Modesty, A Collaboration

Recently, I had to disrobe completely for a scan. I was already wearing a hospital gown that I’d been given after I tried to stay in my own clothes for said scan. There were three people in the room, two women and a man, all radiology techs and all looking straight at me before, during and after that instruction. I hesitated a minute, made sure I’d heard correctly, and then I complied. The reasoning was that it was important to get clear pictures for the radiation planning and I get that reasoning intellectually; at the same time, it was overwhelming.

It is overwhelming to have to give up one’s modesty, the trappings that make us individuals, the cloth that covers up our physical flaws, an armor of sorts. A dear friend of mine, Silke (who has written a guest blog for me previously) and I recently discussed how wearing hospital gowns affects her during her cancer treatment and she shared with me the following …

Paul Kalanithi’s extraordinary memoir “When Breath becomes Air”, describing his life and journey towards death came out after I was diagnosed with early breast cancer. It chronicles his transition from neurosurgeon to cancer patient, at one point describing him sitting in a hospital gown talking to a physician in a white coat. 

It is just a small snippet in a brilliant book, but it struck close to home for me. I don’t understand hospital gowns during physician appointments. Yes, I’m perfectly fine wearing them for a procedure. And no, I’m not fine when I go in to have a conversation talking about my treatment, my medication, and my side effects. It’s demeaning enough to describe in great detail the last episodes of utter weakness, pain, and diarrhea or constipation. Don’t objectify me more by making me wear a gown while sitting in a medical office. 

Throughout my entire cancer journey I’ve sidestepped the gown, even when pushed by overly zealous assistants. Luckily, none of my many awesome physicians ever minded. I make sure that I am dressed in a way that allows me to get out of my clothes in a heartbeat when necessary, and 90% of the time I don’t need to. 

Wearing clothes instead of a gown allows me to keep my head high, and to have my mind focused on the medical, scientific words I’m hearing and processing. It allows me to feel like a person, not a lump that is being talked to. 

I couldn’t be more in love with the cancer center I’m at for a clinical trial – not only do they have a special “heroes room” for all their trial patients, nobody ever asked me to wear a gown.

Please, please, hospital administrators and physicians, follow this example and allow us to be humans first through the difficult journey we are in. 

These words resonated with me so much. We are all humans first and deserve to be treated that way. I get the necessity for easy access to the body parts that need to be scanned and yet, otherwise, the insistence on wearing flimsy paper only amplifies the power that the medical system attempts to impose on the people who need said medical system to stay alive.

Allow us to keep the trappings of humanity just a little longer.

27 thoughts on “Modesty, A Collaboration

  1. I’m constantly greeted with a surprised look from hospital and clinic who aren’t familiar with me and my demand to remain human throughout my cancer treatments, exams, tests and etc. I dress for the occasion. For scans the only things coming off are shoes if necessary, my watch and a dress that goes over my leggings and undershirt. Requesting a warm blanket and a pillow case should my arms need to remain over my head – I have an achey shoulder so the pillow case lets my arms relax over my head as I slip into it over both arms just over my elbows. I can then mediate through any such CT, PET, MRI or other scan. I also wear clothing that’s nurse friendly and port exposing, as well as a spandex top like spanx that allow me to pull it down around my hips to let the oncologist do an exam. This is the only remotely half nuded up time I’ll spend. It’s not so much conservative- my family was a bunch of nudists and I was taught my body wasn’t anything to be ashamed of – yet how I wish I could say the same today. It’s an unusual and unjust feeling for me to be self conscious of my physical self. Leave it to a half wit right tit and my legs full of detestable spiders and a belly brimming with fluid lately – and this hair of mine that simply won’t grow and an aging process that’s sped up 10x with the therapies and the extraction of collagen from my paper thin skin. I’m not myself. I’d not want to be treated less than human and this point I’d been grappling with this night all evening as it was our 14th anniversary and I simply didn’t remind Craig as normally I do since he’s ocd he forgets if he gets stuck in a loop of indecision that most celebrating requiring a card or gift or a dinner might’ve but I felt for the first time not attractive and I think it’s because recently my human-ness had been taken from me by a recent hospital encounter I’d just rather leave be for now. But I can hear this like a tsunami heading for my shore and am immediately struck by the synchronicity of thoughts so thank you Abigail for letting me work this out here real time. My six years of body stripped bare by my diagnosis has taken a real toll on me. I’m numb to the robe and it’s wasted on me because I just won’t feel stripped of my humanity.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Ilene, I hear you loud and clear. There are so many “little” things that are simply not so little. Who stands, who sits, who wears what, etc., these all add up, especially over time. Some things are unavoidable but asking for adjustments/accommodations that accomplish access for the medical professionals and comfort for us has certainly become my norm. Love and gentle hugs to you. ❤️

