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Farrah’s Story Has Been Someone’s Story for a Long Time

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Is it still “then,” as in the days when people still thought cancer only happened to other people – specifically the ordinary, average-looking person who came from a bad genetic pool? Apparently so.

I’m sickened by the notion that there are still those who would be, could be, and are inspired, touched, and otherwise moved by something like Farrah’s Story – a celebrity’s video production of her experience with cancer within – and beyond – the American health care system.

Years before Farrah’s infamous 1976 poster hit stores nationwide, my mother was going into the hospital – again. That visit was for the purpose of taking skin from her thigh and grafting it over bare bone exposed by the radical mastectomy that took much more than her breast.

When my mother’s arm hung by her side, anyone standing in front of her could look at her underarm area and see past her. The once gaping wound left a gaping hole in her body. Because it was the 70s, her illness and recovery left a gaping hole in her life.

Physical therapy was limited in scope, often regarded as unnecessary, and rarely paid for by insurance. There were no support groups, and often patients were strongly encouraged to keep their experience to themselves – primarily because those who hadn’t been touched by cancer found it uncomfortable to hear about it, those poor cancer-free souls.

Advances in cancer treatment have been such that if my mother had her surgery now, she would have a lumpectomy. But they didn’t know as much back then, so they took everything and then some. Society, however, has not advanced nearly as much, as evidenced by the reaction to Farrah’s Story.

No one wanted to hear my mother’s story. Every effort she made to educate others and make them aware of the risk and experience of cancer was met with charges of whining, complaining, and bringing others down. Those who asked where she’d been when she was in the hospital for weeks at a time actually physically stepped away from her when she told them she had cancer. I was nine years old the first time that happened. I’m now close to staring down the business end of 50, and I’m still seeing this happen – although thankfully, it’s not happening to my mother anymore. Not so thankfully, she died in 1999 of liver cancer – not an uncommon end for breast cancer survivors of the 70s.

Unlike in the 70s, people now want to hear the story of cancer. Unfortunately, it is for the wrong reasons – not the least of which is to indulge themselves in genuine emotion, although this rarely manifests in genuine action. Farrah Fawcett’s attempts to educate, inform, and make aware those who are still uneducated, uninformed, and unaware are to be lauded because she has suffered greatly and will likely continue to do so.

What is not to be lauded, and should be regarded as our national, if not global shame, is society’s attitude toward cancer – or any disease of the body or mind, for that matter – and the joke we call our health care system. I’ll eat a stethoscope if even one percent of the people who watched Farrah’s Story do a single thing to advance medical research or fight for a better health care system (which has had nothing to do with health care and everything to do with money since before my mother was hospitalized), or admit that cancer could happen to them and make life changes accordingly.

What is more likely, evidenced by how little has been done to make things better since my mother’s first surgery, is societal short-term memory loss. After the tears dry up, the lump in the throat subsides, and the water-cooler conversations turn to the next celebrity story, who does what about what they saw?

Every effort I have made as an adult to bring attention to and fix our shoddy health care system has been met with accusations of trying to bring on the nightmare of socialism. Duh. Capitalism is good for American businesses, but not for the physical and mental well-being of American citizens.

If Farrah's experience is news to you, you might ask yourself what rock you’ve been hiding under all this time. There is no health or care in our health care system, and there hasn't been for a long time. If you’re not willing to do a single thing to fix it, then save your tears. They're not only wasted, they’re blurring your ability to see what is real.

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About Diana Hartman

Diana is a USMC (ret.) spouse, mother of three and a Wichita, Kansas native. She is back in the United States after 10 years in Germany. She is a contributing author to Holiday Writes. She hates liver & motivational speakers. She loves science & naps.
  • IlonaBiro

    I agree entirely with this piece, and encourage Americans to work with the Obama administration to get universal health care in place for all of your citizens. I live in Canada, and know that our system is not perfect (certainly it’s expensive and could be run more efficiently). But every Canadian grows up to expect access to the entire healthcare system across our country, regardless of income or geographical location, and Americans should expect no less. You’ll have no better chance of putting this system in place than under an Obama presidency, so I earnestly hope you can accomplish this one great task. It’s a baseline issue that will addresses issues of poverty in many respects. Please do not let anyone tell you that it’s socialism to have healthcare for every member of society. It’s simply a basic human right which should exist outside of the capitalist, for-profit structure that exists currently. We pay our taxes and in return know that anyone who arrives at a hospital in need will be taken care of, end of story.

  • wackjob

    This is an excellent piece. I’ve had a lot of experience with the American health care system, both because of myself and my elderly parents. My mother had breast cancer in 1989. She had a mastectomy but no radiation and no chemo. Now, of course, I wonder if she should have even had the mastectomy. However, our family has a double-sided history of breast cancer (pardon the pun) so we have to be careful.

