Once a year, in January, I go for my mammogram. It’s stressful and painful, but the only decent diagnostic tool available at this time. Self exams are important too. It’s Thursday, which means I got the all-clear. Phew!
My paternal grandmother had breast cancer. My sister-in-law had it too. In the past five years, six of my friends have undergone treatment for breast cancer, in most cases opting for a mastectomy, with or without radiation and chemotherapy. The good news is that they’ve all survived their treatment and continue to live life to the fullest. I’m so grateful for that.
I wrote the following piece about five years ago when women were posting their bra-color on Facebook as a silly way to draw attention to a serious condition.
If you’re a woman reading this, please don’t put off this important test. It could save your life. If you’re a breast cancer survivor, my hat is off to you for traveling the difficult road to good health.
Ah, breasts. That tender place where men rest their heads (and eyes), where babies nurse and grow, and where the heart of a woman lies just beneath this outward representation of the sacred feminine. This lovely place is the landing pad of both comfort and eroticism.
Breasts are not boobs, (a boob is a “fool”) nor boobies, ta-tas or tits. Certainly not jugs, pillows or Simpson™ eyes. Breasts. We can’t seem to get enough of them. We love them, idolize them, dress them up in pretty clothes and admire them on red-carpet runways. Are they real or fake? Are they “big enough?” Are they “adequate?” Can we glance at the woman next to us in the locker room without judging ourselves?
Straight men adore them, gay men admire them and gay women couples are lucky enough to have two pair.
Breasts are wonderful to look at, soft to the touch, warm, comforting and yes, erotic. Attach them to a beautiful woman and their caché goes through the roof. They sell beer, wine, cars, clothes and a laundry list of other products. If “good genes” don’t provide a nice pair, you can go out and buy them at the plastic surgeon’s office. For some it seems perfectly natural to go under the knife, not to mention general anesthesia, and improve on nature. A friend of mine from Santa Monica once joked that he would often “chip his tooth” on a surgically altered breast.
Of course, if you augment before having babies you can forget about nursing. If you do it after, there’s the possibility you might not wake up from the anesthesia.
Breasts nurture babies. The year I delivered my first son into the world, the Society of American Pediatrics recommended nursing for at least six months. By the time his brother came along they were suggesting a year. I crossed the line in some people’s eyes when I continued to breast feed well into his second year, stopping at around 23 months because my baby boy was done. In my mind, that was the way it should be, not on some arbitrary schedule. Studies have shown that breast-fed babies have higher IQ’s, better relationships and fewer health problems. But our society looks askance at women who continue to nourish and nurture children at the breast into the second year. Even some of my friends, of both sexes, found this disquieting. I was a discreet breast-feeder. I would never deliberately make anyone uncomfortable under any circumstance. I took great offense when someone compared it to urinating in public. Really?
Breasts are often objectified. We have dining establishments called Hooters and Double D’s that employ women on the merits of their cup size and their willingness to display their gifts up close and personal. It isn’t quite like taking junior to the club for a lap dance, but it certainly presents the mom of two boys with some interesting perspectives on what the future may hold. It’s not okay to nurse in public, but if I’m well endowed and perky I can wait tables wearing tight-fitting low-cut clothes and probably rake in some decent tips.
My breasts and I have been on our own journey. Tomboy that I was, around age 12, I hooked one of my breasts on the cyclone fence I was climbing. The pain was bad enough but the warm blood trickling under my sweater as I ran home was frightening. The injuries and the resulting scars were minor, but alarming for a young, developing girl. As a skinny high-school girl my breasts were small and they embarrassed me. At one point my mom bought me a padded bra, no doubt to improve my self-esteem. I eventually filled out but also learned that men are a lot more forgiving of women’s bodies than we are. When I was pregnant, my breasts were large but my expanding belly was larger. Later, swollen with mother’s milk, I drew admiring glances. Someone wanted to know if I had had a “breast enhancement.” Uh…no.
About a year later I received the dreaded call after a routine mammogram. Please come back in for “additional views.” Still unsatisfied, they scheduled a biopsy for the day after Christmas. In that moment I knew I would be more than willing to let them go, if only I could stay and raise my children. While face down on an uncomfortable table, the technician repeatedly flattened the breast between two plates as they attempted to get the right spot for a needle core biopsy. Eventually the numbness wore off and they had to start again. A few hours later I was free to go. Riding home in a taxi to join my husband and two precious boys, one slightly damp from his recent nap, I struggled with feelings of dread.
My gift a week later was that all was well. My breasts and I were free to continue our journey.
Women (and my super-cool friend Kevin) posted their bra color on Facebook that week. We had a lot of fun and shared many laughs. But under those lacy, frilly, silly things we call bras are women, real women whose being is greater than the sum of her parts.