Tag Archives: body image

7 August 2009: awaiting my own tragedy

Day after biopsy–sitting bandaged in the backyard. An excruciating experience all around–less from the pain of the surgery than the hospital inefficiency, in a corner alone for hours afterward, told I’d see the surgeon–that I must see the surgeon–before leaving. “Before six.” Near seven I’m confronted with a registrar who does nothing, looks at my bandage, asks, “Are you always this pale?” Refuses to answer when I ask how to take care of my stitches, dressings, etc. Says the nurses will explain everything. She goes home. The nurses don’t know. Seven days or one, covered or left exposed? So I am still bandaged, taking painkillers and waiting.

What an absolute mess I must seem–and am, snapping at everyone and crying. Jetlagged still, having managed to sleep half an hour before going to the hospital, my first time under general anesthesia, terrified and alone. And back for the mastectomy, the “real” surgery, in a week. The seemingly impossible process of recovery.

The girl in the next bed was laughing, joking with the hospital staff. She was in to have a fibroid cyst removed. “As long as no one cuts my nipple off,” she says to the nurse, smiling. And I think–this is wrong, a grave mistake, shouldn’t it be me there? Instead the urgency of my situation is amplified. Five months ago, it is now almost, waiting for the diagnosis which was almost certainly, they assured me, fibroadenoma. Then cancer. The giant leap for womankind. Now this radioactive, surgical biopsy, more serious, but somehow less horrible than the first because it wasn’t a surprise, an invasion of that magnitude. Now waiting to find out not whether I have the horrible disease, but how horribly I have it. Grading. I always got good grades. And despite my perpetual pessimism about most things, I have a strange optimism about biopsies. Which is dangerous of course, because look what happened before.

So the doctor I met with in Pittsburgh says he’d be “surprised” if it had spread to the lymph nodes. But then, that’s exactly what they said here, only to find it was cancer. Surprise! After “I’m sure it’s nothing.” Sure. That roomful of people, looking at each other, nodding in unison to confirm how surprised they were. Me, stupid, faint, childish in my polka dot skirt and Mary Janes. What does their surprise mean to me? Should I feel honored? At their optimism, if that’s what it was. Dr. S. saying, “we’re hopeful.” As if hope were a treatment, a cure. As if it were anything.

It was raining then too, the day of my diagnosis. I was clutching my blue raincoat in the hospital hallway. Raining the day I began chemo, when I climbed into the loft bed of my little flat and vomited. And a downpour yesterday; we drove to London, dangerously, in it, and it began again fourteen hours later in time for us to leave. K. ran to the car while I stood outside the hospital, holding nothing and sobbing. “Are you okay?” someone said. And I nodded, because what do you say to a stranger?

“How old are you?” the nurse asked yesterday. “Twenty-four? You’re a baby.”

Of course I am. I have never felt younger or more helpless, never. And my body has never felt older, more decrepit and disgusting.

The bandage is not so bad, it’s everything else. My hair of course, getting patchy, falling out steadily, the pathetic covering I regrew over the past few months littering the pillows. Lost hair, gained weight. They made me strip off my nail polish yesterday and I got a look at my cracked yellowed nails. All to complement the fake, nippleless, Franken-stitched breast they’ll make me. I feel sorry for K. I wonder how he can stand it. Maybe he can’t.

At home, I flipped through my high school journals, and was not as embarrassed at that self as I imagined, but amazed at my intensity. Perspicacious pessimism–and actually prophetic in it, or at least realistic. I wrote at seventeen: “I am awaiting my own tragedy.”

Everyone has one, surely, coming up, sooner or later, I supposed. To varying degrees, maybe. But I’ve always been waiting for it. Or maybe  pessimism causes cancer, that holed-up negative energy. Maybe. Either way–awaiting my tragedy? Here it be. Continue reading

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“Sexy Mastectomy”

If I know you, I don’t really care if you read my blog. I mean, please do feel free, but you’re not the reason I write it.

I write for other women with cancer.

And they’re all strangers, because I realized — I don’t know anyone else with cancer.

So I’m always interested to see what search terms lead people here. That’s how I realized a network of breast cancer bloggers existed, and I wasn’t as alone as I felt–by googling things like “latissimus dorsi reconstruction” or “mastectomy and feminism.”

Recently, I noticed somebody found me by searching for “sexy mastectomy.” I still wonder what, exactly, they were hoping to find.

Every breast cancer support book and site I’ve seen offers some half-assed Sex and Intimacy section, and all of it is absurd. One of the very first pamphlets I was handed–on “Young Women and Breast Cancer,” which enraged me because all of the photos were of 40-year-olds, no one who still gets ID’ed buying beer–offered lukewarm suggestions to spice up your chemo-fied sex life, like stripteasing with your headscarf: “Think of it as the dance of the seven veils.”

Or they give up on it altogether, and offer juicy alternatives, such as “join a book club.”  

Now, the Booker shortlist is thrilling, but I’d take getting laid any day of the week.

 People love to ask how you found your lump. And here it is: Continue reading


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Feminism takes a bullet, courtesy of Reebok

Does this commercial make anyone else feel ill?

