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Breast Obsessed. Again.

The thing about breast cancer is this: the cancer originates in your breast.

This simple fact is one reason why breast cancer is such an easy disease to exploit. October could just as well be called, Breast Awareness Month.

Okay, that’s sarcasm, but in sarcasm there is always at least a grain of truth, right?

I could go on and on about pink shenanigans. I already have and probably will again. But let’s wait ’til October, shall we? Yikes! It’s almost here.

Anyway, my point is that society has always been a bit obsessed with breasts. And it’s not just men that do the ogling and the judging. Sometimes, women, even young girls, are pretty adept at comparing, judging and making crude, sometimes cruel assessments.

Remember puberty?

Yeah, that was a challenging time for many of us.

For example, as I wrote in my memoir, Cancer Is Not a Gift & It Didn’t Make Me a Better Person:

When I was in third or fourth grade, one of my classmates abruptly and unexpectedly hit puberty and suddenly, overnight it seemed to the rest of us, she had breasts. Immediately, she became someone of mystery and intrigue to those of us yet to blossom. With breasts, she was someone to be in awe of, and the rest of us tried to look inconspicuous with our stares and sideways glances.

It still pains me a bit to remember how poorly this particular classmate was treated, not just by boys, but by some girls too. The teasing and sometimes mean remarks didn’t all originate from the males.

We later-bloomers were in a sort of waiting game.

Even at such tender, young ages we were all well aware of the almost mystical power of breasts. The girls eagerly waited for, but also dreaded the inevitable transformation of our bodies, and the boys, well, they just acted like boys and waited for their own transformations as well.

Fast forward many decades…

After my cancer diagnosis, Dear Hubby and I became a bit breast obsessed. When you realize your breasts will soon be amputated (yeah, a mastectomy should be called an amputation) and rebuilt into some unknown formations, how can you not be, I suppose.

Sometimes, we even made jokes about breasts and played guessing games as we observed other female forms passing through our lines of vision. (Of course, we only did this discreetly and shared privately.) Weird, maybe. In hindsight, I realize it was a coping mechanism.

Sometimes you have to find humor in difficult situations to preserve sanity. Or at least we had to.

Now, nine years down the road from all that, I find myself feeling breast obsessed all over again.

You know, because of that rupture thing. Ugh…

(If you missed it and want to, read: What If Your Breast Implant Ruptures?)

Being forced to deal with this particular part of my cancer mess again, has made me irritable. I admit it. It has.

It’s also made me sad, angry, confused, scared, indecisiveness and a bunch of other things, I’m sure.

I hate everything about this disease!

Believe me, I fully realize fretting about breasts is NOT the important part of advocacy. It’s not.

Saving lives is what matters most, not saving breasts.

Still, it’s important to acknowledge that this loss of the very body parts that represent the essence of femininity is a huge deal.

No, breasts do not define us, but they are (or were) sure part of our definition. Literally.

Dear Hubby and I are presently watching The Sopranos on Prime (or maybe it’s on Netflix, I forget). Great show, by the way. Very well done. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. (We are only twenty years late, but who’s counting?)

But there are certain scenes that come on fairly frequently that always remind me of what I no longer have – breasts. My breasts. Of course, this happens while watching plenty of other TV shows and movies as well.

And it’s still hard. Every time. Even now.

Breast envy is real.

Nipple envy is too.

Breast Cancer is indeed a string of losses.

Recently, Dear Hubby and I sat in airports while traveling back and forth to visit Son #1 and his wife, and while killing time, do you know what I sat there thinking about quite a lot while people watching?

Yep. You guessed it. I was thinking about breasts.

I don’t know if Dear Hubby was, too. I didn’t ask. I didn’t tell either.

I sat there observing women of various sizes, ages, ethnic backgrounds and so on, and I found myself zeroing in on their chests and thinking, gee, you all are lucky you are still walking around with your own, original breasts.

Weird, right?

Or not. I don’t know.

(Do any of you do this?)

I share about all this because I think it’s part of my processing. Again. And someone else might be going through something similar.

As I contemplate what to do about this blankety-blank rupture situation, I’ve discovered (again) that the emotions tangled up in my cancer mess are still there and still quite close to the surface.

Even after nine years, they still bubble up fairly often.

