National No Bra Day

“Encouraging women to show off their braless chests in the name of awareness won’t save anyone, but its message to breast cancer patients and survivors is clear: Your disease is about your secondary sex characteristics, not about you” – Christina Cauterucci.

In my last blog post, “Dear breasts”, I talked about what it means to have “survived” breast cancer with a mastectomy and breast reconstruction. Truth be told, though I’ve been commended for my courage in speaking out, it took me 6 years to do so.

Today, on “National No Bra Day,” I am sitting here facepalming at the sight of innumerable photos of women supposedly bringing “awareness” to breast cancer by letting the girls out. As with the share-bra-related-information-in-your-Facebook-status gimmick, I struggle at the edge of solidarity and the inevitable sensationalism of all campaigns. I must believe that there are at least a few well-intentioned individuals who have contributed to this “Fauxliday” as Cauterucci puts it. But I struggle.

Why? Because these twitter pictures of celebrities sharing their perfect breasts with the public are yet another slap in the face for mastectomy-survivors like myself. How is it that their flaunting their still-existent-nipples will help breast cancer survivors?

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Dear breasts:

Dear breasts,
So, I wonder where you ended up, once the scalpel was done with you. In a lab? In a cosmetic company factory? Oh wait, was it a scalpel? Or did they use power tools? Was there a lot of blood, like the Jo Nesbo books I started reading recently? Or was it a clean, non-bloody removal of a sick piece of flesh?

Wait -were you really a sick piece of flesh? Maybe in a few years (or months) they will discover that you really didn’t need to be removed after all.

I’m speaking particularly to you, Left Breast, as I feel especially apologetic to you for my callous abandonment.

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When the doctors raised one eyebrow each and said that it would be better for me to get rid of the Good Breast along with the Bad Breast, I didn’t really think twice. I come from a medicalized family. We trust our doctors. They tell us jump, we say “how high?” I am a compliant citizen.

But I wonder, often, when I am dressed, and I catch a glimpse of the unsightly dent in my reconstructed breast. Did I need to get rid of Good Breast? Did I get rid of Good Breast (GB) for Good Reasons? To be perfectly frank, I had two reasons for ditching GB: a) I wanted to have the lowest chances possible of having to deal with the misery, effort, and expense of having breast cancer again and b) I wanted a matching set. There: I said it. I did not want a “winky” pair of breasts, with one perky and gravity-resistant and the other a normal, saggy breast. But this means that I have not even one breast to have “breasty” feelings with.

Since I had picked a reputable plastic surgeon, I was told by a fellow survivor that I wouldn’t regret it. “My new body is better than the old one.” Unfortunately (?) my old breasts were fantastic. I had a pair of 36-38DD gazongas. Those girls entered the room and announced my presence before I’d had a chance to do anything remarkable at all. I elected to go down to a 38C, in hopes that the misery of backache would get off my – well, back.

It turned out that the promises of excellent reconstructed breasts were primarily related to breasts-under-your-clothes.

So I wander past a mirror while undressing. Maybe I should stop doing that. Those dented, roughly round, gravitation-free fake breasts with their tattooed, round, static, drawn-by-a-2nd-grader nipples stare back at me. There is no “winking,” to be sure. They are a matching set. Dead, unmoving. Well – except when I twitch my shoulder; then the muscles respond in unnatural fashion to the twitch, revealing the results of surgery. Not to mention, of course, that they are perfectly serene, insensitive to touch, disconnected from my heart.

When I was 12, I mourned the arrival of my breasts. In my conservative social setting, they heralded the arrival of a new regime of social control and shame. When I grew up and went to work, I continued to grieve that I couldn’t just be a great teacher, a great scholar, a good friend (to nice guys) etc. but that I was always, inescapably, the woman with the Breasts. Like dark clouds, they overshadowed my life and work.

So, dear Breasts: You’ll call me a crazy lady when I tell you I miss you. I spent much of my life complaining about you. I now wonder what makes me a woman. I wonder if you really had to go. I refuse to read scientific literature about new discoveries regarding breast cancer and mastectomy. I’m just going to keep trying to let you go. Leave me alone and quit haunting me.

Love,
me