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Why I Won’t Wear My Cancer Ribbon

I suppose I may be a “Study of 1” on this issue, but there’s no getting away from this fact: I’ve experienced a lot of healthcare. I also have a child with special needs, which means I can add “Too Much Pediatric Healthcare” to my healthcare resume. Did I mention I’m a Critical Care RN? Or, at least, I was, before the children came, and I spent so much time in doctor’s offices I had no time to work in them. You would think my past makes me a cheerleader for healthcare. Oddly, I believe in healthcare, less is sometimes more. Let me explain:

Strangely, this “less healthcare is sometimes a good thing” idea came to me today at the Vet. Our very healthy, yet older cat, had a check-up, where I was offered “Senior Cat Health Care Packages”, “Senior Cat Monitoring Blood Draws”, and “Flea Preventatives” for a cat who wouldn’t step outside if I pushed her. I had a sudden impulse to answer these requests with my truth. I replied, “Syd has been ours since she was 8 weeks old. She’s never so much as had a cold. Her behavior has been the most consistent thing in our lives. Without a single sign or symptom of anything being wrong, why would I want to mess up a perfectly good cat with so much…healthcare?”

And there it was: my personal belief that wonderful, talented, highly-educated healthcare professionals offer us the best treatment the world has to offer, and sometimes we should just say, “No thank you”. More healthcare isn’t always better for your health. In fact, too much healthcare is just downright depressing.

I’m not here to tell you to avoid the doctor by drinking more water, getting more rest, and by building a meditation room in your house. It’s almost 11 pm, I’m drinking a beer, and meditation? Not without an instructor standing over me, telling me exactly what to think (which is probably the opposite of meditation, but I digress). I don’t lecture on health habits for fear my hypocrisy will inspire me to give up my gummy bear addiction. But I do think before making that next follow-up appointment, it’s OK to ask, “Why?”, or crazy questions like, “Will this change my outcome?” You may even become so bold as to use a quote I repeat to my healthcare providers: “My goal is to have as few appointments and interventions as possible, and still maintain my health.”

Why, as an allied health professional, do I espouse this practice? Because in today’s healthcare-soaked world, it doesn’t take too many diagnoses to stop seeing yourself as YOU, and start seeing yourself as your “list”. After a few bad luck years, I was no longer Lori. I was a Melanoma-Survivor. An Ocular Hypertensive. An Immunotherapy Responder. I stopped thinking of myself as a person battling normal, humanity-type illnesses, and was teetering dangerously close to becoming a professional patient. The change was insidious, and had I not become so mentally worn down by sitting in waiting rooms, I wonder if I would have thought to buck the system at all.

I started practicing my very polite, but very clear refusal of healthcare last year when I had a rash on my gums. At the time, I didn’t even know gum rashes were possible. I was sent to a gifted Periodontist, where I proceeded to spend thousands of dollars on painful procedures, and indeed, it healed. After a full year of check-ups, I was offered…yet another check up. I politely requested a referral back to my regular dentist. If that rash comes back, I’ll give them a call. Until then, I’d like to go back to being the dental patient who should floss more often, just like everyone else. From there, I informed my Optometrist that I would no longer require a short leash for my Ocular Hypertension. I don’t have glaucoma yet, and 3-month appointments versus 6-month appointments weren’t going to make a difference between sight and blindness. I’ve been under the care of a Neuro-Opthamologist for almost 30 years, and if I haven’t gone blind after 3 decades of being surrounded by patients going blind, I’m probably not going to do it in the next 3 months.

I’m not suggesting you skip the mammogram. I’m not suggesting if diabetes runs in your family, you skip a blood-sugar check should you become symptomatic. In fact, I’m all for a reasonable amount of preventative care, and I get irritated at doctor’s offices who don’t send me reminder post cards. I have so many doctors, I can’t remember their names! I need that post card! But I’m not for leashes so short, they are affecting my quality of life. And to the extent it’s possible, I’m not going to live my life in waiting rooms.

After I practiced the creation of my own standard of care, I thought it would be a healthy gesture to do a Survivor Walk. It sounded like a good idea at the time, but I will be the first to admit, it was a horrible choice for me. I do not want my health record tattooed on my conscious as a walking reminder (literally, in this instance), that life is a temporary health status. Dr. Norton Hadler, while controversial, did write one of my favorite medical quotes in his book “The Last Well Person”: “The death rate is currently one per person”. Therefore, if we all face the same death rate, I take no pride in being hard to kill. I label anyone living a “survivor” by the indisputable evidence that he or she is most certainly…HERE. I started having flashbacks to the Seinfeld episode when Kramer refused to wear the ribbon on the AIDS walk: “What do you mean you WON’T WEAR THE RIBBON?! Everyone is wearing the RIBBON!” It may sound trivial, but I found the ribbon to be defining, and I am so much more than a medical chart. Not to mention, the melanoma ribbon is the same color as the 9-11 ribbon. Can you envision that conversation? “You survived 9-11?! My God Woman! Are you OK?” And what could I possibly say, “Oh gosh, no. I only survived melanoma. Seriously, wow, no national disaster that changed the course of history! Just aggressive cancer.” Coincidentally, black is also the color of ribbon for sleep apnea, indicating to me, we have officially run out of colors. For those who find “The Walks” celebratory, I give them a high-five and my best wishes for successful fundraising. I’m a fan of fundraising, but as a personal preference, I don’t need anymore reminders I have crappy skin. Just the reminder postcard for me, thank you.

America has the most expensive and extensive healthcare system in the world. It’s a veritable buffet of specialists and procedures and medications. But mostly, it’s just a bunch of follow-up appointments where I am declared “capable of carrying out my activities of daily living”. I don’t need a t-shirt and a ribbon to tell me I am able to wash my dishes and fold my laundry (shh…don’t tell my husband), and unless I’m going to find the secret of life at my 1000th check-up, I’d just as soon skip it. My doctors want nothing but the best for me, and they are in my prayers, every day, for as long as I live. But going forward, I’d like them to start missing me a little bit. Maybe absence won’t just make the heart grow fonder. Maybe it will grow stronger too. Godspeed to you and your heart as well, my fellow readers. Godspeed to us all.

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