    Our health care system is systematically set up to deny care at every turn, and make you jump through hoops to get it. I hope Obama and the citizens of our country (including me) can get this turned around!

  • Don

    Poorly written drivel. Go move to Canada.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/jordan-richardson/ Jordan Richardson

    Don, you might disagree with the overall conclusions and you might choose to offer a juvenile rejoinder, but there is no way that this article is “poorly written drivel.” This is a sensitive, well-constructed piece.

  • irv

    I might not put it so harshly, but i agree with Don. Saying, over and over again, that she doesn’t like the US healthcare system, does nothing to say why, or what specific problems she has with it. I won’t even take her to task for not suggesting any solutions, as if one cannot even state the problem, it’s impossible to propose solutions. And i’d disagree with the whole premise, as my mother has pancreatic cancer and, after a few false starts, is getting quite excellent care, provided by the healthcare system she so broadly slams.

    Secondly, while people’s reaction to those with cancer vary, I understand the reaction she describes. But I wouldn’t judge those people’s reaction so harshly either. It is largely due to fear and ignorance. It is rarely done out of animus towards the person with the disease.

    And, since i mentioned lack of specifics, i’ll specifically give an example of the problem with this article; the author states that had her mother been diagnosed today she mostly would have had a lumpectomy rather than a mastectomy. yet further in the article she makes a comment on how little has been done since her mother’s surgery. I don’t think that is a little, i think that’s a pretty big advancement.

  • Doug Hunter

    Some medical research stats I dredged up for the last bashing of US healthcare:

    Medical Nobel Prizes (10 year period)
    US born 12
    Foreign working in US 3
    All others 7

    Medical Research Expenditures
    US (all sources) 98 B
    US government 35 B
    EU Govts (combined) 8 B

    The rest of the world lets the US shoulder the lion’s share of R&D so they can then just copy or spend their money on universal health care.

    When you think how many lives could be saved by UHC, think how many lives will be cost by the necessary reductions in research and decreased pace of growth in medical knowledge.

    Of course, here and now sob stories work our emotions over better than projections about potential cures that will be found later or not at all.

  • Bliffle

    Excellent article, Diane.

    You are right: the US healthcare system is corrupt because of it’s dedication to profits instead of healthcare.

    In that same era, around 1975, a person near to me was diagnosed with breast cancer in Paris, her home, and was treated by the socialistic French medical system that performed a lumpectomy that removed a fist-sized lump and left nothing more noticeable than the pale 2″ diameter skin graft. And now, all these years later, she’s hale and hearty

    The mad system we have in the USA is nothing less than immoral.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/jordan-richardson/ Jordan Richardson

    Doug, of course you’re going to have more money in your system for R&D. That you don’t have much, much more to generate through the crippled system is what’s really surprising, considering that health care is a business.

    Now we can play Crunch the Numbers all day long, as you and I could probably go around contrasting stats for quite some time (I think it was Lisa Simpson who said that you can get a statistic to prove anything), but this really comes down to a moral issue in the end.

    I know that morality can’t be broken down into dollars and cents, though, but the time for thinking the American system because you’re “winning” in some statistical areas that you “dredged up” is over.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/diana-hartman/ Diana Hartman

    And, since i mentioned lack of specifics, i’ll specifically give an example of the problem with this article; the author states that had her mother been diagnosed today she mostly would have had a lumpectomy rather than a mastectomy. yet further in the article she makes a comment on how little has been done since her mother’s surgery. I don’t think that is a little, i think that’s a pretty big advancement.

    I didn’t say medical technology has not advanced. I said — and I will continue to say — the health care industry (the business) and society’s attitude toward health has not advanced sufficiently.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    “I know that morality can’t be broken down into dollars and cents, though, but the time for thinking the American system because you’re “winning” in some statistical areas that you “dredged up” is over.”

    Very well put, Jordan. Health care should never have been a business. We have a long-standing tradition in America that certain things shouldn’t be in private hands because they’re too important to be left to the unpredictable forces of the marketplace – utilities, for one; or the highways.

    It’s about time that health care of the citizens starts being regarded as one of the country’s greatest assets – no less so than our infrastructure, for instance.

  • Kat

    Farrah’s doctor admitted that they didn’t bring out the “big guns” until late in the game because she wanted to save her freakin’ hair! I was stunned. How vain and stupid she is.

    The UK has been slowly re-privatizing its system for years. “Trust” hospitals have been established as for-profit alternatives to the purely state-run institutions because the latter are become more and more awful as each day passes. If the health care system in the UK was so wonderful, why would they even feel a need to establish these alternatives? Americans really need to educate themselves about these other systems – and listening to Farrah Fawcett hardly constitutes an education in anything other than Hollywood stupidity.