out of place lump. I asked Carol if she had noticed it and she said she had not, but felt and agreed it was time to call Dr. Hughes. After the phone call, I felt it again, and yet again. For some reason, my mind told me, “This is the one”. Dr. Hughes didn’t even bother to see me when I called and told him this, he said "You know your body better than anyone else" and he had his staff make a referral with a surgeon for the following day.
We went to consult with him and after the exam, I was scheduled for a surgery within the week. Due to my history of the 6 “pre-cancerous, benign” lump removal surgeries, and my family history of a death of a maternal aunt 10 years prior to my first symptom; the surgeon thought it best for me to have a bilateral mastectomy. The only choice that I really had to make was what kind of reconstructive surgery I wanted.
He took much time and care showing both Carol and I all of the options. He not only told us my options, he went over the procedures and pros/cons of each one. I was only 35 years old. I was afraid of having no breasts. Carol, my biggest supporter told me that she really didn’t want me to have any reconstructive surgery - she was going to continue to love me no matter what my chest looked like. The word “chest” was a word that I could not get past. I was a Woman! I was All Woman. I didn’t want a chest - I wanted a Bosom! I wanted my breasts.
Carol and I went home and discussed this, knowing we only had but a matter of days to make a decision because the surgery was scheduled for 3 days away. Reluctantly, she agreed that it was my body and my choice, and that she would stand beside me no matter what I chose. Can you believe that I made the infamous Dow Corning Silicone Implant Choice? Yep, that’s the choice that I made. My hospital stay was great. The doctor was fantastic. It was either him or his private nurse that waited on me hand and foot. The other nurses in the hospital were terrified of him because of his demand for perfection. They were allowed to administer medication to me, bring me my food and drink, help me to the bathroom; but all hands off when it came to changing bandages, etc.
After a few weeks of being home and healing, I must say, “I was one hot momma”! I had always been rather small breasted, but now - wow! Even Carol was a bit impressed with my new strut. This thrill lasted for about 2 months and then we were listening to Dan Rather on his evening broadcast when he started to tell us about the findings of the danger of the Dow Silicone Breast Implants. We were shocked. I called Dr. Hughes the next day and he said he would put in a call to the surgeon.
Within a week the surgeon had filed bankruptcy. He is now a local artist (and a mighty fine one I might add).
We are now coming close to My Man, Charlie; please be patient with me - he never is!
I was very fortunate with my implants. They didn’t harden as many of them do. They didn’t cause great pain as many of them do. I still wanted them out! I went to many plastic surgeons and begged for their removal but got nowhere with any of them. They all gave the same standard answer. There is nothing wrong with the implants. I will remove them for you, but you will have to pay for the removal yourself because I will have to write a letter to your insurance carrier and let them know that you only want them removed for cosmetic reasons”. Cosmetic Reasons, hell! These doctors were all afraid of being tangled up in the middle of some lawsuit with Dow Corning! So the implants remained inside my body causing more harm that I could even dream of.
Finally in 2005, during a routine mammogram, another lump was detected and my doctor sent me to a new plastic surgeon in town. He checked me out and said, “Donna, we are going to get those things out of you”! Carol and I both hugged him with pure delight. By now I was on Medicare and they did pay for the explantation of both implants. During the surgery, which was to have lasted two - two and one half hours, and extended to almost 5 hours; it was discovered that one of the implants had been slowly leaking and the other had ruptured. The surgeon had spent all the time in surgery trying to remove as much of the floating or adhering silicone that he was able to. (I did get pictures of this).
When I came back home, the same day (no hospital stays anymore!), it was with a very tight bandage and a blood drainage bottles on either breast that had to be drained a couple times a day. Have I mentioned what a wonderful partner Carol is? The bandage was most tight and uncomfortable, but I can take a good deal of pain and didn’t complain about that. My biggest worry was that someone had to take care of those horrid bottles. I had also worried about Charlie after this surgery. He has lived with us for 3 years and for the biggest part of those 3 years he has been attached to my chest. It was kind of frightening to think that someone as heavy as he (18 pounds) was going to want to rest there when I was all stiched up and trying to heal. But, I have always called him my Angel Reiki Cat, as when I am sick, he knows exactly where to lay his paw on me. Since I am a Reiki Practitioner, I do notice the tingling sensation when he places his paw on the ache/pain. My fears were unfounded though. Charlie made no attempt to lie on my chest. He would either lay atop my head, behind my back, or at my feet.
