“I’m coming public with this because it’s like I’ve got nothing else to lose. I’m already embarrassed on a daily basis. I’m already in pain. If anybody judges me, it’s not something I’ve never heard of before. I’ve heard it all,” she said.
Harding is referring to her size O-cup breasts.
“I can put (my bra) on my head like a hat and the underwire is bigger around than my head,” she said, adding that she has to place special orders for undergarments and can pay as much as $110 for a bra.
‘Life is hindered’
The former Aylesford resident is in the midst of a public crusade to push the provincial government to change the criteria that determines if a person is eligible for MSI coverage to help cover the costs of breast reduction surgery.
As it stands, Harding is not eligible due to stipulations that require an individual’s (Body Mass Index) BMI to be 27 or less.
“Getting there is very difficult,” she said, noting that exercise is painful and challenging as a result of mobility issues she faces with breasts that take up half of her torso.
“My life is hindered greatly. I can’t move my body effectively because of my breasts, which is hereditary.”
Harding believes her quality of life would drastically improve if she had breast reduction surgery, but she’s received quotes from private clinics that estimate the procedure would cost in the range of $9,000 to $11,000.
Pushing for change
She started comparing the eligibility criteria in elsewhere in Canada with Nova Scotia and found that several provinces will evaluate eligibility on a case-by-case basis.
“Am I not worth as much as those residents of western Canada? Why is it safe out there but yet they’re telling us here… that it’s not safe,” she said.
Harding started a Facebook page, Challenging MSI Coverage Criteria for Breast Reduction Surgery in NS, to raise awareness of her efforts to enact change. Ideally, she would like the provincial government to agree to remove the BMI stipulation and allow individuals seeking breast reduction surgery to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
“It’s not just for me,” she said. “It’s for women in this province.”
Harding did some digging and learned that Kings West MLA Leo Glavine, now Nova Scotia’s Minister of Health and Wellness, spoke in favour of a “greater individualization of the procedure” in a Kings County News story about a woman challenging the criteria for breast reduction surgery in July 2007.
Today, Harding is fighting to get that same commitment.
Government ‘looking at the criteria’
Nova Scotia Health and Wellness spokesperson Tracy Barron said the department regularly reviews the criteria in question.
“We also monitor what is happening in other provinces and in the medical research field. We’re in the process of looking at the criteria now as part of our regular review, but it will take some time to look at what the evidence and best practice says, what other jurisdictions are doing, and how we can ensure the service covered is medically necessary,” Barron wrote in an e-mail April 27.
Barron explained that the current criteria states that the procedure can only be insured if the surgeon has received approval through MSI, the patient’s BMI is less than 27,400 grams or more of tissue must be removed from each breast and there is proof of physical pain relating to the size of the breasts.
“The criteria are based on the best available evidence regarding medical necessity, surgical and post-surgery risks. This is to ensure that when a patient requires this, or any other surgery, they have the best potential for surgical success,” said Barron.
Hopes for a healthy life
Harding, 29, firmly believes breast reduction surgery would give her the best possible chance at a healthier life by boosting her self-esteem, improving her mobility and eliminating the pain she endures on a daily basis.
“Improvements can be made and I am trying to fight the demons in my head that tell me to ‘not bother,’ but I also have to fight the external demons telling me ‘no’ when it comes to interventions that would aid me in my attempts to become more healthy, fit, and lithe,” she said, noting that she lives with a number of health complications that make it difficult to exercise.
She estimates that her breasts add an extra seven to 15 pounds of weight pulling on her shoulders, causing her neck and back pains as well as headaches. She likens the strain on her muscles to the fatigue one might feel after carrying a baby around, but adds that she doesn’t have the option of putting her breasts down for some much-needed relief.
“When I say that it is a life-changing surgery I’m not pussyfooting around,” Harding stressed.
“It is a life-changing opportunity.”
See Melody Harding’s Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/ChallengingMSI