Exposing oneself to millions

By Caitlin Kelly

Thanks to a reader here, I decided to pitch one of my earlier blog posts as a larger, reported story about medical touch — and my own experience of it — to The New York Times, and it ran today, prompting many enthusiastic and grateful tweets.

Here’s the link, and an excerpt:

It started, as it does for thousands of women every year, with a routine mammogram, and its routine process of having my breasts — like a lump of dough — manipulated by another woman’s hands and placed, albeit gently, into tight compression. It’s never comfortable, but you get used to it because you have to.

Unlike previous years, though, my next step was a biopsy, for which I lay face down, my left breast dangling through a hole in the table. Several hands reached for what’s normally a private and hidden body part and moved it with practiced ease, compressing it again into position for the radiologist’s needles, first a local anesthetic and then the probes needed to withdraw tissue for sampling.

I was fearful of the procedure and of its result and, to my embarrassment, wept quietly during the hour. A nurse gently patted my right shoulder and the male radiologist, seated to my left and working below me, stroked my left wrist to comfort me. I was deeply grateful for their compassion, even as they performed what were for them routine procedures.


It is decidedly weird to out one’s health status — let alone discuss your breast! — in a global publication like the Times — but it also offered me, as a journalist and a current patient undergoing treatment,  a tremendous platform to share a message I think really important.


I hope you’ll share it widely!





Every patient needs to be touched kindly and gently

20 thoughts on “Exposing oneself to millions

  1. Yeah, touch can be as powerful as any drug, and can have longer-lasting effects. Kind and gentle touch especially. There’s even a profession devoted to giving kind touch to people who need it (now there’s the basis for an article).

    1. So true.

      I made sure to thank one of the radiation technicians today — who I am seeing every morning — for her gentle touch. It is so odd to be shimmied and gentle patted into place, but they WAY it’s done is key.

      1. Good on you! Everyone needs a thank you now and then for their hard work, especially in the medical field. In fact, tomorrow I go see my chiropractor. I’m going to make sure to thank them for all they do for me.

  2. Congratulations, Caitlin. Well done! I can relate and agree wholeheartedly that a kind touch is immeasurable. I had a mastectomy in Feb, 2017. My right breast is gone. Chemo, hair loss, and then 30 hits of radiation, and now, a year later, I have curly hair and I’m doing well.

    But throughout the entire process I was moved to tears often by the kindness offered by such dear people who worked so hard and so long to make their cancer patients not just comfortable but happy. When I had my last radiation treatment I told them, “I love you all but I hope I never see you again!” Lol.

    I love the way you put this together. I hope it helps others who are just starting out and are as scared as we were until those arms enfolded us and made us feel safe.

    Love, Ramona

    1. Thanks so much….and so so sorry for all you have been through. It really is a long long road. I am glad you are better now!

      I have another post cued up which is more detailed on radiation itsellf, and which will show my photos of the machine (I asked for permission.)

      Half the challenge of this is how you suddenly enter a totally unfamiliar world — the language, the sounds, the drugs…all of it. It is a huge amount to process all at once — emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually and, sometimes, financially.

      1. Exactly! A whole new world. It takes over your entire life for a while and people you never knew before are suddenly in charge of it. The support system, both personal and medical, is essential. I couldn’t have handled it without them. I’m old enough to remember when we didn’t even say the word “cancer” out loud. We spoke of it in whispers, as if it was so evil, so horrible, we might catch it just by talking about it. We used “the C word” if we talked about it all. But that was when cancer was likely to kill its victim.

        Now we’re lucky to live in a time when survival rates are better than ever. The first thing my oncologist told me, after she told me I would probably lose my breast, is that I wasn’t going to die from it. I told her I was going to hold her to that. Ha! But once she said it I knew I was up to winning the battle. Even at 79.

      2. Thanks.

        The first words I heard were “You’re going to be fine.” My reply “With all due respect, don’t bullshit me.”

        DCIS has a 98% survival rate so I hope she is correct and there is no recurrence. I had a nasty infection 6 weeks post-op and some severe pain last week — both of which scared the hell out of me (which I was told were not worrisome.) You think everything is some new fresh hell.

        It’s been five months already and I still have to see the oncologist about Tamoxifen– and now also overdue for various other things like colonoscopy., Pap smear and various vaccinations. Feeling very weary of all things medical.

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  5. Congrats on getting the piece published! I read it and found it walked a nice line between the personal and the journalistic. It is always hard to draw the line with how much we expose — seems we have both a need to share and a sense of modesty about certain emotions. As for medical touch, I remember a particularly kind nurse who performed a blanket bath on me when I was in hospital for acoustic neuroma surgery in Paris. Her gentle touch and the dignity with which she treated me brought tears at the time. Sadly not all caregivers are that kind, but the ones who are make all the difference.

    1. Thanks. It’s been getting some nice responses and we’re planning to tweet it at a number of medical schools as a reminder.

      Luckily, I’ve had good experiences — our local hospital is known for this kind of care, thank heaven.

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