Why, when whichever advertising mastermind was making this pitch, did no one grab the storyboard and shove it where the sun don’t shine?

YouTube asked me to verify I was over 18 in order to view the content of this video. Which is aired on television during family game shows at dinnertime.

So another generation of girls can learn that their bodies are there for decoration, and for competition.

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Mastectomy Barbie.

Holy f*ing shit.

 “The NEARLY ME® brand was originally developed in 1976 by Ruth Handler, the creator of the BARBIE* Doll and former CEO of the Mattel Corporation.  Ms. Handler, a breast cancer survivor, found that the breast forms available at the time were not comfortable, realistic, beautiful, or easily purchased.  She had the resources to design and develop a breast form for herself, and she created the NEARLY ME® brand so that other women could have access to the same high-quality breast prostheses. 

Nearly Me Technologies, Inc. continues this tradition by creating products that fit the physical as well as the emotional needs of the mastectomee.



Our goal is to help women look and feel beautiful after breast surgery.” 


I’m kinda incredulous.

1. If you think yr breast prosthesis is “nearly you,” you musta been some busted plastic bitch to begin with.

2. Does the prosthesis make you “look and feel beautiful” the same way the anatomically wack Barbie doll does for female children and adolescents?

3. Please, tell me how a plastic boob meets “emotional needs.”

Ich bin die mastectomee.

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Help, I Think I’m an ‘A’ Cup

When I once googled “mastectomy support” in search of women who were also trying to deal with the psychological implications of their cancer diagnoses and surgeries, most of the results it returned involved places to buy bras and prostheses.

Mastectomy “support” is not for your brain apparently, but just for your boobs.

Cuz it’s how you look, not how you feel, that matters.

Like I used to get comments on my “healthy glow” during chemo. The skin flush was a side effect of the Taxotere. But whatever. If you think I’m lookin’ rosy, I guess it doesn’t matter that I feel like death.

And if “no one will know” that you’ve had cancer because you’re sporting a reconstruction or prosthesis, I guess that means you can go ahead and get over it. Because in everybody else’s eyes it’s over, or never happened.

Part of the difficulty surrounding my surgeon’s decision was trying to determine how to treat cancer in a woman with, as she said, “such small breasts.” It wouldn’t be possible, she decided, to remove a 2.5 cm lump and leave a “cosmetically acceptable breast.”

Acceptable to whom? I wondered. She’d decided what was “acceptable” without ever asking me.

This was the same woman who, minutes after first telling me I had cancer, had felt one of the most important issues to bring up was “you will lose your hair.”

I’m not trying to chastise her for raising the issue, because it seems to be (though startlingly, I still think) a huge, even the biggest, concern for many women.

But I thought: I have a disease I could die from, and you’re talking about my hair?

The other day I finally went underwear shopping. An older lady was asking for the saleswoman’s help. “I’ve had breast surgery, and now I’m not sure what size I am,” she said.

Me too! I wanted to scream. Despite what you may think, despite how I may look, I’m not some 25-year-old choosing underwear to look sexy for her boyfriend; I’m trying to find something to put over my stitched-up, ex-cancerous un-boob.

I’ve had breast surgery, and I don’t know what size I am. The cancer occurred in my bigger breast, and for the sake of symmetry the reconstruction was meant to match the smaller left, meaning I’ve dropped down from a B to an A cup I guess. But that’s not really the problem here. I’ve had breast surgery, and I don’t know how I am.

The other night I dreamt of being in a bathtub with someone and wondering what to say, how to explain my body. Those dreams in which you find yourself suddenly, inexplicably naked are the worst. Even worse when you’re naked, and missing a breast.

But least I found something to replace the layers of T-shirts I’ve been wearing in lieu of a bra—a sort of stretchy, comfy, thin-strapped sports bra with a little padding for $4.99.

And I can amuse myself by thinking of “AA XXX” by Peaches as my theme song.


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audre lorde, falsies & feminism

Controversial question of the day: is breast reconstruction after mastectomy an anti-feminist practice?


I find coming to any sensible conclusion on this issue particularly taxing. As with most issues of moral ambiguity, the answer always slides into the terrain of ‘situationally-dependent.’

Audre Lorde takes issue with reconstruction and prostheses post-mastectomy in her Cancer Journals, arguing that while prosthetic limbs serve a functional purpose, “false breasts are designed for appearance only, as if the only real function of women’s breasts were to appear in a certain shape and size and symmetry to onlookers, or to yield to external pressure.”

There’s no arguing that the purpose of breast reconstruction is appearance–and it is indeed worrying that appearance, rather than survival, may be a woman’s first concern. But the ‘external pressure’ of which Lorde speaks does not necessarily have to be about achieving a sexualized aesthetic. One doesn’t opt to undergo breast reconstruction, I hope, merely because one is influenced by a demand from society for ‘normalcy’–as if having two breasts were a socially constructed, arbitrary attribute of ‘femininity,’ like nylon stockings or nail polish–but because of a demand from one’s own body, for balance. To return to default.

I don’t feel my choice for an LD flap reconstruction was a yield to pressure of any sort, especially to the pressure of men. Here’s why: Continue reading


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