BOGO, would you like a double with that mastectomy?

I’ll negotiate anything: I tried to negotiate with Jeanie Kanashiro, the wonderful surgeon. I knew my right breast was as unhealthy as the left. Jeanie made a counter-offer. She’d take off the left breast 28 August, 2010. She’d amputate the right breast after I finished treatment in April, 2011. Deal?

Call me in April, 2011, Jeanie said. In January 2011, I made an appointment for February. I was still in chemo but knew the date it would end. Jeanie’s secretary, Sherry, had to be sweet-talked into giving me that appointment. I won’t flatter it calling it a negotiation. I sucked up.Buy one get one (BOGO): a double mastectomy instead of a single?

Even though I didn’t agree I was persuaded: If I got post-surgerical infections that would delay chemo. Jeanie had experienced women mourn the loss of a breast. The right breast could come off once I knew how I’d react to losing one breast, much less two. Except, I did know how I’d react. I didn’t give a damn. The tissue formerly known as my left breast tried to kill me. A lump of fat with cancer isn’t something to be sentimental about in my world.

At that February exam Jeanie didn’t have a chance. She signed the form and told me to call Sherry in April to start the surgical booking protocol. I called Sherry the next day. Jeanie didn’t have her operating schedule and I still completed the booking protocol. Sherry said she’d never had a patient do that. Maybe she hadn’t a patient so certain her right breast was lurking and biding its time to complete what the left breast started.

The right mastectomy, finally, was 28 April 2011, and official pathology was “no convincing evidence of cancer”. As Jeanie predicted, if there had been cancer the chemo blitzed it away. The right breast had the same micro-calcifications as the left had in June 2009, which I’d been told was nothing to worry about and was stage-III cancer by June 2010. The classification of the right mastectomy as prophylactic removal of a healthy breast, I call bullshit; it wasn’t a healthy breast.

In this whole gimish, I melted-down twice.
The first was 29 August, 2010 when I saw tubes coming out of my side, and bulbs leaking blood and lymph fluid. I fell to the floor weeping and Decker’s best comforting was futile. I was inconsolable. The scar, the tubes, the drain, the pain, the leaking fluid, the near death experience – was overwhelming. I’d never taken good health for granted. I was grateful every minute of every day for a strong body. I’d broken bones, been in a wheelchair in 1995, and had periods bedridden. This was different. I sobbed.

Then I cleaned up the mess, measured the amount of fluid to write in the chart, and got on with my day.

The second time I sobbed as hard was when Decker touched my chest after the left mastectomy. I lost all grip on what was important and cried myself to sleep while he held me. Not because the left breast was missing, but because the right breast was still there. In the morning I couldn’t reclaim the sadness; it was slept away.

After the right mastectomy I asked Decker: “how does it feel to stroke my chest?”
“Flat,” he said.
We giggled into hysterics in the dark.
“Do you miss my breasts?”
“I’d miss you more.”
Great answer Decker.

I can negotiate through most systems – I’m still learning how.
The psychologist tried to get me (in 3 sessions at $175 per session) to deal with my grief of loss. No matter how often I told her I didn’t have any she kept talking about grief and loss. She said my ‘denial’ of grief over my breasts was a problem. Problem? For who? I didn’t go back.

There have been times I thought my clients might be avoiding the real issue of their conflict. I’d like to think that on those occasions I kept my judgment to myself. That’s what we teach in our conflict management courses: that the parties have self-determination and the Conflict Managers’ opinion of what they ‘should’ do is irrelevant.

When I get back to work I’ll remember the experts whose experience told them they were correct while I wanted something different. I had the balls to stand up to them because I’m a trained negotiator. Not everyone is.

I don’t want to be an ‘expert’ who stands between a client/party and the solution they want, even if I have doubts they’re doing the right thing. I know now how that feels.


  1. I experienced this post as both moving and funny. Takes a good writer to pull that off, especially given the subject! Thank you for writing it.


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