You know those days when your boobs really hurt? Well I had one of those days, but it lasted for 12 years. That’s how I met Dr. Scissors.
Dr. Scissors was a prominent surgeon who specialized in breast maladies. His office was just a few miles away, and he came highly recommended.
“He did my mother’s biopsy.”
“He performed my cousin’s surgery.”
“Oh Dr. Scissors? He took a lump out of my breast last week. He’s amazing.”
Everyone in town was just over the moon for Dr. Scissors. It might seem like an alarmingly large number of people I know have visited a breast cancer specialist, but I grew up on Long Island which has one of the highest rates of this disease. Now I had a gigantic lump in my breast and considering my geographical location, it seemed prudent to schedule an appointment.
My consultation was brief. After my examination, Dr. Scissors told me I was correct. I had a mass in my left breast, and it could be very dangerous. Considering how very dangerous this mass might be I should have it removed and biopsied immediately. His nurse could schedule me for surgery as early as next week.
“Do I have cancer?”
“A biopsy will tell us if it’s malignant or benign.”
“Which one is cancer?”
“You want it to be benign.”
I made an appointment with the nurse, and then spent the next few days using various mnemonic devices to remember which word –- malignant or benign -- meant cancer. My stress and anxiety about the whole situation made it impossible for me to remember the difference between these two words. Malignant is bad. Benign is good. Or was it the other way around? My brain would not cooperate.
I think I just wanted someone to tell me what was actually going on. Everything was happening so fast and it all felt very wrong. I was sure I was fine and that the Internet and my doctor and even the people wearing pink ribbons on their sweaters in October were crazy. My brain started to construct fantasies. I was sure even the ribbons themselves had gone mad or at the very least they had organized, because I was starting to see them everywhere.
I don’t remember what my parents had to say about the situation. I think they just trusted the doctor, which is strange because my mother notoriously hates doctors. Dr. Scissors came with such great references that I think we all just dutifully piled in the car and auto-piloted me to the hospital for my surgery.
I don’t remember going into the procedure at all. I do remember waking up and starting to puke, then falling asleep again. When I woke back up, everything felt fine. I was not in pain or groggy. I was given a prescription for extra strength Ibuprofen and told to rest for a few days. The results would be in soon.
The results came in. Benign. Hooray! I went on with my life. Aside from the scar that runs across the bottom of my left nipple, it was as if none of this breast cancer surgery stuff really ever happened. I was just a healthy normal 19-year-old.
A few years later my mother went in for a consultation with Dr. Scissors. It turned out my mom had lumpy boobs too. When the doctor completed the exam he told her something familiar. She had a very dangerous mass. It needed to be removed and biopsied immediately.
Remember when I told you that my mom hates doctors? Well she must have remembered that fact while in his office, because I’m told she caused a small scene, calling him a liar and “scissor happy.” (Hence the pseudonym of Dr. Scissors.)
In the meantime my painful lumps were back, so I decided to see another doctor. The new doctor was very surprised to learn I'd had any lumps removed because the lumps in my breast were “very obviously cysts.” I saw another doctor. Then another. They all diagnosed me with the same thing. Cysts. Nothing was wrong with my boobs except for a common condition that most women experience at some point in their life.
Then the word got around. Scandal was afoot in my hometown. Supposedly, Dr. Scissors was named in a class action lawsuit that accused him of performing unnecessary surgeries on women under the guise of possible breast cancer. Allegedly he made a small fortune removing lumps from the chests of white, upper-middle class women with great health insurance.
I’m not sure if it was the patients or the health insurance companies that realized he was performing an inordinate amount of preventative surgeries on an otherwise healthy population. We heard he was under investigation. We heard he was being sued. Rumors flew.
A few days ago I decided to Google his name. All reference to any legal action is gone. Poof! Alakazam! There’s not a single trace of information about Dr. Scissors, except a doctor who goes by the same name, specializing in the same type of medicine is licensed in Florida. I texted a few friends who also know the doctor and remember the scandal. We all started furiously combing the Internet for any trace of his deeds.
Despite treating thousands of patients over the course of many years, there isn’t any information about him ever practicing in my hometown, whatsoever. I joked that I need to use the services of whomever he hired to clean up his online reputation, too. After all, the Internet is where you can find an actual picture of my boobs, but not one single reference to the man who so casually took a knife to them.
Sometimes I run my finger along the scar on my left nipple, realizing that a man purposefully chose to put a permanent mark on my body. He made this choice over and over again, putting scars on hundreds of women. The fear he caused! What type of doctor goes around falsely making people think they might have cancer? Was he a sadistic, greedy and opportunistic person? Maybe he honestly thought he was doing the right thing.
There is still plenty of good in this situation. I’m lucky my scar isn’t worse. I’m lucky I did not have cancer. I’m lucky this was just a small scare and minor inconvenience in my life. But it’s not the scar and it’s not the surgery that bothers me. It’s the audacity. It’s the larger lesson about darkness in humanity. It’s about the endless desire to trust and how it feels to have that trust violated. It’s about betrayal. It’s about acknowledging when something is not okay. It’s about learning the difference between what is malignant and benign.