A woman's relationship with her breasts is one I hadn't given much consideration to, but the last few weeks has really made me think about it. It seems few women are satisfied with their breasts. So many women opt for breast augmentation and reduction surgeries. My friends with small chests lament and express their desire for a bigger size. Those of my friends (and myself) who were given larger breasts wish, for a variety of reasons, to have smaller ones.
From about age 8 I was "blessed" with breasts, and I especially despised them when I went out for sports in fifth and sixth grade. Volleyball isn't so easy when you have breasts in the way. I never appreciated my breasts, and I certainly didn't appreciate their size. I came to resent them. I think my early development was responsible in large part for my withdrawal from physical activity and subsequent weight gain.
One of the only TV shows I watch these days is Giuliana & Bill. Bill was the original The Apprentice winner, and Guiliana is an E! TV star. I was drawn to their show when it aired their quest to get pregnant about three years ago as I experienced my own internal battle over whether to have children myself. I generally detest "reality" shows because they are so extreme, and rarely real, but I've somehow really related to Guiliana. Part of it is that we married at roughly the same time, and I related to a great deal of what she and her hubby experienced as newlyweds and then onto the journey to try to have a baby.
Because I can relate to her, I was devastated to learn last Fall that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Guiliana is 38 -only eight years older than me. Women aren't encouraged to get mammograms until 40, so she thought a mammogram was a waste of time since she's so young. It saved her life, though, and she went public with her medical crisis to prevent other women from the same fate. I tried to absorb what it would be like to have to make the decision in my thirties about whether to undergo a double mastectomy as Guiliana has opted to do. I am a rare crier, but I have teared up regularly as I've watched her discuss her diagnosis, its affect on her marriage, and the love/hate relationship she encountered with her breasts.
And then I underwent my own breast surgery recently. Not that what I experienced was even remotely close to what Guiliana has experienced, but it still made me think about the ways in which our breasts are tied into our identities, both as a female and just in general.
I wasn't aware of it at the time, but samples of my breast tissue were sent to pathology after my surgery. Fortunately my breast health is 100% great at this point, but it took me aback a little to think about my breast tissue being examined for any signs of cancer. I was glad I didn't know it in the first place so I didn't spend time worrying about the results.
I will have substantial scarring from my surgery. Special silicone tape will help diminish them, but I will forever have some reminders of this surgery. And I'm fine with that because the payoff was worth the scars for me. But I was able to make that decision without the sort of consequences a woman with breast cancer faces. Giuliana opted for a double mastectomy and reconstruction in order not to have to look over her shoulder constantly. She was scared, as anyone would be, and she worried how her new chest would affect her relationship with her husband. She voiced all those concerns aloud and asked her husband directly what he would think of her body. He, of course, just wants his wife healthy and wasn't concerned about her physical changes.
When I emerged from surgery, I was immediately pleased with some of the results. I felt better already when I noticed how much lighter my chest felt, but it was a bit daunting to wonder during those first five days what my body looked like under the bandages. I was worried, too, sitting in the doctor's office as the nurse unwrapped me, wondering what was going through Kyle's mind. I would potentially have lots of bruising, and with the stitches, the first couple of weeks look pretty gory. Kyle handled it though, and I was relieved that I had little bruising. I had looked at pictures online ahead of time, so I knew what to expect, and I knew I would have lots of stitches and long incisions. All of this was the price I gladly paid to physically feel better.
Women with breast cancer don't get the same benefit. Their life, literally, depends on it. They are forced into a decision and they know that either decision comes with some negative consequences and substantial fear. I didn't have any true appreciation for their pain - both physical and emotional, until I underwent my own breast surgery. While I'm healing well and happy with the results, I have a completely different understanding of the way we women - and even the men in our lives - relate to our breasts. I have a new understanding for how certain parts of our bodies tie into our identity. And I have new appreciation for the bravery of women who elect to have mastectomies to prevent the spread of the cancer.
I have a couple of women in my life who have battled breast cancer and won - and you know who you are. I dedicate this blog post to you, to your bravery and strength. I can't imagine the amount of courage you must have, and I thank you for demonstrating, so amazingly, what courage really is.