“Shirley Temple Black: She broke the silence about breast cancer,” Peggy Orenstein, The New York Times.

In the fall of 1972, Shirley Temple Black noticed a lump in her left breast. Peggy Orenstein writes that it’s hard to imagine now, when celebrity breast-cancer diagnoses bring an inevitable publicity windfall, how risky it was for this woman to hold a news conference from her hospital bed just days after having surgery surgery. Black insisted because she wanted to inform other women that, against her surgeon’s recommendations, she insisted on having a “simple mastectomy” (in which only breast tissue is removed) instead of a so-called “one-step procedure.”

Today the simple mastectomy is a standard treatment but back then a woman having a minor breast biopsy would, if a preliminary pathology suggested cancer, awaken from her unconsciousness having undergone a radical mastectomy (with chest muscles removed along with the breast, and many lymph nodes). If the initial report later proved incorrect, as it sometimes did, the presumption was that the patient would simply be grateful she didn’t have cancer.

Shirley Temple Black didn’t see it that way. She questioned her doctor’s orders and demanded input into her treatment. The American Cancer Society scolded Black for her insolence, fearing that other women would follow suit. They did. And do.

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Related:

Celebrity Effect, Breast Cancer Consortium

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