Feb 23 2014

Spleenvent Sunday: double mastectomy art edition

Blamer Soleil Noir posted the following announcement in the comments, but I didn’t want it to get buried there, so here it is just in time for Spleenvent Sunday. You know I can’t resist boostering for a fellow double-masto!

Long time lurker here. No doubt what I’m about to do contravenes one of Twisty’s rules for posting, but I’m going to do it anyway. A good artist-friend here in France is putting together an exhibition of photos that detail her tangle with breast cancer, from diagnosis through to her double mastectomy. Now, because women’s bodies are only of worth as porntastic objects of the male gaze, she has been told that if she wants to exhibit these wonderful, intimate, brutal, touching photos of herself, she needs to find ‘an international angle’. So she has decided to ask the internets for short written pieces about how people around the world react to the photos. The texts will accompany the pictures… She explains it better than I can on her website. We would both really appreciate it if some of you articulate grade-A blamers could contribute your personal reactions to one of her photos. I apologize for taking up your time on something that has nothing to do with this particular post, and would like to thank anyone who cares to participate in advance. Her website can be found here: http://msnourdin.wix.com/msnourdin

There’s one photo in that group (I don’t have permission to reproduce it here; it’s the one with the white bandage) that reminds me of this one time when they performed this goddam horrific biopsy on me, where, prior to slicing me open, they injected me with radioactive dye SIX TIMES, RIGHT IN THE NIP and it hurt really fucking bad and I was crying and begging them to let my sister come in with me but they refused. It would be hard to imagine coming up with a more painful, degrading, and sadistic procedure than that biopsy.

Well, vent your spleen and carry on with your happy day!


Photo: the author’s 2005 torture-biopsy



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  1. quixote

    Flying Spaghetti Monster. What IS it with people? If for some medical reason they have to take a biopsy that way, have they not heard of local anesthetic? ??

  2. gingerest

    I don’t know how it is with breasts but with the ultrasound-guided needle biopsies I’ve had on my neck, the local anesthesia numbs only the skin, which is a very minor part of the pain – the real pain comes from stabbing around in the tissue and infiltrating it with fluid (I had washes to measure thyroid cancer biomarkers). I asked and apparently the degree of numbness you get at the dentist, say, relies on being able to access and infiltrate the nerve with anesthetic, which isn’t possible for tissues in the neck. I think it’s probably the same deal for the breast – if they need you conscious and moving, there’s not many options for anesthesia.

  3. quixote

    Interesting, gingerest. I don’t know enough about anesthesiology to know whether dentist-type local anesthesia is impossible for large surfaces of soft tissue, or just not something they bother to do. The area is innervated by a finite number of main nerves. Theoretically, it seems like they could get those the same way the dentist gets the nerve near a tooth. Maybe not. But if they could and don’t bother, it’s another massive thing to B the P for.

  4. speedbudget

    I just couldn’t do it. Could. Not. Do it. I don’t know how you did.

  5. Twisty

    Well, I wouldn’t do it again, I’ll tell you that. I get physically, for real, chemo-y nauseous when I so much as see a TV commercial for a cancer clinic. It’s a sort of PTSD.

  6. ew_nc

    And women are supposedly the weaker sex. Uh, yeah.

    My quick spleenvent, even though it’s Monday – The man in my life, who has a sinus infection, is currently whining, complaining, and generally being a royal pain in the ass, because how dare a germ have the nerve to introduce itself into his body. I’d wager he’s whined more in the last half an hour than Twisty did in the whole ghastly biopsy, and for about a tenth of the reason.

    Fucken, fucken men.

  7. tinfoil hattie

    Of course, it’s absolutely impossible to find out if a woman has breast cancer other than by stabbing her through the center of her nipple with a long needle. If you can’t somehow punish a woman for having breast cancer to begin with, what good are you? It’s a shameful disease, after all. You got cancer in your ta-tas! And “down there” somewhere, too. Eeewwwwww.

    PTSD indeed. I fucking hate the cancer-industrial complex, amd I don’t even have personal experience with it yet.

  8. tinfoil hattie

    P.S.: I imagine many blamers here already know of the ghastly treatment by Bill Keller (former NY Times editor) and Emma Keller (Guardian writer) of Lisa Bonchek Adams, who earned their ire by impolitely tweeting and blogging about her life with Stage IV breast cancer. How gauche and self-centered of her! She should wear pink and shut up.

  9. Val

    When I went through that stereotactic breast biopsy a few yrs ago, they shot Leftie full o’ lidocaine, but it ached abominably when that wore off…I threatened my Nigel not to touch me ANYWHERE for the first few days, then only cautiously w/permission.


  10. Gertrude Strine

    speedbudget – they con you into it. They’re a mob of snivelling cowards who can’t own up to their brutality.
    What hasn’t killed me has made me weaker, as much as if I’d spent the time being worked over by some effing interrogator in a 60s Brit spy film. Only with more teeth pulled and more wattage and for much much longer.
    But I did, even if only reflexively, nail the surgeons goolies when he delivered the nipple stab.
    With both my hands. Tight.

