It’s just fashion

Last night, at a reception for scientists in my field, I was asked FOUR times if I was pregnant. Or, rather, four people had decided that I WAS pregnant and that it would be appropriate to congratulate me on the good news.

Um, except that I’m NOT pregnant and never will be again.  Can’t.  Most women who undergo chemotherapy can’t conceive again without the aid of fertility treatments, and it’s dicey at that.  But the fact remains that I’m not pregnant.

Matter of fact, I’m not even large. 

We couldn’t figure this out (aside from the fact that I was wearing a kickly little trapeze shirt) until WD brought up the following point:  immediately following a mastectomy, women are bound to have a profile similar to a pregnant woman (at some stage), since very few of us have tummies flat enough to withstand the wholesale removal of our breasts AND still have an hourglass figure. 

Think about it for a minute.

It’s a wonder that more isn’t written about loss of self-esteem among cancer survivors.  As it turns out, the complete loss of hair is only the beginning….


30 Responses to It’s just fashion

  1. Alison says:

    You’re absolutely right! I would definitely think that there would be more on the self esteem issue. I have to wonder though if that takes an undeserved back seat to the physical changes that occur after a mastectomy.
    It is incredible to me how strong you have been through all of this and how strong you continue to be.

  2. Liz says:


    And, echoing Alison, your strength and honesty throughout all of this is inspiring. Go you!

  3. Susan K says:

    But what that means is that they are not looking at you and seeing a cancer patient… they see a woman who looks well enough to be pregnant. That’s gotta be good in some way, isn’t it?

    Hope that despite this you are enjoying seeing people. Safe travels home.

  4. Breeze says:

    I am surprised there isn’t more around on that topic, especially for young women in your situation. I’m sorry your feelings were hurt. 😦

  5. sam says:

    Ugh. I just hate when people take it upon themselves to assume things like that. I for one will NEVER approach someone and say congratulations or anything about pregnancy unless it’s been CONFIRMED to me that they are. (Yes, I mean they have to pee on a stick in my presence.)

    I never even thought about how our profiles would changes sans breasts. Regardless of the change you’re still a beautiful woman!

  6. canape says:

    Yet another reason you never just guess that a woman is pregnant.

    I’m sorry, but for such smart people, sometimes I find the science and research crowd to be pretty dumb.

  7. Beth_C says:

    I thought by now people knew never to congratulate a woman on her pregnancy unless they knew for certain that she was indeed pregnant.

    Thanks again for yet another wonderful and thought provoking post!

  8. It never ceases to amaze me what people will ask. Sometimes people would ask me, “Are you having another baby?” and I would say, “Not in the next nine months!”

    I’m with Canape…it’s like my Mama always said, “How can someone so smart be so dumb?” (as to ask a question like that!)

  9. Nancy says:

    Duh, some peoples kids are dumber than others!

    I admire your honesty, strength, and beauty on the inside and out!

  10. cousin-in-law says:

    I love you !


  11. Bon says:

    i think you’re uncovering one of those still-silenced areas of our culture, one of those dark dens where the communal “we” superimposes certain circumscriptions on what is acceptable to voice…not so much by actively silencing people as by negating the complexity of suffering b/c it is so uncomfortable to hear, and we don’t know how to respond. which is, of course, a vicious circle.

    i commend you for putting these truths out there. we here, we’re listening.

    and i’m sorry people were that…dumb. i never ask someone if they’re pregnant unless they actually appear to be giving birth.

  12. I have to tell you, once when I was pregnant with my son, someone asked me when the baby was due and I totally pretended to not be pregnant just to see what they would do (this was someone I knew who could take a joke, but hadn’t seen since I had gotten pregnant). Their reaction was seriously funny.

    But I also have to say, I think a lot of people look like they *could* be pregnant when they wear those trapeze tops. They are totally cute, but there is not a ton of difference between that and a maternity top.

    You are right though, that not a lot is said about how to deal with self-esteem issues in a situation like this…I am not surprised that you bring up another great issue, again.

  13. Angela says:

    I never say anything about a woman being pregnant unless she tells me herself first. It’s a good rule to live by.

    I’m sorry to hear you had to field that question multiple times. That can’t have been easy. Although maybe it was nice to hear you looked so healthy and womanly?

    It makes sense I guess though if you think about the profile, but you’d think people would learn about this faux pas!

