Friday, September 07, 2007

women like me

Well, since it's unseasonably warm really stinking hot here today, I thought I would post something I started to draft a couple of months ago:

voyeur


Women's breasts emerge in the heat of the summer.
Big ones and small ones.
Perky ones (I could fit them in my hand).
Breasts nursing babies.
Freckled cleavage.
Wrinkled cleavage.
And breasts that can't possibly be real.
I stare at women's breasts now with great fascination.
And not a little envy.
I have never seen a woman with one breast.
Except in the mirror.

As I have written before, I don't wear a prosthesis, mostly because it's really uncomfortable and I am just not willing to put myself through agony in order to blend in.

I do take great comfort in the knowledge that there are other wonderful women out there with similar experiences.

Brys of Big Grrls DO Cry (Field Notes From a Cancer Battle Ground Where Queer Life Meets Precarious Life Head On) wrote "Breastless in Vancouver":

"I spend countless time here and there scanning the crowd for boob-less chests myself, I must now confess. I want to see more people who look like me. I feel lonely in my state of exception. I keep hoping that I will look out into the crowd at the mall and see an obviously breast-less chest like mine, thrust proudly forward into the flow of life. But I don’t — EVER. In the Cancer Journal, Audrey Lorde talks about the politics of visibility of walking in the world, breast-less. Lorde is very passionate about the politics of visibility for the breast-less and excoriates those who would foist prosthetics or reconstruction on mastectomy patients."

Clearly we've been feeling some of the same things but she says it more brilliantly than I ever could.

Jacqueline of Rebel One in Eight, wrote a piece about her perspective on being known as the "woman with one breast." This is a brilliant piece of writing and a great story that has stayed with me and made me proud and happy since I read it back in July. Called peace. and quiet, it's begins with an anecdote about a woman who undergoes reconstruction because she doesn't "want to be known as the woman with one breast. It ends with a story about an altercation with noisy and grossly inconsiderate neighbours and the reflection:

"i'm just wondering which is worse:

being known as the bitch who should move into a retirement community if she wants peace and quiet.
or
being known as a woman with one breast.
.
.
.
honestly. neither reference seems at all bad to me."

18 comments:

kalen said...

i have an honest, but very personal question (that you can totally choose to ignore, but i'd like to be educated on it by someone who is experiencing it)

okay. if you lose one breast, does anyone ever opt to have them take the other voluntarily? or would you feel more comfortable if you were missing both (could you just wear a padded bra to give the appearance of something there)?

now i realize some ppl may say, "well would you voluntarily cut off both arms if you had to get one removed?!" but since the breasts (minus nursing) don't have that type of "function" necessarily - i was wondering if it's a choice you can make to have them both removed?

as i said, you don't have to answer, i just find it something i'd personally be interested in, i think, should this ever be something i'm faced with.

also - i wonder if women with very small breasts (not even large enough to fill an A cup) feel anything like women who have had their breasts removed? if they feel ashamed or left out or awkward or what-not.

i tried to word/question everything delicately. but i really am ignorant to most of this and would love some enlightment :)

laurie said...

Kalen, I wouldn't write as I do if I minded people asking questions, especially when they do so sensitively and with a genuine desire to understand, as you have done.

I think some women/their doctors opt to remove a second breast for prophylactic reasons (to keep the cancer coming back to the other breast). I know of no one who has done this for cosmetic reasons, although I admit that I have often wondered if I would feel less self-conscious if both sides were the same. I don't think my doctors would want me to submit myself to unecessary surgery.

I did consider reconstruction (which is more commonly done post treatment here but not always) but it's pretty major surgery, fraught with side effects. Even if the risk of infection weren't so high (being in chemo) the after-effects of radiation and my lymphedema would make surgery very risky.
It all seems like a lot to put my body through. I do find it surprising that there don't see other women in the same position - although I know they are out there.

I have no idea how very small-breasted women feel, since my breasts have always been large (I often felt too large) but I doubt it's the same thing that one experiences when one loses one or both breasts to cancer.

I hope this helps, feel free to contact me via email if you want to talk about this more. Tell your friend that she can too.

Jacqueline said...

wow! you handled that very well! you rock and i'd LOVE to run into you on the sidewalk. (just a simple daydream, isn't it? or one would think.)
ps- thank you for the SHOUT-OUT at the blogher conference. tina informed me of it and i listened to it. and i am so flattered that you like "peace and quiet" so much- i still laugh my arse of thinking about me with that hammer... warriors all the way you and i. (and i don't mean in the cancer fight BUT the social fight.)

laurie said...

I loved that image too!!! Pajamas, hammer, one-breasted and really pissed off!
Also, I fixed the really embarrassing typo (peace not piece) - I need to get my spouse to start proofreading again....

mom2amara said...

although I admit that I have often wondered if I would feel less self-conscious if both sides were the same

I hope I am not out of line for saying this but having met you, I wouldn't have known you had lost a breast to the cancer. Like I told you when we first met - I think you're fierce!

laurie said...

Thank you. Your comment could not be better timed and I really appreciate it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Laurie,

You are amazing! You inspire me to resist patriarchal rules, and I appreciate how you've explained your experience of looking for "women like me".

It reminded me of my experience last year looking for women who breast pump in public, especially exclusive pumpers. Mine was nothing like your situation, on any score - I'm not suggesting the two equate, not close - but I can relate to the search for other women standing up to social control, and feeling lonely. When I pumped in a restaurant, at meetings, on my front lawn, I got messages that I should hide - in my house, in a room alone, even in the bathroom. Bullshit!