    I’m wishing for a long remission, and if not, then I’ve got plenty of dreaming to do while I’m relaxing outside in the sun and deciding which way to exit when I want to. Like a few yank nurses I met, I have a tattoo on my LH flap: NO CPR Well, they have NO CODE, but it’s all the same brutal futility.

  11. Wilted Lettuce

    It would help greatly if they would just warn you that a biopsy is likely to hurt like a mo-fo despite the numbing stuff. That way when it does hurt you’re not extra freaked out thinking something is going horribly wrong with the procedure. Also, I think any body position other than lying on your back reduces the sadistic torture aspect of it.

  12. Cyberwulf

    So this month my uterus decided, “Oh hi, I’m going to cramp up so much that you get dizzy and throw up at work. Don’t forget to feel ashamed that you have to go the fuck home because of this totally natural process that happens every month, instead of dealing with it like a big girl!”

  13. Serial Cereal

    No new cancer “meds” in like 25 years. Just the old poisons. Maybe doctors are total and complete sadists and we’re better off not going to them at all. :Like not even for birth control because synthetic hormones give cancer.

    Angelina’s not helping.

  14. MMargaret

    Yes, Cyberwulf is onto something – a woman doctor (Penny Worth?) described this kind of period pain as similar to a heart attack. I’ve had this too, and it was fashionable among doctors in the 1970’s to treat a woman like she was complaining about nothing and advise that having a baby would solve the problem (not always true). Good old fashioned ASA, taken early, would give a lot of relief but didn’t stop it. Presumably, if a woman didn’t want to have a baby in order to get relief, the pain problem switched to a mental health problem resulting from a woman’s refusal to accept her feminine role.

  15. Twisty

    “I threatened my Nigel not to touch me ANYWHERE for the first few days, then only cautiously w/permission.”

    I hope that he has already adopted “only cautiously w/permission” as a matter of general policy. Nigels who touch without permission are — well, I don’t have to tell you what they are.

  16. speedbudget

    You all have my deepest, most sincere respect for going through this torture. I just can’t comprehend. The thought makes me sick.

    Speaking of, I tried going off my birth control, and was slammed in the torso (and woken up in the middle of the night) by the most intense cramping and nausea I’ve had since….well, since I went on the pill back in my college days. Reminded me why I went on in the first place. I would love to go off them, but being crippled for a few days each month just doesn’t cut it.

  17. ivyleaves

    speedbudget: Try ibuprofen (expensive form: Advil). it was like magic for my horrible cramps back when I was menstruating), it might work for yours. It has a muscle-relaxant effect.

  18. K

    Hope this is not too off topic but I have always wondered about this and mostly don’t have an opportunity to ask thousands of women simultaneously: I find that if I use tampons during the first 3 days of my period, I don’t have any cramps. If I don’t use them, I have only mild cramping–I’m lucky that way–but still I found it surprising and my gyn had never heard of such a thing. Has it happened to anyone else?

  19. tmi

    Folks have posted on a menstrual cups-related group I read both that they had less cramping and more cramping with cups vs pads vs tampons. Nobody was ever quite sure why, and if there was any general trend I don’t remember it.

    I blame the patriarchy, btw, for the fact that cups are only now starting to become widely available despite being invented some time in the early thirties.

  20. Cyberwulf

    The only medication that gives me relief from period pain is something called Feminax. It’s a mix of codeine, paracetamol, caffeine and something that starts with “h” that stops you feeling nauseous. (Except for last month, when I didn’t take it in time and then puked it back up.) And the chemist makes me do a little dance every time I want to buy it because of the codeine. Yes I have tried other painkillers, they might as well be Skittles. Yes I know it has codeine, the codeine is the source of its magical powers.

  21. Shelby

    What’s a cup? Sounds like something from a hideous Jacqueline Susann novel.

  22. Twisty


  23. speedbudget

    @ivyleaves There isn’t enough Advil in the world. I used to eat them like candy while laying on the couch with a heating pad on my belly and crying. It’s amazing what birth control does for me.

  24. Rae

    The goodbye-to-several-days-of-doing-anything-useful cramps also affected me, from early teens to mid twenties.

    Then I finally (no thanks to the ‘medical establishment’) figured out I had several undiagnosed food intolerances, cut out the offending comestibles, and — no cramps now. Occasionally a slight twinge.

    Not saying investigating that would work for everyone, but it is AH-MAY-ZING how food can affect things that aren’t even related to the digestive system!

    Sending internet hugs (if wanted).

  25. Cyberwulf

    @Rae – Food may have been a factor for me. I started to make dietary changes (less junk/processed food, more veg and fruit) about three years ago and now I usually only have period pain the first day, and far less intense than it used to be. Last month came out of the blue. Before then, I hadn’t thrown up because of period pain in twelve years.

  26. Owly

    I had to get a mysterious hard little ball, which was about the size and color of a BB, removed from right on the edge of my left nipple when I was a teenager. I wanted to watch, because I’m morbid, and for some reason the doctor let me. I got to peer into the depths of my own breast tissue, it was unreal. I’m not sure what she used to numb it, but it didn’t hurt at all. I think she used a topical anesthetic on the skin before she injected it with a needle. They tested it for everything under the sun and they still could not figure out what it was. I think it was from the time I fell on a pencil when I was a kid.