  14. Katherine says:

    I remember walking in parking lots and stores hoping someone would say something to me. Question my sexuality, make fun of my fuzzy head, say how fat I am not knowing what the steroids did to me… I wanted them to just shut up because I knew they had to be thinking it. After chemo I had such a hard time accepting my appearance. I could no longer say “I’m on chemo” and it took a few years to regain a “normal” appearance.

    It’s okay if you want to be angry. I’m not saying you are, but it’s okay to be. As women, as people, we take much of our image from what we see in the mirror and what the world sees. From across a room or a parking lot people can’t see the strong, intelligent, fighters we are. It’s okay to be angry and a little sad, but know that you are loved by strangers you’ll never meet who see you for who you truly are and are thankful to get to hear your voice.

  15. Lisa says:

    Katherine, what a wonderful response! WM, I’m sorry! I’ve been asked that before and it is about THE worst feeling and SO embarrassing!

  16. Cheryl says:

    I had someone ask me that once and when I told her “no”, she continued to repeatedly bring it up to let me know how bad she felt. It was bad enough the FIRST time! And this person was a social worker who should have been a little more sensitive. Oh well, I never wore that outfit again!! Hope you are enjoying your conference!

  17. MummyCha says:

    I tend to agree with Susan K. You look so good and show such a great spirit that noone could ever believe you have just been through heavy cancer treatment. So that’s rather good!

    This being said, I am just wondering why people have to comment on other people’s looking pregnant. That’s really a touchy subject for many reasons.

  18. tori says:

    Perhaps you have found yet another issue to take on and raise awareness for? I definitely think it is an important one!

    I have very small breasts (no mastectomy) and always feel that I look slightly pregnant because of that. I can’t believe someone would ask that though…at least it means you look healthy enough that it seems possible, right? Almost like a compliment?

  19. Stimey says:

    Really. You absolutely don’t ask that question.

    I also wouldn’t be able to pull off that look. I’m regularly kind of worried that people might think I’m pregnant (I’m NOT), and I have the breasts to balance the tummy.

    I think you look fantastic. I hope your self-esteem can hang in there because you are beautiful and vibrant and smart and wonderful. Believe it.

  20. Jan says:


  21. Nanci says:

    Your words have strength and your smile is inspiring. God Bless you and I’m sorry for people speaking before thinking.

  22. Karen says:

    I have been asked when the baby is due so many times – I obviously have the wrong shaped body. The looks are priceless when I tell them 14 years ago. I find it intrusive and very rude. I can only imagine how you felt.

  23. Candy says:

    Wow, I hadn’t thought about that, but I can’t imagine how I would look in a profile view without my breasts to offset the “just like my mother’s” stomach I’ve developed.

  24. Ally says:

    Oh dear… when will people learn to keep their mouths shut? Goodness.

  25. Becky says:

    ah, it’s spring and insensitivity is in the air.

  26. Joanna says:

    Oh WM, I am sorry that happened to you. I just can’t believe people would ask that question. It’s highly insensitive – I mean, really. I used to wear dresses as a teacher that were flowy and not form fitting (for obvious reasons). I, too, was asked this question once and at age 24, I’d been offended. In your place, I can imagine the jolt you felt. But know, WM, just how beautiful you are – and the huge number of people who know and love you in your real life and enough to hold you up. (Hugs) as you continue to get through this –

  27. Imstell says:

    Yeah… I was afraid to bring that up. Personally, I was horrified to see just how large my belly WAS without the grandeur of The Girls to divert attention. It certainly does pack a solid punch to the old self-esteem.

    But still, the ignorance of some people… I adhere to the adage that you never ask a woman if she’s pregnant unless you see a head dangling from between her legs. Sheesh!

  28. That is something my mother noticed. Even though she only had one removed, she felt like her tummy was even bigger without the breast to fill out the shirt and skim her belly.

    I am sure that you looked absolutely adorable though.

  29. Fern says:

    Your intelligence and sensitivity make your posts such worthwhile must-reads.

    I have very very small (smaller than Almost A) breasts and I have carried a twin pregnancy to term. I can relate a bit to the adjustment to an “a-typical” female figure, although I can’t imagine the sting it must hold, after all you’ve just gone through.

    Your writing about these issues — both as a cancer survivor and a woman — is so powerful and vital. I can’t quite find the words to tell you — but the world you are molding as you lay out these issues to your readers is the one I want to send my sons and daughters out into.

    Bless you.

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