After a few days I went back in for a check-up and was doing well. I begged to be able to either remove or loosen the bandaging; but was told not to at this point. Being the patient patient, I didn’t, and I followed the doctor’s advice. I was told to come back the following week for another check and we could possibly remove it at that time.Well, funny thing, my landlady forgot to pay the water bill and it was on a Friday. Therefore, we had no hot water! It was alright for her and her daughter. She was able to shower either at her workplace or at her boyfriend’s house. Her daughter was able to go next door. Although Carol felt bad for me, she did have to go to work, so she was able to shower at our daughter’s house. I was the only one who had no access to bathing or keeping clean unless I made hot water. At that particular time Carol worked the mid-shift and I didn’t want to wait until midnight and then have her heat water on the stove for me to bathe in. Although I wasn’t supposed to lift anything over 10 pounds, I heated water on the stove and carried it to the tub to bathe in. I doubt if any of the pots weighed over 10 pounds, but I carried at least 12 of them each time I bathed. I only had to do this for 4 days before we once again had hot water.
By then, my chest was really hurting. I saw the swelling above the bandage, but was still a bit angry over the water situation and a bit angry because I was told I couldn’t loosen it, and just figured it was swollen for the same reason as if you wear tight shoes for too long your feet and ankles swell. - Wrong Thinking!The following afternoon my daughter took me to my follow-up appointment, the doctor unwrapped the bandage, got a look of surprise on his face and asked, “How long has this been like this”? I looked down and saw a huge lump on the right side of my chest. After measuring it, he told me it was a (excuse me if I get the mm or cm wrong or if I spell the word for blood clot wrong - I really don’t speak doctor talk) 42cm hematoma and I would need immediate emergency surgery to remove it!
Once again, it was finished and I was sent home! Is it so terrible to expect that after a surgery you should at least be able to spend one night with round the clock care.
We are getting to the Good Part - I Promise - Please Hang in There With Me!
A couple weeks later I returned for my post-post op visit. At this time the surgeon and I discussed any necessary reconstructive surgery. I told him that implants were totally out of the question. He suggested that I might want to get silicone breast forms and wear them in a specially made mastectomy bra. That sounded like a pretty good option to me. His nurse gave me a list of places to go. I was told that Medicare would pay for this.About a week later I made an appointment to be fitted with silicone forms and bras. The woman doing the fitting said that Mediare would pay for forms every 2 years and that I was allowed to have 2 bras every year. Most of the bras were more than they would cover; and the best forms were more than they would cover; but it would not be terribly hard to have my daughters chip in the remainder for the first time. So happily I bought my first silicone breast forms and my first two mastectomy bras. I even walked out of the store wearing them and a big smile on my face. Even at 57, I was once again a “hottie” for my age.
HERE IT IS! THIS IS THE GOOD PART!
THE PART YOU HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR!
THE BIG FINISH!
Until I got home! Carol came home and looked at me wearing “them” under my nightgown and said, “My, they certaintly do stick right out there, don’t they.” That was’t exactly the response that I was looking for. I got supper ready for both of us and we took our trays into the living room to eat and watch TV. After we finished, I took the dirty dishes to the kitchen and put them in the dishwasher, while Carol straightened the counter tops.
She and I got settled down in our places to watch whatever program it was that we were waiting for; and as normal, Chiquita, our dog, jumped up on Carol’s lap and under blanket, and Charlie jumped on my lap. I was still wearing my “boobs in a bra” and Charlie had not yet noticed. Carol and I were discussing something, so she was looking my way when Charlie took his right front paw and gingerly touched my right silicone breast for the first time......He pulled his paw back, looked at his paw, shook his paw as if to shake some dirt off it, and then shook his head. He looked at me and then at Carol. He then put his right paw onto my right silicone breast again, this time pushing just a bit harder, pulled it back much quicker, really shook it hard, gave me a horrible look of total disgust, and jumped right down from my lap! Carol and I laughed and laughed and laughed at his stereotypical male behavior. Tears were streaming down my face from laughter as I got up and went to the bedroom to remove the offensive boobs in a bra. Shortly thereafter, Charlie once again jumped onto my lap, put his paw on my very, tiny right breast, pinned his ears back, squinted his eyes closed, and began to purrrrrrrrr.He’s a man that likes things natural and it seems that Carol is a woman that likes things natural. The only time that I wear my “boobs in a bra” now is when I demonstrate Tupperware at a party, so they are now just called my “Tupperboobs”.
Women and Men - please make sure you know the Correct Way to do a Self Breast Examination and DO NOT be embarrassed to ask if you don’t know. It can literally SAVE your LIFE
There is a minor down side to this story that I feel must be shared with women who are facing the decision of breast reconstruction after mastectomy and the options. In my case, I most certainly did not want implants again. Part of that decsion was because of fear of putting anything into my body again and the other reason was that then I was 57 and thought it would not make any difference to me at all. I was wrong about that part. It did make a difference. For awhile it made a tremendous difference. I was no longer able to look at my body in the mirror. I would hang a towel over the one in the bathroom before I got into the shower so I wouldn’t accidentally see myself when I got out and before I could put a robe on.
