showerOnce 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.

33 thoughts on “Breasts

  1. OMG Alys – had no idea that you were such a talented writer – love this piece. As a friend of a friend on FB guess I really know very little about you. Thanks for sharing your talent – Mary


  2. Oh, I loved reading this! What a spot on, fabulously honest piece of writing……… Thank you so much Alys for sharing this again.

    I have radical views about health and the healthcare system so don’t participate in this ritual. But I do feel for women who undergo scares – whether they come to anything or not. Our breasts are such an integral part of our femininity, it cannot be an easy decision to have to make – and an incredibly cruel one too.

    My hat is off to you for your poignant retelling of your experiences.
    Stay healthy dear Alys xoxo


    • Thank you, Pauline. I appreciate your kind words.

      Breasts are integral to our femininity and the idea of surgically removing one, or both, is cruel. But health trumps everything else, and the women I know who’ve gone that route have no regrets. I wish we could get at the root of the increasing cases of breast cancer. It’s one thing to be pro-active after you know you have cancer, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could find a way to prevent it in the first place?


      • Yes, I agree totally….. There is a growing body of nutritional knowledge available on-line nowadays that indicates the chemicals we are ingesting in our foods are partly responsible.

        I know many people don’t accept this as a possibility, but I feel we owe it to ourselves to do some serious research, especially if we come from a gene pool that is susceptible.

        Just my opinion. xoxo


          • Thank you Alys – I am a bit tentative about sharing what I know in this realm – it is a loaded area – a bit like religion and politics 🙂 I am glad you are glad 🙂
            I also meant to comment on that gorgeous photo of you with your son – so special!! I think your boys are blessed to have you!


            • Thank you! I like that photo, too. He has the sweetest expression of puzzlement, doesn’t he?

              Thanks for providing the link on inflammation. I like to think blogging is a place to safely voice your views and opinions, so, at least on my blog, you should always feel free to share your views.


  3. Oh Alys, this was a wonderfully written piece and so clearly from the heart. I’m with you all the way around. My sister in law nursed her children a long time too and they are extremely bright and well adjusted. My mother was horrified. I didn’t get to nurse for a number of reasons and always regretting it. I was the opposite. It’s been suggested many times that I submit to a reduction. At 12 I was clearly in dire need of support. I refuse reduction even though it would give my poor back a break because anytime you undergo surgery, you are at risk. If it ever becomes life threatening, (cancer) they go with no regrets. I’m kind of with the contented crafter on the chemicals and hormones that have been added to our food as a possible cause. I just had my first mam in 6 years last Oct. I’m good to go too. I often wonder at our society that cringes on seeing a mother nurse. We see more of the body on the beach or on the stage! Let them get over themselves. You wrote this so beautifully and I loved the pictures of you and your son. Fresh faced and happy, both of you.


    • Marlene, thank you so much for sharing your own experiences. I’m glad your sister nursed, but sorry that she too, was judged. I had a male friend at my home with his wife many years ago, and he said he thought you should stop when they were old enough to ask for it. I never understood that mentality. I think people confuse the idea that breasts can be both sensual and practical. It makes me sad.

      I’m sorry you missed the opportunity to nurse your children, since it was something you wanted to do. I know you did many other wonderful things with them and for them.

      As for the photo, that was the first time he had a shower. We were in a hotel without a bathtub. You can see by the look on his face that he wasn’t too sure about the whole thing.

      As for surgery, yes, lots of risks. I have a handful of friends that had breast reductions and like you, had back problems


  4. What a beautiful essay. I had a biopsy done recently. Thankfully, all was normal (normal for me – I have a lot of “stuff” they keep an eye on from year to year,) but the waiting for the results was grueling.


  5. Wonderful piece. There is such a conflicted attitude to breasts in our society, women are made feel uncomfortable breastfeeding in public, while it’s ok to expose a lot of your breasts if it’s a fashion choice. I always liked mine but I’ve become much more “aware” of them since my son was born, I breastfed him for 11 months (when he decided he was “done” by himself!).


    • Thank you so much.

      I think the US still has puritanical attitudes about breasts. Other cultures seem more relaxed about bodies in general.

      I’m glad you like your breasts, and applaud you for nursing your son till he was ready to give it up.

