A Little History
I always think it is important to know our history. In the world of breast cancer, that means both knowing something about the history of treatments (and read The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee if you have not done so), and a lot about the women who forced much of the progress. We generally know about Betty Ford and Happy Rockefeller who went public with their breast cancer diagnoses in the 1970s. We know about Rose Kushner and Betty Rollins and other who wrote books that empowered many women. Surely we know about Susan Love, MD, and Fran Visco of the National Breast Cancer Coalition and Susan Komen and Nancy Brinker who helped us organize advocacy and galvanized public attention on the issue.
However, to my embarrassment, I knew nothing of Babette Rosmond until I read this essay from the New York Times. Here is the beginning and then a link:
The Right to Choose Your Cancer Treatment
By BARRON H. LERNER, M.D. | June 13, 2012, 2:48pm
Before there was Betty Ford, the outspoken first lady who brought breast cancer awareness to the wider public, there was Babette Rosmond, a diminutive New York City writer and editor who went public with her diagnosis of breast cancer 40 years ago, three and a half years before the first lady. If Mrs. Ford is remembered for her grace and honesty, we should remember Ms. Rosmond for her courage and persistence. What Ms. Rosmond demanded of her doctors - the right to choose her cancer treatment - is now the minimum that cancer patients deserve.
When Ms. Rosmond discovered an olive-size lump in her left breast in February 1971, she was 49, the author of six novels and an editor at Seventeen magazine.
It so happened that Ms. Rosmond had two friends with breast cancer, both of whom had experienced psychological and physical side effects from radical mastectomy, the extremely disfiguring operation routinely used by surgeons to treat the disease.
The operation removed not only the cancerous breast, but the underarm lymph nodes and both chest wall muscles on the side of the cancer, leaving women with hollow chest walls and swollen arms. Moreover, the decision to perform the operation typically occurred during intraoperative biopsies, when women were under anesthesia and had no voice.
Ms. Rosmond would have none of this. She essentially bullied a surgeon into performing only the biopsy. When the tumor turned out to be cancerous, he told her she needed an urgent radical mastectomy.
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