OB/Gyn and breast cancer patient Deborah Cohan was moments away from going under the knife for a double mastectomy. For most people, this is a serious and solemn undertaking, a life-altering change to a woman’s basic body image. Cohan decided to take Jack Nicholson’s Joker advice and “go with a smile.”
Cohan, along with her surgical team, spent a little over six minutes busting a move to Beyonce’s Get Me Bodied. The video is awesome and fun to watch. Cohan also encouraged friends to record themselves dancing so she could watch the videos while in recovery.
Cohan entered her procedure with smiles and laughter, but never lost sight of the fact that a double mastectomy can be a crucial step in the effort to fight off breast cancer. Cancer.gov defines different types of breast cancer; the most common type is ductal carcinoma. This begins in the thin tubes, or ducts, that carry milk to the nipples during lactation. Another type is lobular carcinoma, which starts in the actual glands that produce milk. Invasive breast cancer occurs when the cancer cells spread from the ducts or lobules to the surrounding tissue. Although breast cancer can occur in men and women, it is much rarer in men.
Cancer.gov estimates 232,340 new female cases of breast cancer in 2013. The estimate for men is 2240. Deaths from breast cancer in women are estimated for 39,620 and 410 for men.
Over several decades of research, medical science has come a long way in detecting, preventing and fighting breast cancer. Treatments include removing the malignant cells, called a lumpectomy or all of the breast tissue in a mastectomy.
Radiation therapy and chemotherapy are also effective in treating breast cancer. Making the decision on which course of treatment to take can be difficult. All women and men who have a history of cancer of any type in their family should consider early tests to catch any type of unnatural cells that could lead to cancer.
In the late 80s, then-First Lady Nancy Reagan decided on a double mastectomy instead of a lumpectomy after detecting a deep lump in her left breast via mammogram. In a 1988 interview with Barbara Walters, she admitted to telling to doctors not to wake her from the biopsy if they found out the lump in her breast was malignant.
“I don’t want to have any conversation about it. I’ve made up my mind. I want it done and over with…It won’t take you long, because I was never Dolly Parton.”
After the surgery, Reagan repeatedly apologized to her husband. When asked if she felt guilty about removing her breasts, Reagan said it seemed to be “a normal female reaction.”
Despite strides forward in body image and ideas of true beauty, many women judge themselves and other women based on their figures. Our breasts are a crucial seat of our femininity.
Reagan declined reconstructive surgery however, and spent her life advocating mammograms to detect tumors early. The Nancy Reagan Breast Center in Simi Valley, California has been designated by the American College of radiology as a Breast Imaging Center of Excellence for its work in “mammography, stereotactic breast biopsy, and breast ultrasound.”
More recently, movie start Angelina Jolie underwent a double mastectomy when a genetic panel showed she was predisposed to breast cancer. Jolie’s decision was akin to Reagan’s, in that she wanted to minimize the threat of cancer as much as possible. Like Reagan, her choice to go through with the surgery as a preventive measure drew praise and criticism.
Jolie made the decision to remove and reconstruct her breasts based on her mother’s battle with ovarian cancer. Marcheline Bertrand died in 2007 at the age of 56. At 37, Jolie learned she carried the BRCA1 (pronounced braca 1) gene, which stands for breast cancer susceptibility gene, according to the National Cancer Institute. Jolie’s test revealed she had an 87% chance of developing breast cancer and a 50% chance of developing ovarian cancer. In light of such a high level of risk, Jolie took proactive action.
Although Cohan is not a public figure or a celebrity, she is a hero to many of her patients. She specializes in treating pregnant women who are also fighting HIV. Her work is crucial to these women and so is she.
In an interview with CNN after her surgery, Cohan said she was more nervous about the flash mob actually taking off than she was about the surgery. Cohan posted on caringbridge.com on Nov.1 that the mob was on at 7:30 am PST, and encouraged people to post videos or pictures of themselves joining her and her surgical team. “Nothing brings me greater joy than catalyzing others to dance, move, (and) be in their bodies.”
Cohan is an inspiration for anyone facing the specter of any type of cancer. Life is to be embraced and lived to the fullest, whatever the circumstances. This pre-operative dance party is uplifting, and we wish Dr. Cohan a speedy recovery from breast cancer and hope she has a post-cancer dance party we can attend.
By Brandi Tasby