by Susan Ahern
I spent most of my adult life waiting to get breast cancer. That’s why I’m voting for Democratic Dr. Ghazala Hashmi, a long-time educator in Virginia’s community college system.
Dr. Hashmi is running for the Virginia Senate (District 10), because, with her own pre-existing condition, she’ll fight for everyone to have access to affordable health policies that actually cover the medical bills. Virginia is one of a handful of states holding off-year elections this November.
I hope you’ll support her compassionate campaign. Here’s why:
Growing up, I’d heard horrors stories about my grandmother in Ireland who died from breast cancer (she’d had a lump under her right arm). I cringed hearing family anecdotes of her two daughters (my paternal aunts) who’d also gotten breast cancer and underwent gruesome mastectomies. These scarring surgeries left my aunts with chronic, painful swelling in their chests and even rendered one aunt’s arm useless from the removal of nearby lymph nodes.
I don’t believe in ghosts, but it sure seemed like Grandmother Susan’s right breast haunted me– for years. Early into adulthood, I realized I’d inherited quirky breasts, because crazy, suspicious spots on my annual mammograms often lit up like a jack-o-lantern! Going for those mammograms felt like returning to the scene of a crime, because doctors often ended up cutting on me. Always on that right breast. Without a biopsy, there was no way to tell (even with high-tech screenings) whether Grandmother Susan’s cancer genes had come calling.
Thankfully those biopsies were benign. I was fine.
So I worked hard at being too healthy to get breast cancer: I was a holiday carnivore, gobbling up that Thanksgiving turkey and Christmas ham, but mostly ate a vegetarian diet. I’d never had even a puff of a cigarette, drank no more than two glasses of wine at a time– and on the rocks to slow me down. No joke, I broke two stationary bikes, exercising. I’d breast fed-my two oldest sons long after they were walking. (Breast feeding is supposed to reduce the odds of getting breast cancer.)
Surely I’d outwit my genes.
The only biopsy I never bothered to anguish over (Trump had just been elected), was biopsy number seven, which turned out to be breast cancer. It bloomed in the exact spot Grandmother’s Susan’s had—in breast tissue under my right arm.
So despite my best efforts, I ended up with stage-one invasive breast cancer. But my radiologist looked up from my biopsy report and said: this is where we can catch cancer but rarely do.
Fortunately, I’d been vigilant about screenings (periodic and expensive breast MRIs and breast ultrasounds, in addition to routine mammograms). Thankfully, I also had good insurance that covered those screenings, which is why Dr. Hashmi’s pledge to work for comprehensive insurance for everyone is so critical. With cancer, to beat the odds you need good insurance years before you even get cancer.
With Cancer, to beat the odds you need good insurance years before you even get cancer.
Catching cancer early doesn’t always mean a better prognosis and less treatment to endure.
But it’s often true. In my case the latter was indeed true —so no chemo or radiation for my microscopic cancer, but I did decide on a double mastectomy, (not a tiny lumpectomy), because with my family history and after seven biopsies, I was done with Grandmother Susan’s hand-me-downs.
Yes, hearing the “C word” was terrifying, and all that mattered at that point was growing old with my husband, surviving to meet grandbabies, and seeing my precious 14-year-old daughter grow up.
Cancer is terrifying because it can be resilient, wily, and silently spread– only to resurface decades later. So it’s possible I’ll have to deal with Grandmother Susan’s grim legacy again. But after a while, I calmed down when my prognosis looked pretty good—only about a 5% chance of recurrence.
Once I felt good about my odds, though, like many women, I feared how cancer surgery would affect my body and my sense of femininity.
My D-sized breasts were still standing, but looked weary. Since I caught the cancer early, and there wasn’t any cancer hiding behind the nipples, I was able to keep my own nipples after the mastectomy. To me, it looked like my awesome surgeon scooped out the insides of my breasts, and the plastic surgeon took over, giving me a lift, and granted my request for a reduction to perky Cs. After healing, I felt zero pain or swelling.
Indeed – these “ladies” have come a long way, baby!
And my cancer story has a silver lining —I surprisingly ended up with much better looking breasts than I started with. In fact, not long after my big surgery, I was driving around catching up with various friends. After each visit, my husband would grin and ask, “Okay, did you flash ‘the Ladies’ again to your girlfriends?” He already knew the answer. And yes, he clearly likes “The Ladies,” too.
Of course, improved breasts after cancer might not be the case for many women, but I’d spent so many years dreading breast cancer that it was finally a relief to know it’s not always the worst thing ever! And mastectomies have certainly progressed from the days of my older, Irish aunt’s scarring surgeries.
That’s a big reason I’m voting for Democrat Dr. Ghazala Hashmi. No one should be denied cancer treatment or humanizing reconstruction because they don’t have access to care. Hashmi’s opponent (incumbent Republican Glen Sturtevant) over and over voted against Medicaid Expansion in the Virginia Senate.
Dr. Hashmi will fight her opponent’s attempts to block access to Medicare Expansion, which finally passed in Virginia. Her opponent is hoping to enact stringent requirements aimed at tossing poor Virginians off Medicaid if they forget, or don’t know how to follow new bureaucratic rules.
Hashmi’s Republican opponent, Sturtevant, also tried to gut protections for pre-existing conditions by sponsoring a bill last winter to expand “short-term,” “junk” policies on Virginia’s individual insurance market, which aren’t required to cover pre-existing conditions or cover the ACA’s 10 Essential benefits, such as cancer care, or ER care, or prescription drugs..
Republicans have a razor-thin margin in the Virginia Senate, so Democrats only need a few seats to take back control of that chamber.
Please donate to Ghazala Hashmi’s campaign. Even a few bucks will help purchase signs, so hope can bloom this November in yards across Virginia.