In the few weeks that I’ve been a cancer-card-toting member of this exclusive club, “Mothers with Cancer,” I’ve been amazed at (and sometimes intimidated by) the quality of the writing by the women here. As I read their stories and their essays and their poetry, I am moved by their writing abilities, for sure. I’m also moved by their ability to cope. But what I find especially moving is the solidarity I find here–the power of shared experiences.
Lately, some of us have been talking about acceptance. Read Jen’s “What Now” post or Laurie’s “on perspective” post or Stella’s “Validation” post. The common thread among these stories is that these women are seeking ways to understand, incorporate and accept their experiences. I, too, have been floating the idea of acceptance; of packing up my experiences and outcomes and moving on to the next town.
But this is where I have to come clean and say that I’m still sitting at the station. One day, I find myself ready to leave the familiar topics of bad hair days and bad boob jobs behind me. The next day, all I want to write about are my curls behaving badly and my girls gone wild.
Back in the day (a year ago), my blog was the hair and boobs show. I angsted about my hair. But that topic actually was a clever cover for my real angst–my reconstructed boobs. In a nutshell (no pun intended) I had my little, nearly-a-cup breasts removed by bilateral mastectomy, followed by expansion. The outcome? Here’s what I said last October, in the post Tits Are for Kids:
“It looks like the kids sucked the architecture out of your boobs,” my ex used to note. To his credit, he usually followed that observation with one of his basic tenets of life: Tits are for kids. It’s one reason I loved being married to my ex. While other husbands were sent into another orbit by an ample rack, mine seemed satisfied with an ample hip-to-waist ratio, which I was able to supply non-surgically.
These days I’m slightly tit-centric myself. I see breasts everywhere: in the double D-cup muffins at Starbucks, on the Bebe mannequins in the mall, under the Prana yoga tops at the gym, at my daughter’s middle school. On the first day of 6th grade, my daughter asked that I wait in the quad with her until a few friends arrived. While waiting, I noticed a mom with a blond pony tail wearing tight boot-cut jeans and a snug little black T, under which were perfect Barbie cones. “Dang,” I said to my daughter. “Do you think she’s a student? Try competing with that!” K. asked me to get in the car and go to work.
In other words, during my expansion I was as totally and completely focused on breasts as a pre-teen boy. They occupied a startling number of my waking and sleeping thoughts. And despite my best efforts to make sure my new-boob expectations were realistic, I was deeply dissatisfied with the physical outcome of my reconstruction.
The unveiling of my new breasts in my plastic surgeon’s office was probably one of the most difficult moments of my life. As the bandages came off and my flat, uneven “breasts” with the misplaced nipples were revealed, I held back the tears. The end of the long, hard road I’d traveled was unremarkable, forgettable, disappointing. I think one of the things holding me up during chemo and radiation was the vision of my new breasts–not like they were, but realistic enough for me to feel comfortable in my body again. When that didn’t happen, I fell into a deep, dark funk unlike any I’ve ever experienced before. All that postponed and suppressed grief came to the surface, demanding expression.
Since then, there have been moments when I thought I’d found complete acceptance. Moments in which I experience deep gratitude for my health and for a boyfriend who, like my ex, seems to see me as a complete (if not moderately damaged) package. Would he prefer that I had my original breasts? Yes. Absolutely. But he constantly reassures me that I’m “much more than my boobs.”
I felt a wave of relief when I finally made the surgery appointment for my reconstruction revision this November with a new plastic surgeon. I would love to say that I’ve moved on, that I’ve accepted the circumstances of my new life, which include very odd-looking breasts that may or may not be improved upon this Fall. The truth is, I don’t think I can do really do that until it’s really, truly done. Until someone says, “Jill, this is as good as it gets.”
Jen said in a comment recently, “work in progress, baby.” I want to believe that. I would like to join her and the others here in their ability to accept. For now, I’m waiting at the station in this little town. But, I’m grateful for the people who ocassionaly sit down next to me and share their travel stories.