This is a guest blog post by Joni, a MyLifeLine.org member and breast cancer survivor. She shares her feelings on the eve of her mastectomy.
On the eve of my surgery, I have been saying goodbye. And not just to my breasts, although the loss of a body part/parts has definitely sent my thoughts whirling.
Life is a series of goodbyes. It is a litany of things lost, and others gained. I sometimes grieve the loss of my children at the ages they used to be: snuggling newborns, feisty toddlers, curious preschoolers; I miss their chubby, dimpled hands and soft baby hair and their wondrous discoveries. Yet I couldn’t be happier with who they are at this moment. And the thought of all the years left, stretching out before us with promise, brings me immense joy. I also miss: the various stages of my life-gone-by, the places I used to live, my family every time we have to part, the loved ones who have departed this earth. And yes, I will miss my “girls.”
The breasts that were:
My first breast-memory is when I was two years old. My preschool teacher was trying to comfort me as I cried after my mom dropped me off. With my head bowed, I stared directly into her two giant, pendulous boobies. My separation anxiety dissipated immediately and I ran to play with my friends!
When my own little buds starting coming in at about age ten, I was horrified. At the time, my favorite past-time was football with the neighborhood boys, and I was surprised and disappointed that my body had decided it was time to make me a “woman.” I put warm ace bandages around my chest in the hopes that I would never have to wear a bra. Hmmph.
Despite all my best efforts, I grew into a healthy C/D cup. I was actually quite happy with that, and they served me well, until I got pregnant. Pregnancy had the same effect on my boobs that Christmas had on the Grinch’s heart. Well, almost. His heart grew three sizes, my boobs grew four. And then there was breastfeeding. I was far from being a natural. For weeks, every feed was a struggle and my youngest had such a hard suck he left my nipple hanging by a thread. But once it clicked, I was so grateful that I stuck with breastfeeding. It still amazes me that I was able to produce the nourishment that fed my babies.
The best word to describe what was left after three pregnancies and a sum total of thirty-six months of breastfeeding? Deflation. “Tube socks with rocks on the bottom,” as my mom is fond of saying. My daughter once asked me why my boobs touched my belly button. To be honest, until this year, I had become a bit indifferent to them. I thought that the worst thing about them was that they were not too attractive. Hmmph.
The breasts that are:
I just spent a week with my sister and her newborn baby, and was reminded how beautiful that bond is between mother and child. The time I spent with the two of them during this magical period was remarkably healing for me. It was a reminder that no matter how difficult things get, there is always something wonderful waiting just around the corner. I loved every moment of that week: his sweet baby smell, his cozy body swaddled against my chest, his little piglet noises when he was ready to feed, even his dirty diapers. I loved watching my sister as a momma, a role that fits her perfectly. Seeing her breastfeed made me grateful I was able to do the same, despite the fact that my breast rebelled on me. And rebel it did.
Although it has shrunk considerably, I am still living with a palpable cancer. The tumor is a demonstration in immortality, a daily reminder of biology-gone-wrong and of the fact that if I didn’t get treated it would eventually kill me. I can’t say I’m sorry to see it go, but there is something sad about having a large piece of your womanhood go with it.
The breasts that will no longer be:
Tomorrow I head in for my surgery. On the left, I will be getting a modified radical mastectomy, which means they will not only remove all of the breast tissue and nipple, but every single one of my axillary (underarm) lymph nodes, the soft tissue under my arm, and potentially some muscle; on the right I will get a standard mastectomy. I should be in the hospital for one night and then I will be back in the care of my fantastic loved ones.
Tonight I’m saying goodbye. To cancer. To life before this moment. To my two friends who passed away on my last day of chemotherapy. To the person I was before this wild experience. And yes, to my breasts/boobs/knockers/ladies/melons/milkcans/hooters/moo-moos. Until we meet again…
About the Author: Joni is a happily married 41-year-old mom to 3 children (ages 6, 10, 12). She works as an academic pediatrician and feels that her job treating patients and teaching future physicians is a privilege. Outside of work, Joni loves running, writing, strategy board games, traveling, hiking, snowboarding, and hanging with family and friends. She was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer in March 2014. In addition to fighting with chemo, surgery, and radiation, she’s given cancer an extra kick with exercise, a positive attitude, and writing about her experience on MyLifeLine.org