When I had sufficiently healed, my daughter and I went to a local shop that caters to cancer and mastectomy clients. The owner was very gracious and told me that she accepted Medicare as payment. From there she fitted me with prosthetic devices (silicone breast forms that are inserted into bras with open pouches to slide them into). A “good” pair that Medicare would pay for was a bit over $200.00. She showed me several other sets with price ranges much higher that I would have to pay the difference on. I could not afford that, but the pair that were Medicare approved were great. They fit well, they looked natural, and when I walked there was even a “jiggle”. She and I then set about looking a mastectomy bras. I chose one very pretty one with lace and another sports bra just because it looked so comfortable – and it was! Medicare pays for 2 bras a year and once again, they put a limit on the amount of money they can cost. These two bras were over $150. But I felt so blessed and in such high spirits when the owner told me that I could wear them home! Naturally I wanted to show them off! And what better way to show them off than to go out to eat and then go shopping. It was in the summer and I had on a t-shirt with rhinestones that spelled out Tupperware across my bosoms. I don’t know that anyone stared at an old woman’s chest; but if they didn’t – by golly it was their loss because I was workin’ it good!
And I kept workin’ it for 3 day unti I received the call from the owner of the store where I had been fitted. She told me over the phone that Medicare refused to pay for the forms or for the bras and that I would have to return them or bring in the full payment amount immediately. There is no way to tell you how devastating that call was for me? I am no longer talking about my cat, I am talking about me, about me and my emotions, about me and my self-image. At 57 years old, and still covering mirrors until my naked chest is covered. Even after 2 months have passed, I have still not had the courage to look at what is/is not there. Now, I am getting a phone call and being told I have to return the only things that have helped me regain some of my female identity because Medicare is using the diagnosis from over 25+ years ago from the biopsy that stated “pre-cancerous but benign”. Therefore, my cancer at that time was not far enough advanced to qualify me for this nicety and according to their code was “cosmetic devices”.
After hanging up the telephone I was so grateful that one of my daughters was here with me because my first reaction was absolute and total disbelief at the cruelty of the system. My next thought was how much see-through clothing I had and I wondered what in the world I could possibly wear. It was summer and I knew I couldn’t wear sweat shirts all year round. Then cold, hard reality set in and the tears began to flow. My daughter held my hand. The tears turned to sobs, big sobs with lots of snot. My daughter became my mother. She pulled me close to her, put her arms around me, held me close to her, and whispered gentle healing words in my ear, all the while stroking my hair and patting my back and shoulder.
There was no way that I was able to return the tiny bit of normalcy that those “prosthetic devices and bras” had given to me; so my daughter did it for me. Thank goodness I didn’t do it! The shop owner was totally angered that I hadn’t returned them in the boxes they came in and was very rude to my daughter. I had thrown the boxes out - I didn’t want them to live in boxes, I wanted them to live on my chest. Had I been the one to return them I can’t imagine the emotional toll that woman’s anger would have taken on me.
It took me a few days of wallowing in self-pity and depression to stop and say, “ENOUGH”! “You don’t have the money to buy the expensive ones, but go on-line and see what’s there – you know how to do a search”! Well, I guess I told me, didn’t I?
I found several places, but there are two that I deal with exclusively now. One has the same sports bra that I had gotten locally, and this woman sold it for much less money. As for the forms, at first she didn’t have any that would fit, but she special ordered some. When she called me, it was to tell me that she had a package of three pairs for $50.00. What in the world was I going to do with 6 silicone boobies. I sent her the $50.00; and since she is also a nurse I asked her to please donate the other two pairs to women who were in my shape as far as money goes. She also sends me email notices when items I may want are going on special and often gives me discounts because I refer people to her.
The other site that I found is mostly for transgender/gay people. The owner of this site is fantastic and when I explained the situation to him after seeing some of the forms on the site, he sent me free of charge 2 sets of foam forms.
As I said, there is a minor down side – but it is minor. I have met some wonderful and compassionate friends just by sitting at my computer. I am most blessed.
To answer the unasked question, a few months later Carol asked if I would like to get away for a long weekend. We went to Amish Country and stayed there and did all of the natural touristy things. The one thing we did differenly though, was that after my first shower, I had one towel wrapped turban style around my hair, and another towel wrapped and knotted around my body. She came into the bathroom, kissed me on my cheek, took my by the hand, guided me to a huge mirror, reached the knot on my towel and gently took it off me letting it drop to the floor. My eyes immediately closed but she said, “Please, Donna, for me, just look and see what I see. I see the most beautiful woman in the world and I want you to see her too”.