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Over the last number of years, I’ve caught myself saying “there is no modesty with a cancer patient” as I address my nurses and physicians. I normally laugh to cover up how uncomfortable I truly feel. It’s this behavior that sets them at ease in my mind but I still feel like a patchwork science experiment. Thank you for this. To know I’m not alone in these feelings is comforting, validating. Standing up for myself and my humanity is something I need to take stronger steps toward.♥️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I make a lot of jokes to cover up when I feel uncomfortable or are feeling exposed in some way. I do think humor can be a good coping mechanism and I also crack jokes to remind people around me that I’m a person, not just a patient number. At the same time, I see what you are saying about perhaps doing so rendering the experience ok for other people. Thank you for sharing your experience and perspective. I want to also just say, I don’t think there are right or wrong ways to handle these situations, not at all. We all have to cope the best way we know how. Love and hugs to you. ❤️

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Hi Abigail,
    As someone who does not like to have others in my space, much less in my space with me exposed, this really strikes a nerve. Any woman who’s undergone a mastectomy with or without reconstruction has had to disrobe umpteen times. And the photo shoots are horrendous intrusions. I’m sorry you had to undergo being disrobed for this scan. It’s not even about modesty, it’s about dignity. Reminds me of a post Michele Wheeler wrote. I’ll have to dig that out and reread it. Anyway, thank you for writing about this. I might have to as well soon. Hope the scan results were what you wanted. x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes!! I’ve been realizing that about 95% of my posts come down to preserving and fighting for dignity. Why it should take such an effort is truly mind boggling to me. Thank you for commenting and I’d love to see the Michele Wheeler post when you have a moment! ❤️


  4. Hey Abigail,
    What a thoughtful post that strikes a nerve for all who’ve felt exposed, by cancer and by the office procedures. You’re right that anything that can be done to allow a patient to feel more fully herself, should be standard procedure. I remember all those years ago, having to expose just my left breast for those 15 seconds (I think–that’s my memory) and seeing the radiology techs watching behind their protective barrier. I referred to it as climbing up on the radiation altar– feeling like I was sacrificed– perhaps that was my modesty, my dignity.
    We do well to remind the professionals of the point of view of the patient.
    Best to you, Abigail,

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I think I just meant the whole concept of your article was dealing with so many layers of humanity in all its forms arguing for the good instead of the bad. I was meaning the array of humanity in its rawest forms. I agree with your point. Sorry I should have explained more deeply you are right. I was both moved and tired when I responded.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Sadly, I had urinary tract issues at a young age, so I was already used to being exposed. 😑

    But I get this, 100%. I also think it forces THEM (doctors and staff alike) to see and treat you more like a real person when you’re in your clothes and not al fresco, hoping not to sneeze and have an accident or flash someone.

    I’m so sorry they didn’t have the decency to look away. You’d think that’s routine. 🤯

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so sorry for your experiences, my friend, that had to have been difficult to experience that at a young age. I’ve definitely lost quite a bit of my trepidation with exposure during medical situations — we are all just another body to them, of course. I think, for me, it all comes down to being treated with dignity. Clothing is a part of our dignity. So many little things that add up over time. As I have tried to explain over and over, for those of us who are forever patients, these incidents/issues just add up over time. Thank you, as always, for your kind and thoughtful comments. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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