You wrote "it's a lot to put your body through" (reconstructive surgery). You quote Audrey Lorde on "the politics of visibility".

Your visibility is beautiful and powerful!

IJ

Lovebabz said...

I had really REALLY big breasts. I had them reduced just before I started grad school many years ago (my nipples have not fully returned to this day). If I could I would have had my breasts removed all together--but the Drs thought I would eventually be unhappy flat chested--I am convinced breasts always seem to mean more to other people than to me. I have had a hate relationship with them all my life. So I say all this to say that I am at the other end of the spectrum. Sure, I am talking shit because I still have both of them. I just want you to know that it ain't the breast that make you YOU. I would like you if you had no breasts. But you have to like you no matter what! And I think you do.

laurie said...

IJ- I do see the connection. It is odd that we NEVER see women pumping in public (and that many so-called breastfeeding rooms are glorified toilets). I do think it's time for women to reclaim our breasts (and our bodies) as our own and not something for the objectification or judgment of others.

Lovebabz said...

Laurie that also means if women want to get rid of them too that should be fine. I know who in their right mind would get rid of such glorified objects, but truth be told there are a few of us who would give them up. maybe this is thought to be an easy conversation because we have so called healthy breasts and are not faced with losing them to cancer. However, I have felt this way since I was 14 years old and had to have bras specially made. Yes, they were that damned big at 14 years old! I am all for women taking back their bodies just include those of us that have a differing opinion about ours. Laurie, I think you are fabulous and you are my SHERO!

laurie said...

I know what it means to feel ambivalent about one's breasts, as that is exactly how I have always felt, with the exception of when I was breastfeeding my boys.

I didn't mean to sound like I was telling anyone how they should feel about their bodies just reflecting on how I felt about mine.

The truth is, I feel self-conscious, sometimes, with one flat side and one generous breast. Other times, I don't think about it at all.

Lovebabz said...

Sister-Friend,

No I didn't think you were telling anyone how to feel about breast. I think you are amazing to even broach the subject in such a honest way---this is how you feel. You can see that we all have a thing about our breasts. I appreciate your feelings on this matter and it inspires me to focus on the important stuff---and breast are included...from time to time :)
Goodnight and sweet dreams!

Love,
Babz

laurie said...

Good night to you, Sister of mine.

pocketina said...

Laurie, I thought this was a great post, and you know this is a topic close to my heart (and ribcage). I wanted to address Kalen's comment , too, if that's ok.

I was in the position of having one breast with cancer, but the other one had previously had cancer. I had several conversations with all of my doctors at the time, to decide what was best to do, and in my case, removing both was the option that 4 of the 5 doctors were most confident would give me the best chance overall.

I can't really wear a padded bra, now my breasts are gone, because there's nothing to keep the bra down! If I did, it would just pop up to my neck, every time I moved my arms. If I wanted to wear prosthetics, I could do that...but I don't want to.

I had an A-cup, and I do sometimes think that I wasn't all that attached to, or classified by, my chest. So not having reconstruction might be easier for me...I find it mostly easy. I love not owning bras anymore, and I don't ever feel ashamed, no. Battles leave scars, and I fought a battle.

My mom only had cancer in one breast, and has spent the last 12 years with one breast...she says now that she wishes she'd had both of them off, because of how much fun I have with my clothing style now.

I really want to get tattoos to cover the area where my breasts were...probably a design of birch trees, or something like that. I may not ever get around to it, but it seems like a damn cool thing to do.

laurie said...

Pocketina, I didn't realize that you had cancer in both breasts (although I knew you opted for a double mastectomy). I asked my oncologist about the prophylactic removal of my second breast but he didn't feel it was necessary. I must admit that, at times, I do feel that I would breathe easier with one fewer place for the cancer to go.

On the other hand, when my cancer spread it went to my lymph nodes and then my liver.

I forget - did you ever tell me if your mom wears a prosthesis?

I have to say that it would be much easier to dress if I weren't a c cup on one side and flat on the other....

laurie said...

Oh, and as for tattoos, if I ever get a long enough break from chemo to build up my immune system, I plan to get a tattoo of a raven under my portacath scar.

Anonymous said...

Hi Laurie and the other commenters

The first poster asks if anyone opted voluntarily to have "the other" breast removed. I did just that. Voluntarily maybe doesn't quite capture the mood. I had aggressive cancer in my right breast. I have a strong hereditary background of bilateral (both) invasive cancer. But yes, I did have, at the time of surgery, a perfectly healthy left breast that is now history.
I chose not to live with a high level of worry that cancer would recur in the left breast, go undetected via Mammogr, as often happens with younger women's denser breasts, and wind up turning invasive before it was detected.
It is also true that I really like symmetry, and this played into my decision-making.


Mary who blogs at http://brys.wordpress.com/

pocketina said...

Laurie, sorry, I didn't keep up on this post! I meant to answer your question & say that your tattoo idea is the coolest ever.
My mom has a prosthesis, which she keeps around for especially uptight friends & relations, but 99% of the time, she doesn't bother with any of that. She's a B-cup, but she also wrestles with the weirdness of shirts sometimes.
I think that's why we're both so appreciative of Rebel1in8's whole thing, she's giving us what we want, and making it look so cool, too.