In April, Amy @Teachmama nominated me to read this post at the BlogHer Voices of the Year Community Keynote. I was selected (yay!) but the original post was far too long. Here’s the short version, which I hope I’m reading right about now in less than four minutes. :-)
Six months ago, colors started appearing in my friends’ facebook updates. Lots of black, some pink, a virtual rainbow. I wanted to play along by posting the color of my bra too, but I couldn’t because I don’t have one. I don’t own one.
Two years ago, I had a double mastectomy to remove the cancer that was trying to kill me. I had Stage III inflammatory breast cancer, a fast-moving, deadly cancer that kills more than 60% of women in the first five years, and presents without a lump. First the cancer, then the chemo tried to kill me, and both of them almost succeeded. I had to have my breasts removed. After that, radiation, more surgery, and – well, I have some history here.
I tried to shrug it off and play along. All I could write was, “None. In fact, I don’t even own one!” I watched my friends play along too, hoping I didn’t make anyone uncomfortable.
But what I saw was nothing short of amazing. I’d forgotten for an instant that this wasn’t about my story. This was about our story, and the Mothers With Cancer were coming out to play too. Here’s what they wrote:
“White, with pockets.”
And then, in the comments, some amazing things began to happen. Their friends came out to support them, cheering them on. Friends engaged me on FB and twitter too, talking about it, asking why I felt left out, and letting me know that the whole meme was staged by some women in the midwest urging awareness of breast cancer.
Aren’t we aware by now, people? Don’t we know that we need to understand our own bodies, take notice of changes in one breast but not the other, and call the doctor when we see that something’s changed? Don’t we know that we need to talk to our doctor about thermography or mammograms? Don’t we know?
I talked to friends about it on twitter. Other cancer survivors joined in, telling me that they felt left out too. After all, this was ostensibly an effort to raise awareness of breast cancer — but one in which breast cancer survivors themselves could not participate, and were reminded, as if we needed a reminder, that we didn’t need bras anymore, that most basic undergarment of women everywhere, that symbol of sexuality, for the simple reason that we had already sacrificed our breasts in a hail mary attempt to keep the rest of our bodies from dying of cancer.
That’s what it is, you know. It’s not a choice. It’s not just another treatment option. Women have mastectomies, double mastectomies – amputations – because we have no other choice remaining that will give us a shot at life — life with our children, our partners, our families, and our friends. And so we tearfully bid our breasts goodbye. We submit to surgery, weeks of the aftermath, drains and gashes where our breasts once were. We submit to doctors and nurses and students gawking with surprise when we disrobe for exams. We submit to months of physical therapy to rip the scar tissue off the muscles that stretch to cover our ribcage. We submit to weeks of lymphedema therapy, taking up precious time, time that we fought for, time that we sacrificed for, but time that nonetheless much be used for even more medical treatment, to deal with the aftermath.
And then we go shopping.
Clothes that fit just a few months previously don’t fit anymore, you see. Every. single. shirt. is stretched out over the chest, and most new ones don’t fit right either. Princess seams, sewn to flatter the big-busted and small-busted alike only serve to remind us, the no-busted, that we are no longer princesses. V-necks are flattering, but only if they are not too deep, cut to show no cleavage, as our cleavage has been taken from us as well.
And, for a while, the reminders are everywhere. Every TV commercial with the Victoria’s Secret angels rankles. Every low-cut shirt sparks the tears. Every nightgown cut to flatter falls — flat — and we cry into our pillow.
We are aware, you see. We are all too aware, and we work to escape the reminders. Our friends dance around us for a while. They are gentle, and careful, and form a wall of support around you.
Eventually, life moves on, and the wounds scab over, and the scars begin to form.
Until one day, one day, when a harmless meme rips them off, and you realize once again that you will never be the same.
Thank you for visiting my blog!