      Thanks so much for sharing your experiences. xo


      • You’re welcome. Ireland also has very puritanical attitudes to breasts. My aunt had a meal in a local hotel after her baby’s Christening (the hotel knew this). They asked her to feed the baby in a handicapped toilet stall. It boggles belief.
        I’m living in France and they are more relaxed about things like that.


        • How sad. We have a store hear called Nordstrom’s. They have a special room on the middle floor for nursing mom’s: comfortable chairs, privacy, changing tables. They’re the only place that thought of this. Not everyone wants to nurse in public (though should be able to) so this is a wonderful place. Imagine sitting on a toilet to feed your child.

          Yes, France is much more relaxed. Let’s hope we all get there eventually.


  6. Great post, Alys! I’m glad all is well with you and for reminding me I need to go for my check-up! My sister had breast cancer and I think it’s important to highlight the need for regular checks and you’ve done it in such a wonderful and fun way 🙂


  7. Like thecontentedcrafter above, I too have radical views concerning the medical community’s answer to the problem of cancer in general, and breast cancer in particular. However, it always blesses me to read your writing, because of the rich and true nature that comes shining through your words. You are a gift, and I’m so, so glad you share yourself with us.


    • Wow! Thanks so much for that. You’ve planted a huge smile on my face. It seems many of the people commenting here have less traditional views of the medical community. I think that’s a good thing. We have much to improve on.

      I was speaking to a woman over the weekend who is getting amazing results with all sorts of ailments with acupuncture. My sister, too, who has MS, gets the best results for her symptoms from massage and acupuncture. I’m a big fan. I would love to hear more of your thoughts, too, if you care to share them.


  8. Alys, here is a link to an interesting blog where Fred Phillips who has Parkinsons and is working on healing himself writes about current medical alternative practises – what he writes about here, in my opinion, covers every disease we can get, not just Parkinsons


    I’m working on a post that tells my journey with these things 🙂


    • I’m excited to read it. For some reason, I don’t always seen your posts in the Reader. I don’t know why that is. I find you anyway, but often a day later. I’ll have to poke around and see why that is.


  9. I remember the first time I read this, I was amazed at the honesty and truthfulness in your words. I don’t think we knew each other yet as well as we know each other now. I remember thinking, “this girl is really something special”, now of course I know this to be true in so many ways. You’re smart but not condescending, you’re kind beyond words and compassionate in every way. I understand better now what draws so many to you and in part your wonderful writing. I’m thankful your tests were good news and for sharing this again. My long time friend Debbie Gemmell (BC, marina, dad Dale) lost her mom (my surrogate mom) to breast cancer and so I am vigilant. We are lucky in Canada to be screened as often as your Dr wants you to be. My Dr prefers yearly screening from age 40 when there’s no family history. Every Dr is different though, so it’s important for a woman here, to choose someone with the same health goals as you. This is a wonderful and important post Alys xoK


    • I read this twice and now my head is about to explode. You spoil me, dear Boomdee. Thank you, thank you, for reading this again and for your generous comments.

      I’m grateful to hear you have the healthcare you need to get regular tests. It should be that way everywhere. I”m glad we finally have the Affordable Care Act as of this year. It will make a huge difference in people’s lives.

      I”m sorry to hear Deb (and you) lost her mom to cancer. How painful for everyone.

      I like that statement “choosing someone with the same health goals.” Isn’t that the truth.

      Love to you, xox


      • xo I can’t imagine why anyone would be against affordable health care but we did watch the whole debate from here. I know our system is far from perfect and there needs to be constant reforms to ensure it’s sustainable. Public oversight will want to know why a bandaid or aspirin is $5.00 in a hospital and crazy stuff like that. Our Alberta Government Health Minister recently fired an entire board for giving themselves bonus’s when other Albertans are looking at healthcare cutbacks…no fooling around, they work for us, the taxpayer. Love to you my friend xo


        • Thank you. No system is perfect, but as long as we keep tweaking and trying to do right by people, I’m okay with that.

          It is shameful that this country is so far behind any other westernized culture as far as healthcare is concerned. A lot of us were hoping for single payer, but this is more than we’ve ever had as a country.

          I’m really tired of the GOP/Teaparty whining about it, too. This is going to be an improvement for millions of people.


  10. Excellent post, Alys, and your last statement is the best! Women ARE indeed more than the sum of our parts, and I preach that message daily in my office.


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