By: Beth Gianopulos, Esq., Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center
In the early 1980s, when a woman was diagnosed with breast cancer it felt like a death sentence. At least that was the way I felt, as a 10-year-old, when my mother told me that she had breast cancer. I immediately thought, “My mom is going to die.” After the shock of the initial diagnosis, my mother discussed treatment. She would have a mastectomy, and all of her lymph nodes would be removed. The results of her surgery would set the course for additional treatment.
At the time, hospitals did not allow children in hospital rooms. After the trauma of having her breast removed and recovering from a bad reaction to anesthesia, the only way that my mother could see me, her only child, was to come down to the public lobby in a wheelchair. As I look back now, I am impressed by my mother’s strength, and saddened by the healthcare provider’s lack of understanding. Fortunately, with new developments like family-centered care, a situation like the one my mother faced has become a rarity in today’s hospitals. Now, children are allowed to visit their mothers in their rooms, and we involve families in the care and decisions that are made.
Over the past 20 years, enormous strides have been made in the treatment of breast cancer. Not only is breast cancer no longer a death sentence, but many women are able to have lumpectomies or less radical surgeries. Reconstructive surgeries have improved, and the overall understanding of the physical impact of breast cancer has grown. However, despite these strides, a diagnosis of breast cancer still carries with it huge emotional, spiritual, mental, and physical issues. The legal community is now beginning to understand the complexity of these issues, including the legal issues that breast cancer patients face. Because the impact of a breast cancer diagnosis is so personal, the best way to get a glimpse of the issues facing breast cancer patients is to speak to them and hear their stories.
With the background of my personal experience with breast cancer, I decided to interview breast cancer patients to identify three or four recurring themes related to their care and treatment. I anticipated that the patients would face a number of emotional and other issues that they may not realize could have legal implications. Of course, these issues are not isolated to only breast cancer patients, but with my mother’s experience, I felt most familiar with their experiences and am emotionally vested in this specific topic. However, I was not prepared for the wide range of experiences I learned about, and I quickly realized that while there are many common themes for the patients, each individual’s breast cancer journey is unique. Continue reading “Their Stories Matter: Effectively Counseling Clients with Breast Cancer”