Cancer Devastated Me, but the Cleveland Clinic Humiliated Me

  • by: Kim B.
  • recipient: Dr. Tomislav Mihaljevic, CEO, Cleveland Clinic

I was diagnosed with stage III breast cancer when the youngest of my two children was 11 months old. After my diagnosis, and with careful consideration, I chose to have bilateral mastectomies without reconstruction, aka "going flat." My primary goal was to avoid repeat surgeries and get back to normal life with my family ASAP. I had already missed a lot of my kids' lives because of neoadjuvant chemotherapy.

At the advice of my breast surgeon, I brought on to my team a plastic surgeon at Cleveland Clinic named Dr. Steven Bernard in order to achieve a smooth, flat result with no extra tissue left behind to facilitate reconstruction. My exact words to Bernard were, "I want it as flat as possible with the only caveat being I want to retain full range of motion." I knew it would be psychologically disturbing to me to see breast remnants remaining. I also knew that after radiation treatment my skin's ability to heal from additional surgeries would likely be compromised, so I wanted to be done with surgery before starting radiation. All of this was made crystal clear to Dr. Bernard, and he agreed to make me flat.

Surgery day arrived, and just as I was about to be put under anesthesia in the OR, I heard Dr. Bernard say, "I will just leave a little extra in case you change your mind." To which I replied, "NO. I want to be flat. Just keep my range of motion. Don't get cancer, guys, it sucks." And I conked out.

To my utter dismay and disgust, I woke up to a result that is nowhere near flat. Dr. Bernard left a large volume of extra tissue, and my chest has the appearance of what are clearly intended to be pockets for implants.  Every time I look at my chest or even think about it, I feel disturbed, ashamed, and violated. At first I couldn't even stand to take my clothes off to take a shower. Every time I lie on my side, I can feel the extra tissue as a large uncomfortable mass. I can't wear my swimsuit. I can't wear any tops without a sports bra or compression garment underneath. My chest looks grossly deformed. 

Dr. Bernard intentionally misled me and then ignored my explicit instructions to "go flat." He violated me, humiliated me, and robbed me of my right to make decisions about my own body. And this bait and switch phenomenon is not unique to Cleveland Clinic. Many women have been similarly victimized, but shamed into silence.

As the #2 hospital in the nation, Cleveland Clinic has the resources and infrastructure to implement a prevention program and foster a culture of consent for surgeons -- specifically for mastectomy surgeries. But so far they have done nothing.

Please sign this petition demanding that the Cleveland Clinic, under the new leadership of Dr. Mihaljevic, put in place an accountability system so that the gross violation I suffered does not happen to other women. 

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