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Maria after breast cancer: ‘This is the waste of one operation, my operation’

Maria (55) from Groningen was the fate that unfortunately affects so many women: breast cancer. It came to light in a population survey. Her chest had to be completely amputated.

Many women who go through that will be concerned about how much (plastic) waste that produces. Maria is different. As an artist she has been working with waste for about ten years. “I’ve been able to do big projects all over the world. Building big animals out of plastic and things like that.”

“How much does my tit cost in trash?”

When she discovered that 60 percent of the surgical material for her mastectomy was disposable, she was shocked. I have to do something with this, she immediately thought. She decided she wanted to take home the waste from her next surgery, breast reconstruction. The working title for the new artwork: how much does my tit cost in waste?

In the end, Maria put the video online last weekend: ‘This is the waste of one operation, my operation’.

In the hospital – the UMCG in Groningen – Maria noticed during her treatment that the large amount of waste also occupied the nursing staff and the doctors. “It felt ungrateful to bring it up. I was saved right? What was I hard about?”

Still, she asked the cosmetic surgeon that weird question to keep all the material. “Good. You will be amazed at the amount,” was the answer.

Blue gloves

Maria’s operation took ten hours; a new breast was made from her belly fat. “Fifteen people worked on it. That’s huge.” Because the belly fat with blood vessels and already had a new place in her body, she had to stay in the hospital for another six days. “I had to be checked every hour to make sure everything was still properly connected and my chest wouldn’t die.”

Hence the large amount of blue plastic gloves in the artwork. “At every check-up, the first thing they did was put on new blue gloves. As a former nurse, I didn’t understand that much. We used to wash our hands ten times.”

It was strange to unpack the six garbage bags of medical waste at home later on. The bloody surgical gauze pads were deliberately not given. “But aprons and gloves with blood. My blood.”

Together with her daughter, photographer and filmmaker Eva Glasbeek, she made the video that is now widely shared on social media. The editing was an emotional task, especially for her daughter, who had to zoom in on the scars on her mother’s chest and stomach.

‘Scissors after one cut in the trash can’

“My goal is to get the discussion going with this video and the photo. Can this be done differently?”, Says Maria. “A lot of people have no idea how much waste is involved. The items have to be made differently, delivered differently. Why are scissors flown in from Japan and thrown in the trash after one cut?”

She is proud of the reactions of hospital staff on social media. Exactly the way to expose this problem, she reads back a lot.

‘We have no choice’

The UMCG also says it is good that Maria is drawing attention to her bags of surgical waste, says a spokesman. Many colleagues in the hospital recognize this.

“But all the material that Maria shows is material that must be used and we can only use it once. It is not that we have a choice. We logically stick to the guidelines. Material is in sterile packaging. , we always use new gloves and aprons. ”

At the same time, according to the spokesperson, the hospital is working hard to limit the amount of waste as much as possible. For example, we look at what can be recycled and departments are alert that material is not thrown away unused. There is also a ‘sustainable purchasing policy’.

How can it get any better? Then nationally and internationally it would be necessary to look at how the waste can be further limited, says the hospital’s spokesperson.

Not in the wheelie bin

Maria’s artwork will be given a temporary place in the UMCG. She has promised not to put the six bags of surgical waste in the bin, but to bring them back to the hospital. This way it can be properly separated and processed.


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