Thursday, October 12, 2017

Dear Sugar: A Letter to My Boobs During Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  Today I'm sharing my very recent journey.

Dear Boobs:

Ali Cummins Photography
I used to want you so bad.  It started in the third grade.  I heard a few girls on the playground gushing over a girl named Jessica.  Why?  They caught a glimpse of, wait for it....a bra strap.  Jessica was one of the cool girls with naturally gorgeous blonde hair (long and flowy, like a Disney princess), an on-trend wardrobe, and now, developing breasts. 

Around this same time, Judy Blume’s book Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret was becoming increasingly popular among girls my age, especially the section where the protagonist did a pectoral exercise while chanting, “I must, I must, I must increase my bust.”   

Boobs were it. If a girl possessed breasts (no matter how small), she possessed prestige, admiration, and maturity:  three things I desperately strived for. 

The next year at my January birthday party, my mom was creative.  Though it was frigid outside, we had a beach-themed party.   My friends and I wore our swimsuits, we had a cake that looked like an island, we made seashell necklaces, and we listened to my dad’s Beach Boys records.   

Before I headed down the carpeted steps to greet my first guest, I folded the swimsuit's shelf-bra liner up a few times to create (I thought) the appearance of curves.  Of course instead it just looked like wadded-up fabric (which was exactly what it was). 

Despite my efforts, even insisting that my mom buy me a lacy, pearl embellished training bra at JCPenney, long before I needed one, you refused to make your debut until I was well into the eighth grade.  Even then, you were nothing impressive.  I was long, lean, and awkward with zero athletic ability.  And you started to emerge (and it took all of high school for this cycle to be complete), my desire for you was replaced with the next milestone:  starting my period.   I didn’t appreciate you as I should have, even when I went from an A cup to a (pushing it) B cup.  

You managed to look OK enough through college and even in my Maggie Sottero two-piece wedding dress.  The corset top still required sewed-in push up pads, but you showed up well enough.   For four years, I enjoyed married life with confidence in my body, eventually joining a gym and relishing in building muscle while gossiping with girlfriends and half-assing it in step class. 

During this season, I found a breast lump, and persisted on having it examined and later extracted.  It was nothing but a non-cancerous mass.  At the time I was terrified, but I managed to handle it and move on.  

Then 2004 happened.  I was in graduate school, teaching writing to college freshman (who were just four years younger than me), and ended up getting a weird stomach virus.  That's a long story, but a year-and-half later, after over twenty medical appointments with five medical professionals, I wound up in the ER in Diabetic Ketoacidosis.  I finally had a diagnoses:  type 1 diabetes.   I was very fortunate to be alive.

I then began gaining back all the weight (and then some) that I had lost when my body went toxic.   Gaining weight meant gaining something I never really had before:  breasts!  Like real ones that looked ah-mazing in V-neck tops and swimsuit tops.  Diabetes sucked, but at least I got a few perks, including C-cup breasts.  

After the diabetes diagnosis, that's when I knew we would adopt.  My body had been through hell.  I wasn't willing to risk going down that path again, nor was I going to put a baby through that.   Adoption was the right choice for us.  

We had two children through adoption by 2011 when another knot appeared.  Another surgery, biopsy, and declaration that though it was a mass, it wasn’t cancerous.   In the clear.     

Breast ultrasounds and examinations by doctors became my norm.   I came to not only expect extra steps to be taken, but for the news to be good.   I almost felt like a professional.   Here I had experienced not only two breast lumps but a traumatic diagnosis and incredible survival story.   Surely I had enough things go wrong that from then on, everything would go right.   How could it not?

Six more years, two more children.  One of whom I had a nursing relationship with.   

Then this April...I figured my "extremely dense breasts" were throwing me another curve ball.  I figured the new lump was normal.  It wasn't.  

Breast cancer does not discriminate.  It does not care what color someone's skin is, how old she is, or even her history.  It does not care if someone has all or none of the "risk factors" we women hear so much about.  

It chose me.  It appeared, swiftly and angerly.  I do not know why.  I have been over it a thousand times.  Was it something I did?  Is it just because my body is whacked out?  Is it just the fact that one in eight women get breast cancer, and I was that "one"?  Why?  Why me?   Why after one disease did a second one arrive?

I could have preserved you, I was told.  I could have chosen a lumpectomy and six weeks of radiation.  But there was a possibility that I'd need to later do a mastectomy anyway.  That the cancer would come back, sneakily, in the opposite breast.  

I had a choice, certainly, but my goal was to give myself the best chance of not only survival, but for a life with less anxiety and doubt.  I needed peace, reassurance, and odds in my favor.  

So I chose to let you go. 

I gave you some good, hard looks.  I committed you to memory.   I hugged my kids and my husband a little tighter against you.   I realized you were JUST boobs but you were still boobs:  your importance and status instilled in me since childhood.  

On the day of my surgery, I was both nervous and confident.  I could do this.  I could do anything in Christ who gives me strength.  This wasn't an ending, but a second-chance, a powerful beginning.  

It's been a long month-and-a-half since the surgery.  I look down at you.  You are new and foreign, different and present, artificial and yet MINE.  You were purchased and chosen.  You are strange.

I do not regret my decision to bid the original you farewell.  It was the right and best choice.  Recovery has been tumultuous, a never-ending roller coaster of physical and emotional and mental and spiritual ups and downs.  And I have a feeling that recovery isn't just a season of physical healing, but a forever-state of remembering and considering.  Losing you left me scarred, physically and emotionally.  

But losing you also meant potentially saving my life.

I am sorry we couldn't be together forever, or at least longer. I miss you, though I'll be honest that most days I don't think too much about you.   My personality of "go big or go home" helped me decide to tell you goodbye and move forward.

I know I'll never be completely over you.  Cancer changes a person, inevitably and irrevocably.   Not having you is a constant reminder of what was, but I refuse to live steeped in regret and shame.  

My journey has been one of learning and listening.  Every time bad news arrived, I felt a new wave of spiritual warfare come over me.  But this time when I was told that having cancer meant possibly saying goodbye to you, I thought to myself, this isn't my first rodeo.  I've faced hard and scary times before, and every time I emerged victorious, stronger, and more confident.  

Cancer disrupted my life.  But it didn't defeat me.  My story, my journey, it continues.  And I have you to both blame and thank.   I have memories and a future.  I have hope.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated and published upon approval. Your thoughts and questions are also welcome via e-mail at whitebrownsugar AT hotmail DOT com.