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Friday, October 30, 2015

The Breast Thing that Happened to Me



I have hated my bosoms since the day they budded.

I also have always hated the word breast.

It makes me cringe.

Bosoms. Boobs. Knockers. All OK. Just don’t use the word breast.  I can barely talk about chicken.

Like so many before me, I trace the root of my problems back to elementary school gym class. I was a chunky, red-headed sixth-grader given the simple task of choreographing, then performing a personalized gymnastics routine.

My routine was filled with forward and backward somersaults, ending with a cartwheel that I was very proud of.  Meanwhile, my friend and nemesis, Karen Shea, was doing back handsprings and round-offs. She was a carpenter’s dream who had been proudly promoting her training bra for months.  I, on the other hand, chose to cover the lumps that were assaulting my body by adding a pale yellow, buttoned-up-the-back cardigan sweater over my royal-blue gym suit.

I stood on the edge of the gym mat, hands at my sides, toes pointed, head down, ready to begin as soon as the first notes of the instrumental version of  “Blue, blue, my world is blue, blue is my world since I’m without you…” crackled from the record player in the corner.

“Betsy!” Miss Vache, the gym teacher, bellowed across the cavernous gymnasium. “Lose the sweater.”

“I’m cold,” I quivered.

“You’re not cold!” she yelled. “And if you are, you’re not working hard enough. Take it off.”

Reluctantly, I pulled the sweater over my head and tossed it on the floor behind me, exposing gaping buttons from my eagerly emergent bosoms.

“And get yourself a bra,” she said matter-of-factly. And loudly.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, my two older sisters had created a nickname for me: “Pushing 40.”

I didn’t get it, which made them hoot and holler all the more. But it wasn’t long before I figured out that it meant I was pushing 40 as in a bra size. In my youth, I was hands-down the meanest of the four evil sisters and rarely endured any verbal abuse, so I’m not quite sure why I didn’t use my physical prowess to beat them silent. All I know is that their stinging words stuck.

When I was fourteen years-old, I got whisked away with the tide in Cape May, New Jersey and had to be rescued by a lifeguard. The fear I felt had nothing to do with life and death. As my knight in shining Speedo held me tightly around my middle, and swam me to shore, I yanked on my bikini top, holding it down so, God forbid, my bosoms would not be exposed.

In college and into my 20s as my girlfriends went braless, sporting tube tops and halters, I buttoned up high and kept my cleavage covered.

Hours after my first baby was born, a nurse came to my room with a message from my spouse who had left my side for the first time. I got misty-eyed, certain that she was going to deliver some heartfelt words that he was too shy to say himself.

“He wants to know if you’ll please, please change your mind and consider breast feeding.”

Are you kidding me? 

I know all about karma so wasn’t really surprised, but rather found it quite ironic, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in the heart of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. In a blink of an eye, that dreaded breast word weaseled its way into my hourly vocabulary, bouncing around my brain like a beach ball.

I’m now what they call a cancer survivor. But to tell you the truth, I never felt like I had a whole lot to survive. Breast cancer didn't make me feel sick. I didn't feel anything creeping around my body. I didn't feel tired or cranky or anything but guilty that my first thought after hearing I had invasive ductal carcinoma was that a mastectomy might not be the worst thing in the world.

But, it was a whole different story when I found myself lying on that metal gurney waiting to be wheeled into the operating room. I prayed for forgiveness for despising my God-given bosoms. I apologized for rolling my eyes at the ever-present pink ribbons. I whispered all kinds of promises if only I'd come out of it alive.

And I did.

Leaving me to wonder, five years after a double mastectomy (and a masterful reconstruction that left me with bosoms that don’t move an iota no matter how high I jump), how it is that I got so lucky.

And so I decided to make good on that promise I made that I'd never leave this world mourning for a life unlived. 

In the past five years I’ve launched three children into three different time zones. I’ve ridden my bicycle over 4,000 miles and walked just as many. I’ve zip-wired my way through the Jamaican jungle, bobsledded down a mountain and fell flat on my face in a dinghy while sailing in Maine. I've I’ve learned to play Mahjong with old buddies who I had forgotten how much I loved. I joined a book club and a writer’s group and go to Bible Study every Wednesday. I’ve celebrated my 25th wedding anniversary, my mother's 90th birthday and my 40th high school reunion. I’ve become a great-aunt. And hope to become an even greater one. I’ve cruised to half-a-dozen Caribbean Islands, traveled to California, Canada, the Carolinas, Florida, Mississippi, New Orleans and toasted many a state in between. I spend more weekends away with the girls than any other girl I know.

I look at my life as something to have fun with. Not to stress over. Or cry about. Or regret.  

But, I’m still a work in progress. I'm still afraid of change. I still can't stomach the sound of someone breathing. I still haven't written that novel that I know is in there. 

And I still can't stand the word breast. 





1 comment:

  1. Betsy, this is the best, most beautiful piece I've ever read about bosom cancer. I loved every word, and loved the beautiful ending. This should be read by more than those who read this terrific blog! And when you write that novel (and you absolutely should), I know it'll be a huge success. You are an incredible writer with big ideas.

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