This is one reason why the shitstorm of a breast cancer diagnosis is NEVER over.

I don’t say this to garner sympathy or pity or anything at all.

I say it because it just is. And because perhaps others feel the same. Perhaps YOU do.

So yes, I’m a bit breast obsessed. Again.

I’m not happy with myself about this.

But nonetheless, this is where I’m at.

Breast obsessed. Again.

Do you relate?

If you’ve had a mastectomy, with or without reconstruction, how do feel during ‘those moments’ in TV shows and movies?

If you’re a partner of a woman impacted by breast cancer surgeries and such, how do you feel about all this? (Yes, I’d really like to know.)

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Feeling breast obsessed. Again. #breastcancer #cancer #mastectomy #breastreconstruction #advocacy #cancersucks
Cancer Was Not a Gift & It Didn't Make Me a Better Person

Beth Gainer

Friday 27th of September 2019

Hi Nancy,

I'm sorry about your rupture. It is all-too-much a reminder of breast cancer. Then again, there are so many reminders. I had the disfiguring lumpectomy, but the margins weren't clean, so I had another -- even horribly more disfiguring -- lumpectomy. Then radiation. Then five years later a scare, followed by a double amputation with DIEP flap reconstruction. I'm still asymmetrical; my right breast, which had had the cancer, is smaller than my left one.

Now. oddly enough, I have lately embraced my asymmetry. I don't care right now. But all it takes is a millisecond and I fall into breast envy all over again.


Monday 30th of September 2019

Beth, Thank you for understanding and for your kind words. I'm glad you now embrace your asymmetrical appearance. But yeah, it's easy to fall into that breast envy mode, for sure. When you think about it, how could we not? I'm sure other amputees do the same.

Marie Ennis-O'Connor

Sunday 22nd of September 2019

Hi Nancy, this is the first time I've spoken publicly about this. I had a lumpectomy - oh what an innocuous word for something so disfiguring - which means I am left with one deformed breast (there's no other word for it in my mind). I coped with that ok, until this year when, after my marriage ended, I started to think about dating again. It's really knocked my confidence in my body and my ability to date and for the first time since my surgery, I have developed really intense body image issues. I didn't expect to have to deal with this so long after my own diagnosis - but once again it's a reminder that cancer is never truly done with us.


Sunday 22nd of September 2019

Marie, Oh, Marie, I'm so sorry you've been going through all that with your marriage. I didn't know about that. It's understandable you are feeling the way you are about dating. Self-confidence is hard enough to maintain under normal circumstances. I hope there's a support person you are confiding in about these things. Give yourself time and be kind to yourself. Thank you for sharing so candidly about such personal matters. I'm glad you felt this was a safe place to do that. xx

