Have you found that surviving such an experience has an impact on your craft in any way?
Costume fittings were difficult at first. I didn’t want to wear my prosthetic breasts, which can be heavy and hot. Also my lymphedema doctor prefers me to go without a bra when I can so I don’t restrict the flow of lymph under my arm. So that was a challenge for the designer. Luckily she is a breast cancer survivor as well so she was very sensitive to my needs.
Emotionally I don’t think I’ve really come to grips with the grief involved in losing my breasts. The timing could not have been worse. When you have a network canceling your show because your viewers are too old, there’s nothing like a double mastectomy to slam the door on your sexual attractiveness. It was a double whammy. I’m presently going through some counseling to help me sort all of that out. I’ve found some pretty great people here in New Orleans to help me with that.
If you only had a few minutes to offer advice to a women newly diagnosed, what would you say?
First I want to say something to the woman out there who has family members who have had breast cancer and is worried she may be next. You may want to get the BRCA1 and BRCA2 tests done. It is very expensive as presently only one lab holds the patent on those genes. I believe there is a case before the Supreme Court to decide whether it is lawful for a company to patent a part of the human body. BUT women need to realize—and I can’t emphasize this enough—if you test negative for those genes IT DOES NOT MEAN YOU WILL NOT GET BREAST CANCER. Breast Cancer runs like a river through my maternal line. I tested negative and I have had BOTH OVARIAN AND BREAST CANCER. My niece tested negative and she has had breast cancer. What does this mean? IT MEANS RESEARCHERS HAVE YET TO DISCOVER ALL THE GENETIC AND PERHAPS ENVIRONMENTAL COMPONENTS THAT WILL PREDISPOSE A WOMAN TO GET BREAST CANCER. Please don’t be lulled into a false sense of security.
To the woman newly diagnosed I would say, a difficult journey lies before you. You will need courage and a sense of humor. You will need patience and compassion for yourself. Be kind to yourself. Go to Bed, Bath and Beyond and buy as many pillows as you can afford so you can be comfortable lying on your back while you recover. Gather your family and friends around you. They can hold your hand, love and comfort you, but unless they’ve been through it they don’t know what you’re feeling. Don’t blame them for this. Be kind to them. Pets are an immense comfort.
It’s a long journey, but it can be endured and in many cases you can be made whole again and even better than before. I chose to wait until I had recovered from the mastectomies rather than go through reconstruction at the same time, but many women do and they are very pleased with the results.
Finally I dearly wish that every woman in this country had the best of care like I did. I fear that’s not the case. That is something we need to change.Whizzco