Sunday, July 13, 2008

breast envy

Originally posted at Mothers With Cancer.

I find myself continuously inspired by the group of bloggers in our little community. Today's post was provoked into being by Lahdeedah's post "The Road to OK" and imstell (Stella)'s response, "Acceptance."

I have always felt ambivalent about my breasts. As a young woman (I was an early bloomer, it must be said) they brought me attention that was at times unwelcome and at times confusingly gratifying. They fed two children for a total of more than three years. Once large and round, they were irrevocably changed by motherhood, as my nipples moved southward and seemed to stretch ever more closely towards my toes.

And then my right breast betrayed me, playing host to the tumour that would eventually spread to my lymph nodes and then to my liver. On February 2nd ("Groundhog Day!" I exclaimed when my surgeon told me the date. I had to explain that I was not objecting on the basis of this being a special holiday for me), I had a mastectomy.

I feel no less ambivalent now that I have only one breast. I was consumed with terror before the surgery and relieved afterwards to see only one bandage across my chest. I was frustrated by drains and then by the fact that healing seemed to take a step back two weeks after the surgery (no one had warned me this would happen).

More than two years later, I am still plagued with post surgical issues, including a limited range of motion and lymphedema in my chest, back and rib cage (when I showed this to my surgeon, couple of weeks after surgery, he shrugged it off as "just back fat," so loathe was he to admit that he didn't know. He actually said that the fact that my breast was no longer pulling it forward the fat was sticking out more. My physiotherapist just about had an aneurysm when I told her that story).

Radiation left me with serious scarring that exacerbated the lymphedema and made it painful to wear a prosthesis. Most days I am perfectly fine with this. At other times, I feel extremely self-conscious. Some days I dress to camouflage and some days I am quite content with the altered landscape of my body.

It is in the summer time when I most miss having two breasts, when I sometimes long to look "normal" in a tank top. It is also when I find myself (as Lahdeedah confesses in her post), ogling other women with envy.

However, I remind myself that how I look is perfectly normal to those who know and love me. My older son has even said as much, as has my spouse. And along with the lines around my eyes and mouth (I smile a lot), the stretch marks on my belly (I have borne and birthed two beautiful boys) and even the little scar that runs from the corner of my left eye (I hit a metal bar when I was chasing a cute boy in my class during a game of tag in Grade 6), the scar on my chest and my asymmetrical shape tell the story of the experiences that have shaped who I am.

The following poem was originally posted last summer:


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.

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