    Side note on the cup: I will admit that I refused to even entertain the idea of a menstrual cup because at first the only one I knew of was called the Diva Cup. I’m not the “diva” type. It wasn’t until a friend convinced me to look at them that I realized they’re not all pink and sparkly. The only problem I’ve had with the cup is that if it’s allowed to become too full it will explode with a bloody fury if you don’t take it out carefully enough. Also, once the cup somehow turned upside down inside of me, and I almost had to go to the doctor to get it removed, which was very unpleasant. Otherwise, I haven’t noticed an increase in pain with my period, just perhaps some discomfort from the little stem on the cup if it sits too low.

  27. Bushfire

    @Owly… your whole comment fascinates me. Since I practically faint when I cut my finger, I could never look at my own breast tissue… but good for you!

    I have a Diva Cup and the packaging is definitely very pink and flowery, but the cup itself is just translucent white. If you throw out the packaging right away you could pretend it’s not so Diva-y.
    Mine has never turned upside down or even moved at all, and I cut the stem completely off.

    I find that a lot of my feminist and lesbian friends use the Diva cup… I wonder if we’re more comfortable with our vaginas than the conventional heteros?

  28. Owly

    Yeah, I’m weird like that. Instead of a Diva Cup, I use a Lunette. Much more macho.

  29. Mildred

    Oh my I LOVE THE CUP. Only I got a no-name one off aliexpress for about the same price as one month of disposable products and then I bought one for all my lady pals! They are definitely fiddly to begin with but once you get the hang of it – it’s a real lifechanger!

    And ugh… I went back on ‘the pill’ briefly just a few weeks ago because I’m struggling with some adult acne. Within a week depression started creeping in, I gave it another week but then thought bugger this, it’s not worth it. My period came straight away and was horrible! So heavy and painful and it really chapped my hide when I recalled that I went through all of that for EIGHT YEARS for
    2. (supposedly) HOTSEX

  30. tmi

    Mildred, I took the pill in my late teens because my periods were irregular (hooray pregnancy scares). It made me nearly suicidal, in addition to changing my periods from a painless 3-4 days to a painful week and revving up the underlying hormonal problems permanently.

    My apologies to Twisty, btw, for starting a “what I put in my vagina” diversion with the cups. I think Bushfire’s right about feminists/lesbians being more comfortable dealing with their bodies, and feminists are more likely to talk to young women (daughters, nieces) about them because they’re not going to value hymens.

    My yuuki came in a green and white cardboard and plastic can. I think maybe it has yellow flowers on the lawn, but the packaging was very much “hygienic and good for the environment” rather than “pink glittery princess.” (Also it was cheap and also I am apparently intellectually twelve years old and thought “yuuki” was funny.)


    In the year 1997 a young Mildred was not allowed to use anything but pads for it would hurt my chance at marriage. HOW WOULD HE KNOW THE GOODS HADN’T BEEN TAMPERED WITH.

    The number of friends I explained the concept of ‘the cup’ thought it sounded barbaric and gross. I think everyone who buys a cup becomes a spokesperson for at least a couple of months.

    Men wouldn’t take the pill, even if they could have all the PIV they wanted but they had to deal with depression, decreased sex drive, weight gain, muscle loss etc etc… If you tell Nigel about these side effects will he say “I had no idea darling! I volunteer to wear a sheath promptly and every single time!” ? Its not nice to contemplate these medical side effects when you consider them as a form of violence perpetuated against women that could be so easily avoided. When you think of the number of women suffering from depression, cutting, committing suicide because of those sexy little pills. If the Meglotheocorporatebeuraucracy kidnapped 100 young women and starved them to death there would be certain legal ramifications… but if you convince them being very thin is ideal they can starve their own selves to death. How clever that they got us to kick ourselves in the teeth so they didn’t have to scuff their boots. Being a woman is a million tiny daily violences and humiliations. I try not to think about it but it creeps in. Nigel is writing a female character in his book, I tell him it’s like this and he says I don’t think that’s every woman’s experience and I think maybe not consciously but beneath the dissonance it’s there. Like a stone in your shoe, it’s there.

  32. Ellesar

    I was fortunate enough to have a pioneering surgeon for part of my treatment, who had developed better biopsy methods. I had a pretty horrible time with BC as I had to have ‘the works’, and I was treated with some crass insensitivity at times, but on the whole I did not experience any of the horrors that I have read about. I guess being at the best hospital (for BC) in the UK did help!

  33. mybodyisacage

    TMILDRED said that being a woman is a million tiny daily violence and humiliations, and even for those that don’t think so, it’s there underneath the cognitive dissonance.

    I agree times a billion. I think I say something to this effect every day. The responses I get range from aghast denial and adoration of things like high heels to admonitions to not be so angry. This is why I currently rarely talk to people who don’t think like blamers unless I have no choice.

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