This is ME! - The Pink Fund

This is ME!

I had no intention of participating in this photo shoot for Pink Fund's Eyes Up Here campaign. After I watched other survivors bare their breasts in the safety and security of fellow breast cancer survivor and photographer Laurie Tennent’s studio, I felt empowered to do the same.

Disrobing, I felt a sense of freedom from the shame and embarrassment of my misshapen breast. In full disclosure, I had two breast sparing surgeries, but what was left of my right breast looks like a small mound on a golf course with a divot and sand trap.

I had never shown anyone but my husband my post-surgery body and over the last 18 years I've tried hard not to look.

Make no mistake, full or partial mastectomy is an amputation of a body part. We do it to save our lives and stick around to care for those we love.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, my breasts had performed that for which they were biologically engineered. In my case, nourishing five children in the first year of life. I did not need them anymore and my supportive husband consoled me that the breasts he referred to as the twins were now sisters. 

I did not choose reconstruction, because we were already drowning financially. My $1300 a month COBRA premium, coupled with my deductible and co-pays made it so that I could not risk any additional costs associated with surgery to make me appear whole again.

When I completed radiation, my oncologist strongly recommended I take an aromatase inhibitor to reduce the risk of recurrence for my ER positive disease. But I could not afford the monthly $300 co-pay on top of what I owed the hospital for surgeries and six weeks of radiation.

Collections notices were beginning to arrive in my mailbox. I feared answering numbers on my phone I did not recognize, suspecting it was a collections agent.

I met with a lawyer who told me settling debt with a collections agency was like having a recurrence of cancer. When I asked him what that meant, he shared that an agency would agree on the phone to accept a settlement, say half of what you owe, and then turn around and sell the remaining debt to another agency. They will promise you the debt is paid, but they will not make that promise in writing.

In my case I agreed in writing to pay the hospital what I owed. It took three years of monthly check writing to pay off the debt.

As for the follow up treatment to prevent recurrence, I was fortunate to enroll in a five-year clinical trial between two aromatase inhibitors, Tamoxifen and Arimadex at no cost to me…

Eight years before the term "financial toxicity" was coined, my family lived in it. Our home was foreclosed, our car was at risk of repossession, and stacks of shut off notices lay unopened. At the end of treatment, when friends stopped delivering dinner, I found myself standing in line in the basement of a church food pantry to help feed my family.

This spring, as women, men, children and caregivers take to the streets to walk and race for a cure, we at Pink Fund are asking you to shift your focus to include the UNSEEN part of this fight and direct your attention to the financial side effects of breast cancer.

Join us in amplifying the voices of a special group of women who faced unprecedented financial challenges as a result of their diagnosis. We are honored to share their stories in the coming weeks. You can learn more here.

I hope you will click the link above, follow and share the stories of women who lost their breasts to cancer and found freedom in the studio.

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