Posted by: jeanne | June 17, 2008

i don’t want to hide my breast cancer

when (if) the cancer comes back, then i’m going to be required to do the chemo and radiation that i put off last time. this means my hair will fall out. so i’m thinking i’ll shave it, donate it to locks of love, and get a tattoo on my scalp. maybe a little fairy whispering into my ear. it’s likely to hurt, but i know loads of people who routinely do painkillers, so i can always dose up and make jokes while the girl drills into my head.

i think of these little, fun, rebellious things to do. i knew a woman who had chemo, and she or a friend knitted herself a cap that said ‘fuck cancer’, and she wore it everywhere.

when i got a mastectomy, i debated whether to let them reconstruct my breast. it would have meant another 6 weeks of recovery time. it would have meant either tearing out my abdominal muscles or putting foreign substances in my body. it would have meant nobody would ever know that i’d had breast cancer.

and this somehow didn’t sit right with me. i didn’t want it to be a secret. i didn’t want to hide. i didn’t want people to pretend nothing was wrong, different, unusual.

so i decided to be the poster girl for mastectomy. i haven’t yet gone as far as getting a mastectomy scar tattoo, but i have refused to wear my screw-on prosthesis (okay, a blob of silicone in a bag in a bra). i have always hated wearing bras, always disliked the unnatural sillhouette, always detested the way bras make my shoulders and back feel. so the idea of wearing a big fucking heavy sweaty bra every day of the rest of my life, when i had shunned them before, was a very difficult idea to come to terms with.

that was another reason not to have reconstructive surgery. i’m 52. my breast sags. not down to my belly button, but it rolls into my armpit when i lie down (which is actually pretty comforting). if i got a fake boob, they would put it where breasts usually start budding, which is near the top of my ribcage. and it wouldn’t have matched my existing breast. so they might have offered to take the real one up to match the fake one. and that was something i just couldn’t stand the thought of. so forget it.

all of the reasons i should have had reconstructive surgery were bad ones as far as i was concerned. and the worst one was the one my ex gave. if you don’t get a new breast, he tried to convince me, no man will ever look at you again.

bullshit.

so i go around looking lopsided. i suffer from self consciousness at the best of times. sometimes when i go out, i recall halfway around the block that i’m a freak, and that people must notice from far away and stare at me, and get all bothered by my appearance. the embarrassment is excruciating. but i do it anyway. and eventually i forget about how i look and just be myself.

i have family members that challenge my decision. they think i’m trying to shock people, to make them uncomfortable, to shove my breast in their faces. they think it’s the height of rudeness to go around making people take notice of my disfigurement. it’s not polite. it’s not socially acceptable. in this society, you have to look normal, like everyone else. these are the same family members who think i should go around wearing makeup on my face, who think i should use deodorant, even tho it’s very bad for you. their feeling is that you should do things that are bad for you if it makes the people around you feel more comfortable.

where’s that at? what kind of stupid idea is that?

i’m going around without my screw-on prosthesis because i feel more comfortable that way, i feel more complete. i am me, and i accept the things that have happened in my life. and the family members don’t understand, and put the comfort of strangers (what will the neighbors think) way above my own comfort. but i can’t do that. even tho i’m horribly embarrassed at times, i can’t go around pretending nothing has happened.

and you know the frightening thing about it? practically nobody notices that i only have one breast.

people don’t look. people don’t notice. people are too absorbed in their own shit to see me. i’m invisible. partly because i’m 52. i know this is a phenomenon. young people don’t see old people. but people my age see people their age. you’d think. but, really, i can stand around talking to neighbors in the street or members of my choir, and they don’t ever look down at my chest.

or else they’re pretending not to notice, because they think it’s not polite. because they think it’ll bother me. because they were raised not to talk about the elephant in the room.

but i welcome conversations about cancer. i have a lot to say about the subject, i have a lot to share. i want people to notice, ask questions, make observations. we don’t face death and disability in this culture. we don’t meet the eyes of people in wheelchairs or people with missing arms or legs. we ignore them and hope they go away because we think somehow it might be catching. or something stupid like that.

i’m actually glad when i run into people with missing limbs. i can slap my empty chest and say hey, i know where you’re coming from, and we can have a conversation and two members of a constantly growing club. and they don’t look at me as if i’m normal. they look at me as a person with scars, a person who’s been marked by their disfigurement, who has an extra dimension to their personality.

i wish normal people would notice and ask questions. i long for someone to ask me to show them my scar. i want to help them face the fact that they’ll probably get cancer too, because these days, with the environment and our diets the way they are (don’t forget cellphones), everybody is going to have cancer sooner or later. and we all might as well get over our horrible fears about it.

do you want to live forever?

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Responses

  1. Hello!

    I found your blog while looking up resources for breast cancer patients, and thought you might be interested in a woman who’s taken a pretty unique path in her own cancer battle. Meg Gaffney is a nurse, and when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she decided to skip chemotherapy and radiation, and go right to a bilateral mastectomy. But when her plastic surgeon recommended a skin graft surgery to build up new nipples, she decided to incorporate art into her own personal healing process.

    For Meg, that means getting nipples tattooed onto her body instead of the graft surgery, and now — after months of searching for an artist willing to take on her challenge — she’s about to get the work done!

    We’re 8 parts into a documentary on Meg, which is featured on GrowingBolder.com. I’d love for you to check it out and let me know what you think!

    http://growingbolder.com/media/health/cancer/confronting-cancer-part-8-181742.html

    Meg is dynamic, creative, and completely committed to ridding the world of cancer, and her spirit is contagious.

    Thanks for your time, and best luck in your own journey!

    Katy Widrick
    Executive Producer, GrowingBolder.com
    katy@growingbolder.com
    407-362-8237


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