For most of my life I have had a Hate/Hate relationship with my breasts. They have always been too big. There was a time that my 5’0 tall, 95 pound frame carried DDs around, much to the dismay of my back. My breasts were a nuisance, an object of lewd leering, an embarrassment, a burden. I was a freak show, a freak of nature, simultaneously freakishly small and large. I had dents in my shoulders from my bra straps and had tingly, numb fingers. Insurance refused to pay for a reduction, citing the surgery as cosmetic, not medical.
For two years Dr. C was my advocate, fielding multiple calls with insurance schmucks, paper pushers executives and executing a letter writing campaign on my behalf. Dr. C is a plastic surgeon who only performs medically necessary plastic surgery. She travels with Operation Smile annually and has more integrity and heart than any medical professional I have ever known. She was my Fairy Godmother. After a long battle, physical therapy, the quest for the perfect bra, sleepless nights, pain meds, and a wallop to my self esteem, I became the woman I always wanted to be. However, I couldn’t help but still harbor resentment toward these breasts of mine. I never understood these women who paid oodles and risked their health to be as big as I was. In short, I never cared about or for my breasts. They were more an impediment than object of beauty, or nourishment, as I would find out about many years later.
When I was in graduate school my doctor detected a fishy lump during a routine exam. Doogie Howser conducted a needle biospy. I was fine. I wasn’t even all that terrified then because I really had no idea about breast cancer. I mean, I knew it was a disease, of course. I just hadn’t known anyone who had it. In my mind, that biopsy was just one more reason to hate my breasts.
Fast forward six years. Deal was an infant. Bird was two. I had by then known people who battled breast cancer, not people close to me, but I knew of people. I found a lump about the size of an egg in my right breast. The doctor was alarmed, though he tried to be calm as if he simply felt a splinter in my forefinger. The surgeon saw me immediately. He used the same breast reduction scar to dig back into me to remove the lump. This time I was scared as hell. So was Mac Daddy, but we never talked about it. FEAR hung over our every move, yet we didn’t let our voices give life to the “What If” game. We feared talking about it would make it true. No one spoke of cancer. We arranged for child care, for I was unable to lift my baby. I couldn’t even hold him. My friend Carmen was an angel, leaving her own daughter to help me care for my children. Neighbors brought meals and held the baby. Friends came to play with Bird. Poor thing was left to play lame games or cozy up for a story since I could do little else. Mac Daddy drove Bird to preschool and changed diapers around the clock. More friends took shifts helping me tend to my baby, baby Deal. They dressed him, fed him, wiped his bottom, cuddled him. All I could do was watch. I sat close by, held his tiny hands just to feel the warmth of his body and the softness of his body. I won’t get those weeks back. Those precious weeks of an infant staring at you longingly and cooing a song that makes you undoubtedly believe that there is a God.
I missed a lot then. I was struck with equal doses of fear and exhaustion that dulled the physical pain. The surgeon called us back to his office. I tasted the fear, anxiety, and sadness that patients awaiting bad news must sense. HOPE, was a distant cousin not along for this ride.
The lump was nothing. A lipoma that could have landed anywhere. The lump was not specific to breast tissue. HOPE barged in the door at that moment. FEAR got his ass kicked, and Anxiety took a seat in the back and stayed quiet the rest of the ride. But Sadness…Sadness never really left. She simply became quiet and forlorn. Sometimes Sadness joins Anxiety, but both keep their heads down and cower without calling attention to themselves.
Now, five years later, I have a good friend with Stage 2 breast cancer. She’s younger than I am. Friend, Wife, Aunt, Funny Gal Pal, Lilly Pulitzer poster child, quirky spirit, witty raconteuse. But mostly, she’s Mommy to one of the cutest little girls I ever laid eyes on. There isn’t hyperbole enough to tell you how adorable this child is. But Jen is scrappy. And stubborn. So far breast cancer is losing the fight, while Jen blows raspberries at it and gives it the finger when her daughter isn’t looking. And there’s Susan. She’s younger than I am too. Surely you know Susan. I participated in my first Komen Race for the Cure in her honor, before I ever met her. Team Why Mommy. Susan is battling breast cancer again, for a fourth time in fewer than four years. She’s also a mom. She lives among dirt and noise so we are kindred spirits. When I finally met Susan I might have squeezed her a tish too hard, forcing her to recoil either in pain or in an effort to break free from someone she thought might be a fan girl nut job.In the midst of Susan’s fight, she’s thinking of others who fight alongside her. She’s doing one helluva job helping women who don’t have the means to get the treatment they need to manage pain and swelling. And did I mention the coolest, most amazing thing about Susan? She’s a rocket scientist.
I was lucky. I don’t know why. I don’t even ask. I simply live my life with an extra dose of gratitude. And I do what I can, in baby steps or grand strides, to help. And so in April, I’ll be joining Team Stop the War in My Rack to walk 39 miles to raise money for breast cancer research and treatment for uninsured and under-insured women. My 39 mile trek is a veritable walk in the park compared to what Jen and Susan are battling. 39 miles over two days is hardly a hardship. I have a heel with a stress fracture, and even that pain is more a pain in the tuckus than debilitating pain. I know it will heal (pun fully intended). I’m walking to help my friends. I’m walking to make a difference. I’m walking to just get out and do something, dammit! Help, please. Just the cost of a latte can help me reach my goal of $1800. Give the Girls a hand.