Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Why I Like Not Having Breasts

I thought I'd do something a little different today. I'm sharing an essay I wrote a couple of months ago, and have been attempting to flog for publication. So far, no bites. I hope you enjoy it.

Why I Like Not Having Breasts

In June, 2014, I was diagnosed with early-stage cancer in my left breast. The news came about ten days after my very first mammogram. I had spent most of my adult life half-heartedly performing self-examinations, and never felt anything resembling a lump, so my diagnosis came as quite a shock.

It turned out my cancer was the kind that was not in lump form. It was in my milk ducts, and is known as invasive ductal carcinoma, and ductal carcinoma in situ. I was lucky enough to have both. There were about four centimeters of fully-developed cancer cells in total, and more warming up in the bullpen. To make things even more interesting, the doctors suspected that my lymph nodes also contained some malignant cells, and a biopsy proved they were right.

Lumpectomies are not an option with the type of cancer I had. When the surgeon told me it would be best to have a mastectomy, I looked at him, and without hesitation said, “Fine; take them both.” He sensed my certainty and replied, “Alright, we’ll do a double.”

I realize that most women are not particularly eager to part with their breasts. Boobs, titties, girls, knockers, fun bags, headlights – whatever you care to refer to them as – are the embodiment of womanhood. Without them, some of us tend to lose our identity. I never felt that way. At 47, I never had children, and, quite honestly, I never thought my breasts were particularly attractive. I am of Eastern European Jewish descent on both sides of my family, and I’d inherited a pair of low-hangers from my mother and grandmother. My nipples pointed towards the ground ever since I was a teenager.

Since I was a bit unlucky in the genetics department, my breasts proved challenging when it came to buying bras. I wasn’t burdened with a pair of mammoth, back-breaking breasts (I was a D cup), but as I got older, finding bras that fit me well became harder to procure. I was once molested by a saleswoman in a lingerie shop – the kind where they measure you and attempt to “fit” you into the best bra for your size and breast shape. The woman became extremely frustrated because my nipples refused to hold their place in the center of the cups. I kept trying to explain I’d been dealing with that problem most of my life, but she couldn’t find a shred of empathy for my plight. I was 34 years-old when that happened, and from that day forward, I had a sneaking suspicion that maybe I wasn’t meant to go through life with such troublesome appendages attached to my body.

Don’t get me wrong; I wasn’t wishing for cancer. I was thinking maybe I’d go for a breast lift, or a breast reduction when I was older. I knew several women who were diagnosed with breast cancer, and watched a cousin to whom I was very close, suffer with metastatic disease. She’d had a lumpectomy and chemotherapy in the early 90s, and the cancer came back in her other breast. Then, it spread to her spine, and eventually to the rest of her body. When she died in 2005, I vowed that if it ever happened to me, I would “lop off my tits” without hesitation. And that’s exactly what I did.

The breast cancer lottery awarded me with the full enchilada. Because cancer was found in my lymph nodes, I had to undergo chemotherapy, and as I write this, I am preparing to embark on six weeks of radiation. In addition to that, having 26 lymph nodes removed (five of them cancerous) left me with nerve damage and lymphedema in my left arm.

Despite all that, I am not sorry I got rid of my breasts. There will be no more mortification in the lingerie department, and gravity no longer has dominion over my nipples. Yes, my cancer might come back, but I’ll sleep better at night knowing I did everything I could to hopefully prevent that from happening.

Science and unchecked vanity might say that I mutilated my body, but I disagree. I made an informed, educated decision to do what I thought was best for me. And I’ll never get poked by an underwire bra ever again.  

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