My Breasts' Journey
I saved my life and eternally altered my feminine image in a simultaneous act. Often times, women are defined by their curves and waves, their stature, and how her hips sway. Since breast cancer, I have chosen to be defined by new standards of my own.
Always the rebel, this past July I shaved off my hair - almost bald. It shocked some but liberated me. Good hair, nice hair, curly hair, straight hair, short, medium and long; I have heard them all. But a woman who shaves her hair hears, "Is it cancer or insanity?... She's too old for the military call.”
I think back on the life, my breasts and the relationship we have shared. There was the newness of a training bra after reading Judy Blume. Every girl of my generation knows the book “Are You There God, It's Me Margaret” and Margaret’s plea, “I must, I must increase my busts!” We chuckled but understood her need to walk into maturity as her breasts developed.
Then, I experienced the sensitivity of my breasts at the beginning of my monthly cycle. There was the first touch of my breasts with masculine hands outside my shirt, and onto the curious feeling of lips in his attempt to kiss where he once only touched. It was amazing to learn that those breasts aroused something deep inside.
As I grew into motherhood, my breasts began to provide colostrum for my babies. Then, they engorge so full they often hurt, and relief comes in the form of my child nursing. It was the milk that flowed from my breasts that helped my children grow.
Fast forward and then my doctor finds a lump in my breast to explore. Already experiencing the loss of my mother to breast cancer and remember seeing her after the mastectomy and what was left post radiation and chemotherapy. I still mourn.
I just waited for the pathology report not anxiously nor in fear. As the doctor said to me benign just an epithelial cyst gone awry. I tattooed that breast as a reminder of my mother's life and to simply cover the scar. Mammograms and sonograms and two more biopsies followed. Still I stand tall and strong for there is no one to lean on.
I accompanied my middle daughter as her BRCA gene results were read. Positive. Will it be fight or flight as the autonomic nervous system kicks in? She struggled with her life despite knowing how much she's loved, yet the sadness surrounded her. Unfortunately, it’s nothing a mother can fix.
I took a path that many did not support. I chose to remove that which sought my life because of the legacy of cancer on my mother's side. My mother's death at 44 was my first traumatic event. I was just 25. It had mirrored the death of my grandmother at the young age of 36. My mother was only 20 at the time of her mother's demise – as an only child, she was with a small child that was me.
At 48, slightly older than my mother at her time of death; life-saving surgery prophylactically performed has removed the risk of death by cancer from my breasts.
I don't know how people will view me, and I'm not sure if I care. For any man who cannot love me alive and well with my new, strange breasts, I ask would he prefer me with my own breasts and a candidate marked for a cancerous death?
So, now I'm here with breasts reconstructed from my body's fat. Round and firm with no nipples. I guess no worry of cold showing through my shirt. Am I the same? I hope I am better than I was. I shared with my daughter whose risk is great, cancer is not our fate. For the mothers and daughters we have lost to cancer, she and I will not be among them.