Lisa Geiger

Saturday 21st of September 2019

Hi! I suppose I am a rare person. I decided not to have reconstruction of my twins. I thought about it at first, but decided it wasn't worth it to me. First I found out I was stage 2, I missed stage 3 by 4 cm. Everything started to move so fast, my head spun. I hardly could deal with having bc, then it was the masctomy not even a month later. Then it was port placement not even a month after. Then it was "red devil" chemo....the strongest there is. I had 12 lymph nodes out and the last one, the size of my pinky nail, had cancer in it. So that meant right after my 8th treatment, I was off to 25 rounds of raidation. I went for a consultation with PS, and my insurance wasn't active yet, the doc would not let me talk to him. He had his secretary tell me if he did, I would be responsible for $10s of thousands of dollars in bills. I thought, how callis? I'm looking at you to make me feel better and your worried about the money? Forget it. Then someone told me I will have a tattoo for a nipple and again, I said it's not worth it. I celebrate not having my twins. No more sweaty boobs, no more having bra straps digging into my shoulders. I can wear tops I could not with 36 C's. I find it halirous when a man starts to talk to me they look at my face instead of my offense. Not saying every man....women do too. I go to the beach, I still wear a bikini. I love that bandeau tops are still in. I don't care that they aren't there. I refer to my self as ohbooblessone.... quite often. I guess turning it into something funny works for me. None of it was funny, but I see a different side of it. Please believe me when I tell you that I was always a pretty girl. I looked at it as a curse. No one thought I was smart or friendly....only pretty. What else could I need? Some would say, like that makes the world a better place for me. It lead to some people thinking that gave them permission to touch me, or make me look at maleness I wouldn't even have thought to look at. That started at an early age. Usually my older sisters boyfriend's.... which would make her mad. Even if I only said I, in her mind I wanted her men. My mom's husband's or bf looked at me like they were drooling. I'm not throwing roses at myself believe me. I hated it. I was sort of a tomboy and tried to hide it. I didn't like it when I got boobs. I hit my boob on the corner of a chair in 6th grade and was embarrassed, because I was trying to talk to the boys I had a crush on. It hurt and I grabbed it in pain. I was horrified. Then getting hair, I tried pulling it we won't even comment on getting the red tide. I guess one of the best things that happened was, it out me in menopause and I stopped. I used to have it for 7-8 days and extremely heavy. I certainly put a hurt on tampons and pads, thier stocks had to of slipped when I you can bet I was skipping happy to stop. Those 7-8 days were miserable with cramps and mood swings. Anyway, I'm not too upset. I'm here and that is what matters. I've invested in vs sports bras instead of bra's. I'm still sexy just different looking. I don't feel deformed. I embraced it. Some people try to make me feel like a freak but I end up feeling sorry for people that couldn't possibly walk around like I do..... after all boobs are made of fat...and I call them fat flaps. I think they are I do tend to check everybody's chest as well. I really never noticed the different ways they grow. Some look like floating devices and some are almost not there. In-between is cool. In the long run....o don't have breast envy. I say good riddance and bc might have taken my chest but it did not take my life. I am grateful for that. Freak or I will get to see my son graduate and get married and have kids. I'll get to be a grandma some day . All is not lost. O am proud of anyone who has reconstruction. O just decided not to. Good luck my brave warriors. I do wish they would let up on some of the pink stuff....I wear pink shoelaces.....and maybe a pink shirt on day one...I figure the shoelaces take care of it


Sunday 22nd of September 2019

Lisa, Thanks for sharing so candidly about such personal things. I'm glad you are happy with your decision to not reconstruct.

Shawn Morris

Thursday 19th of September 2019

I had a double mastectomy with a goldilocks procedure (modified reconstruction) last November bc reconstruction wasn't an option at the time of surgery. I still had chemo and radiation to go. I was left with a little "A" cup of oddly shaped "breast". They call it a pocket. I was a 36 DDD. I didn't have many qualms about my surgery bc I felt it was necessary to fight this disease. I truly started missing them when I went to be fitted to prosthetics. I put that all on and put my shirt on over it all and when I looked in the mirror, I teared up. Even though I had a chemo cap on my head, I saw ME, for the first time since surgery. My clothes fit better. My belly didn't look so big. I tell you all this as part of my story to say I definately had breast envy, but more so after that. I met with my PS on Monday. He says I can have fat infusions or implants. I am choosing implants bc my out of pocket is met for the year. It's one surgery for me bc I won't need expanders and he says it will be ok to do four months after radiation- even though we know the chest/breast will change from radiation for a year or two. Praying I'm making the right decision. Secretly glad I'm not the only one with breast envy. I find myself especially staring at those who have had reconstruction- looking at symmetry, etc.


Sunday 22nd of September 2019

Shawn, You're definitely not the only one. Good luck with your decision. Hope all goes as smoothly as possible. Thank you for sharing.

Jeffrey Neurman

Wednesday 18th of September 2019

Such a thought-provoking piece (and so well-written, as always). I cannot profess to fully understand what it must be like to deal with breast cancer; the closest I can come is just cancer generally. And that obviously is awful, so to add to it all of these other elements is virtually impossible to comprehend. There is so much that you raise above that, I guess I was aware of generally, but never would have assembled as you have so clearly done. I am sorry that you have had to endure all of this -- and continue to do so -- but you have greatly elucidated so much for many of us. (On a smaller note, I could not agree more with what you said in one line: "but in sarcasm there is always at least a grain of truth, right?" Yes, there is always some kernel of truth, for better or worse.)


Thursday 19th of September 2019

Jeffrey, I appreciate your comment as it's always good and helpful, too, to get a male perspective on this stuff. All cancer sucks, but these amputations strike at the core of femininity and that adds a particularly specific and difficult dimension to the awfulness. Thanks for reading, appreciating my sarcasm and using a word I had to look up!

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